Mendes and Bond Make a Potent Martini

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Until Casino Royale arrived and atomized the stale dregs from the Jame Bond formula, I had nothing nice to say about the gatekeepers of the franchise. Producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had flown the plane into the mountain when Die Another Day essentially gave us Bond at the Ice Capades in an invisible car. But they smartened up — or at least watched the Bourne films — and retooled the franchise and its trappings.

Before Casino Royale we judged James Bond films on a relative scale. Well yeah, Goldeneye was a good “James Bond movie.” Rating the Bond films in that manner was akin to a golf handicap. Yet, Martin Campbell’s reboot shifted the paradigm in which we viewed a James Bond flick. Royale wasn’t just a great James Bond movie, it was a great movie, period. It crossed the threshold and was playing on an absolute scale with other films.

Then came Quantum of Solace. and Marc Forster was an inspired choice. Choosing a director most known for character-driven dramas signaled that Wilson and Broccoli were interested in making an actual real film, just like Casino Royale. Say what you will about the film. Yes, the end result was mixed. Forster didn’t have much experience with action (or huge budgets) and it showed — although the editing wasn’t much worse than the fight scenes in Batman Begins if you honestly compare the two.

However, I dug Quantum overall. I also admired it for being the first legitimate sequel in the 007 franchise. The walled-off nature of the Bond series had been its biggest weakness since the Sean Connery days. Allowing character and plot arcs to flow across films lends weight to each installment, because you know the slate won’t be wiped clean for the next adventure. This was the best decision Wilson and Broccoli made for 007 up until the other day.

When news hit Sam Mendes was directing the next Bond film, I practically whooped it up for Wilson and Broccoli. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a masterstroke for the current incarnation of 007 (unless the movie sucks of course, but I’m counting against that). Mendes is a pro at handling emotionally wounded characters who chafe against authority figures. It’s the recurrent theme found within all of his films. And without a doubt, Daniel Craig’s interpretation fits this mold. If the script is up to snuff (and I’m very interested by co-writer Peter Morgan’s statement that the story will be “shocking“) and the franchise machinery doesn’t suffocate Mendes’ sensibilities, it’s safe to say he could bring a potent level of character-driven drama to the franchise in a way we haven’t seen.

Sam Mendes and Paul Newman on the set of Road to Perdition

Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

Yet, I don’t deny saying something similar a few years ago when the announcement on Forster dropped. Yet, other than being a flat-out better director, Mendes brings a visually unique — almost painter-esque — style to his films and, more importantly, Road to Perdition and Jarhead prove he can handle violence in a manner that feels fresh. Extra bonus goes to the fact Mendes and Craig have already worked together in Perdition, which also showcases Craig’s best performance.

So I’m not sure where so much of the negativity I have read around the Internet comes from. I guess, you can never satisfy the online masses, but we’re talking about an Oscar-winner here and a director many people championed until they decided Away We Go didn’t satisfy their pallette. If you ask me, this is good stuff. A smart play. The upcoming Bond movie shouldn’t stoke Bond fans only. This is a win for both sides, and by that I’m referring to anyone who desires artistic-minded quality from their mainstream cinema.

NOTE: The Goods” is a new regular mini-column focusing on, well, good stuff, whether it be nifty news (such as Mendes on Bond), or finding the sunshine in otherwise bad things (as much as I disliked 2012, it’s fantastic that a large audience was exposed to Chiwetel Ejiofor), or just pointing out something really cool like an interesting movie poster, little seen film, or viral video. This is a column attempting to add a slight bit of counter-balance to the boring sourness the Internet radiates. That’s not saying this column discourages robust debate on its topics. In fact, just the opposite. If you disagree with anything, say so. We just hope you do it in a civil, thoughtful manner.


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