Who Should Direct the Next James Bond Film? And What Should the Series Become?

Spectre james bond
Courtesy of Sony

It says a lot about where the James Bond series has been over the last few years that yesterday’s announcement by director Sam Mendes — that he is stepping down from the franchise after having directed two entries — was greeted by Bond fans from around the world with something less than a collective cry of dismay. Opinion will differ as to the sort of job Mendes did (some believe that “Skyfall” was a Bondian apotheosis; this critic did not), but one thing should be clear: After four films with Daniel Craig, in what was meant to be not just a “reboot” or “relaunch” but a veritable reimagining of Bond for the 21st century, the series, overall, has not truly lived up to that billing. And that’s a serious fumble, since the kickoff film of the new era, “Casino Royale” (2006), was a Bondian apotheosis. I’m not alone in thinking that it was the greatest Bond adventure since “Goldfinger” and “Dr. No,” and it established Daniel Craig’s 007 as, potentially, the first genuinely worthy successor to the diamond-hard magic of Sean Connery. Craig’s Bond was more of a ruffian, but he needed to be — these are rougher times — and in place of the smirk of Roger Moore, the scowl of Timothy Dalton, or the precision-watch cunning of Pierce Brosnan, he brought the role a brusque sensuality that masked a glint of omnipotent awareness, a surveillance of the world around him.

Of course, the role of Bond is now up for grabs as well. Craig has indicated that he may well be done with it, and his rumored replacements include Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, and Jamie Bell. (I’d vote for them in that order.) So the reboot of the Bond series is now about to be rebooted. That raises an essential question: not just who’s going to be the next 007, or who’s going to direct the next film, but what will the series now become? And here’s the conundrum that underlies that question: What can — and should — the Bond series be in an age when almost everything it stands for has been absorbed and incorporated into other movies?

Let’s play “Name That Director” for a moment, since it’s such an easy and irresistible parlor game to play. Who should be the next Bond director? The answers are as multiplicitous as they are tempting. I’d love to see a wizard of hair-trigger logistics like Paul Greengrass have a crack at it (then again, the Bourne films already are his Bond series), or an old-school action master like John McTiernan or Wolfgang Petersen, or — yes — Quentin Tarantino, who you might argue, after the grinding-gears insularity of “The Hateful Eight,” could benefit from taking over the toy shop of Bond every bit as much as the series could benefit from him.

QT sounds like a wild card, but my number-one choice would be an even wilder card: Kathryn Bigelow. She’s got the action virtuosity, the grasp of the ominous bureaucratic underworld in all its trap-door layers. But I believe that she could also restore the series to its glory in the realm where it has most dramatically slipped off track – namely, the hot-button arena of Bondian sexual politics. For let’s be honest: Without sex, without the erotic romance of James Bond’s mission in the world, what is 007, really, but another globe-trotting action hero (“Dateline: Grozny, 7:08 a.m.”) who happens to have a British accent and, for two or three scenes, wears a very posh tux? The truth is that the sexual politics of Bond — Bond as the ultimate mythical seducer, the master of women — cuts against the tenor of our age. That either makes Bond an anachronism, a bow-tied relic of the Connery/Hefner era, or it makes him something deeply subversive: a character who takes us back to a dream of erotic warfare, one that beneath our enlightened PC attitudes still reverberates like a primitive heartbeat.

The beauty of the Martin Campbell-directed “Casino Royale,” and what makes it stand apart from the three Bond films that followed, is the way that it looked forward and back at the same time. Yes, “Skyfall” looked back too, but in a misplaced way. It provided Bond with a Freudian backstory, but “explaining” a character like James Bond is a bit like explaining Hannibal Lecter: The more you explain, the more you shave away the character’s cooler-than-life/deadlier-than-life mystique. “Casino Royale” was an infinitely more inspired throwback. Craig’s Bond, with his cocky nihilist glare, was very much a suavely tailored jungle animal of today, yet the whole sprawling centerpiece of the movie was…a card game. Set in a luxury resort in Montenegro. The face-off between Craig and Mads Mikkelsen was a tingly reminder of how even a violent spy thriller could be built around a duel of eye contact. And that felt, for maybe the first time in decades, like the quintessence of Bond. The eye contact extended to the dazzling, multi-leveled deceptive flirtations between Craig and Eva Green. There was something epic at stake in that love story. At the end of the movie, when a grand palazzo in Venice began to buckle, it looked like the Western world was caving in.

That’s the kind of rousing poetic action grandeur that the Bond series deserves. And without it, what really are we talking about? The truth is that James Bond’s missions no longer seem any more impossible than anyone else’s. That’s part of what made the frantic mish-mosh of last year’s “Spectre” so dispiriting. Whoever does take over the series, the challenge isn’t about how they’re going to stage this or update that. The challenge is finding a vision of who James Bond is. Whoever directs the next installment has to do more than just extend the franchise. He (or she) needs to bring this spy in from the cold.

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  1. JE says:

    Couldn’t agree more that Casino Royale was the best of the recents, and in my top 5 of all time Bonds. It had everything that made Bond special, and most importantly, un PC! Make the next Bonds like that and they will succeed.

  2. John Cho for Bond. If a bloody limey can play the all-American Man of Steel, then an Asian-American can don a tux, bed the blonde, and play with the gadgets.

  3. Wout Thielemans says:

    I still HATE Craig (a great actor, a rotten Bond), and I was bored out of my skull by CR except for the parkour chase (and I still maintain that the kinetic energy of that setpiece carried the movie along, not the boring card game, the testicular torture, the inane affair with Eva ‘My make-up weighs more than I do’ Green or the exceptionally lame finale in the Venician Palazzo (why on earth does Bond shoot the contratpions that keep the thing afloat when he clambers in?). But I agree with most of the rest of your article. Spectre was a ‘greatest hits’ album (literally, every sequence can be traced to another Bond movie). But what should the series become? It should embrace its antecedents, should return Bond to being the alpha sexual predator who is lustful enough that his sex drive is also his greatest achilles heel, should have powerful villains with awe-inspiring plots of world domination or destruction AND… it should return to having finales which seem to come out of a war film. I hoped they would go that route in SPECTRE (when M had the SAS standing by) but nooooo… a tepid retread of the ending of CR was preferable by far, apparently).

  4. I’m fascinated that you could write all that and not mention Ian Fleming or the possibility that the reason “Casino Royale” worked so well for you is that it was actually based on Fleming’s work, unlike the other three (or the majority of the films since Connery – a link you also missed).

    I never liked Craig. He’s unlikable. And craggy. I’ll be glad to see the back of him, as the Bond films have been treading water (the brilliantly *marketed* “Skyfall” aside) his entire run after a steady increase in ticket sales during the Brosnan era.

    Let Bond be Bond and stop trying to overthink it. We don’t need “auteur” directors like Mendes. The series’ success was on the back of a strong production team married to journeyman directors who could do the job without getting bogged down with overreaching “style”. Guys like Martin Campbell, who ushered in *two* very successful new Bonds (Brosnan and Craig), but showed he can’t be the driving force behind a film with the disastrous “Green Lantern”.

    One of the biggest mistakes the Bond producers made was waiting for Mendes to return. It allowed the “Skyfall” iron (once so hot for striking) to cool and Craig just got older and craggier. Had they gone ahead without Mendes, they could have made pretty much the same film for less money, possibly earned more and maybe squeezed one more film out of old jug-eared Craig before he departed once and for all to devote himself to his disappointing non-Bond career.

    The solution is simple. Hire a qualified no-name director and an actor who’s practically (if not actually) a newcomer as Bond. It’s always worked before.

  5. Sylvie says:

    I really enjoyed this review…gave you so much to think about in the conception of a traditional character and how, as time passes, a director may have to change the character and personality of the protagonist such that we are not seeing the same theme continually and we can get charged up to reflect on society’s subtle changes in social behavior.

  6. Charles says:

    It should be Joseph Kahn

  7. I would love to see a Peter Weir directed Bond film. And although it isn’t necessarily valid to draw direct comparisons, after the work George Miller did on Fury Road, I don’t think Weir’s age (or lack of recent activity) can be counted against him.

  8. Natty Bumppo says:

    Terence Malick should direct the next Bond film, Tree of Life, nuff said. How about Dev Patel as Bond? Melissa McCarthy as Moneypenny? Chloe Moretz as M and who else, Donald Trump as Blofeld.

    • Karl says:

      Donald Trump IS Blofeld !!! That would be genius casting…
      Otherwise my top choice for the villain is Bruno Ganz (=Hitler).
      A very classy Swiss actor.

  9. James Wrong says:

    How about Daniel Craig directing Bond 25? I dunno if that’s irony or poetic justice, but it would keep him occupied for a while. No time to slash his wrists.

  10. joeyluu says:

    Guy Ritchie !!!

  11. Jim McMaster says:

    Director: Michael Mann

    New James Bond: James D’arcy

    That right there is the recipe for a great bond film. A director skilled in directing thrilling action scenes and complex stories, with an actor capable of pulling off proper british sophistication and charm.

  12. Rick gillies says:

    The next bond should be in the mood of Sean Connery with some Daniel Craig but what the producers should do for the next film is promote a woman to be the first to have 00 status and have her work with bond on a mission to stop terrorists from launching a large scale attack which would create a new and fresh bond film with a strong female operative, if the audience accepts the female spy it could create a new franchise

    • JE says:

      No, that is exactly what we DON’T need. We don’t need a strong feminist lead in a Bond film. We get that BS everywhere else. 100lb superwomen kicking 250lb guys around. So unrealistic and PC.

  13. DougW says:

    Didn’t buy Hiddleston as a tough guy in “The Night Manager.” I’d go with Theo James. And I’d love Christopher Nolan to do a Bond. He’s expressed interest in the past.

  14. Sara says:

    I think Bond should go back to standalone flicks with no baggage.

    Im thinking of going back to the films of Pierce Brosnan, where Bond got his mission, had his gadgets, fought the bad guy, slept with some woman and got the main Bond girl at the end with no i love you.

    I think the director should be John McTiernan after his great job in The Thomas Crown Affair remake and the Next Bond Henry Cavil.

    Pierce Brosnan has always been my favorite Bond and i loved his movies so going back to that direction would be great.

  15. Into BOND-age says:

    Please, anyone BUT Tarantino, Ritchie or Nolan! And let’s have a return to big shiny futuristic sets, awesome gadgetry, cool music, and supervillains who are really menacing and unhinged (Christoph Waltz was a total snore in “Spectre”) – how about a Trump-ish mastermind bent on conquering the world with an insane eugenics plot? And make Bond functionally bisexual (he alluded to this back in “Skyfall”) when the situation calls for it. Hiddleston would make for a serviceable, interim, transitional Bond – much like Dalton did…but who remembers the Dalton Bonds with any great affection or enthusiasm?

  16. frank deniro says:

    “Skyfall” WAS the apotheosis, not “Casino Royale.” The best 007 movie ever. Of course, Mendes is an infinitely better director than Campbell.
    Hiddleston is the only credible choice. Bell is too young and callow, and as much as I like Idris Elba his casting would seem like cynically convenient political correctness.

    • JE says:

      Skyfall sucked. Way to full of itself, dark and boring. Casino Royale was easily the best Bond in 20 years, and one of the top 5 of all time.

    • Meets the Eye says:

      SKYFALL was pure hack work. The worst screenplay in the entire series short of, maybe Die Another Day. The emperor’s new clothes of the Bond series. James Bond as an incompetent for every step of the way leading up to and including Bond’s ridiculous plan to save M’s life by whisking her off to a decrepit manor house with no high ground, no military backup and no high-tech weapons – with full knowledge that Silva is coming with a merc army and all the firepower he can muster. Throw in Thomas Newman’s incompetent score (Spectre was no better) and you have the nadir of the series or damn near close to it. Please stop calling this film a 007 masterpiece. Gleiberman is absolutely right: that honor goes to Casino Royale.

  17. Royt says:

    Christopher Nolan or Denis Villeneuve would be fantastic behind the camera, what about Danny Boyle or David Michod?

  18. You make a great argument for Kathryn Bigelow, but my understanding is that the longtime producers have made it a rule to choose non-American directors. So don’t get too excited.

  19. John says:

    Cast 2 Bonds, old & young, bring Roger Moore back for one last run, where he tutors the young Bond, revitalize Jaws & Oddjob.

  20. Karis says:

    Why only a James Bond?

    Let’s see what his baby sister Jillian Bond can do!

  21. Rio says:

    Would love to see Brian de Palma or Brad Bird do it. They did great work on Mission Impossible (I and IV respectively) and can push Bond back into the spy game. I mean the last fully spy like Bond movie we’ve had was The Living Daylights.

  22. B. says:

    MICHAEL BAY!!! DO IT!!! <3

  23. feyandamy says:

    Steven Spielberg…Oh Wait…Cubby Broccoli told Spielberg No…several times and several years ago. lol

  24. Sales Rep says:

    Xavier Vanegas has the deft maneuvering and clarity of vision to handle any Bond film

  25. Thandie says:

    Gillian or Idris as Bond, or no one at all!

  26. Bay says:

    Its time for a female Bond.

  27. BMAN says:

    Guy Ritchie or Matthew Vaughn would be solid choices in my opinion but Denis Villeneuve would be my number one pick.

  28. Kristian Leal says:

    I was also saying that I’m hoping that the new Bond movie can answer all the questions from Skyfall, so that they could explain things that were not explained.

  29. Kristian Leal says:

    Hmm… Can they bring Martin Campbell back? He did great with Goldeneye and Casino Royale, so why not have him back?

  30. Tariq Bayjoo says:

    1st class article – well said. As much is it pains me to say it because I love the franchise, Spectre was an utter mish-mash of box ticking ‘homage’ based scenes that ultimately and literally lost the plot. The only saving grace was that the scenes at the L’Americana Hotel did give us a flavour of the Casino Royal vibe.

    For my part I’d cast Micheal Fassbender in the role and take it back to the Cold War 60’s – id even remake the old classics, if they can do it with Shakespere they can do it with Fleming..

  31. harry georgatos says:

    Brian De Palma will make a visually unique Bond film of sight and sound with seductive femme fatales.
    The director of the super-charged MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE franchise will lend an authentic surveillance spy feel and create a relevant Bond for the ages. De Palma is the leading director of visual planning and very few can match him. It’s time to bring him in from the cold and back in the Hollywood mainstream where his sensibility can bring a unique quality to the standard blockbuster.

  32. udpert says:

    John Glen should direct. He had the Bond tone down to perfection, whether with the light stylings of Roger Moore or the serious edge of Timothy Dalton.

    As for where the series should go, primarily: LIGHTEN UP. Bonds used to be about fun, all the way back to the Connery days. This franchise does not need to be Bourne. Shed the dour Craig era and bring back the breeziness of the earlier Bonds.

  33. Rutegar says:

    Interesting musings.

    I agree CASINO ROYALE was Daniel Craig’s only good Bond movie (and he knows it too).
    The other three are all but unwatchable dog’s breakfasts.

    And Bigelow can certainly stitch together an action sequence, but Bond is probably a little silly and cartoonish in tone for her strengths. Frankly, it would be a step down for her.

    Phillip Noyce and Roger Donaldson are both very efficient thriller directors and John Woo can dazzle, but the tongue-in-cheek element of Bond (when done well) is what makes it.

    Might I suggest Luc Besson …

    • Kristian Leal says:

      This article didn’t say anything about Casino Royale being the only good Daniel Craig Bond movie. This was just talking about who should direct the next Bond movie. Casino Royale is not the only good Bond movie.

  34. Rudy Mario says:

    Any talented Brit will work. US directors are way too expensive while Brots cost a fraction. Just like so many brits turn up in Hollywood movies. Why ? CHEAP labor. Be it picking fruits or garbage or putting on make up and facing the camera, foreign labor is the way to go. Unless of course it is Superman, Batman, Capt America, spiderman, etc. No Brits or other foreigners. OK for roles of butler, servant, nanny, etc.

  35. johns98 says:

    I would like to see a Martian War story for Bond 25 by James Gunn with Daniel Craig to return. David Hasselhoff to play the Martian leader named Karken and Bruno Ganz, best-known for playing Hitler in ‘Downfall’, to play Karken’s father Julian as i’ve inspired the 2005 film ‘War of the Worlds’.

    Then Bond 26 will take on the terrorist organisation known as GRINDER (General Revenge in Non-Dimension Entertaining Rights).

    If Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signs the distribution deal with Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, then the future Bond films (and reissues) will be release under the Walt Disney Pictures label.

    We have to wait until the Bond 25 news comes up (i expected to be July).

    • George says:

      Haha, John, that would be quite a movie! But I’m dead serious: Bruno Ganz would be the greatest Bond villain since Gert Fröbe. And Tom Hardy, Sebastian Stan and maybe Michael Fassbender are the only real Bond contenders!

  36. George says:

    I would love to see a Bond trilogy by Christopher Nolan with Tom Hardy in the lead! I can’t imagine a better Bond than Tom Hardy at the moment…Tom Hiddleston is great, but not right as Bond. Idris Elba is a little bit too old now. Both would make terrific villains. Other great choices for the villains are Cillian Murphy, Jeff Bridges or art house actors Bruno Ganz or Vlad Ivanov….Actually Bruno Ganz, best-known for playing Hitler in “Downfall”, would make a fantastic villain, because he seems so nice and cultivated, like Gert Fröbe in “Goldfinger”. If they can’t get Nolan, I would like to see a female-directed Bond by Kathryn Bigelow or Susanne Bier, too! Much more imprtant than the director is a proper screenplay. Sorry, but “Spectre” didn’t work: It started great, but ended very weak.

    • George says:

      After thinking long and hard, I have another contender for Bond: SEBASTIAN STAN ! He’s Bucky Barnes / The Winter Soldier in “Captain America: Civil War”…He has the right age for multiple sequels and great charisma. There’s a dark side to his good looks & he’s a talented actor. Otherwise, get him a s a villain, please.

  37. Janice says:

    They could justify his longevity by making a him a clone of the original. If only…

  38. Ann Wang says:

    I definitely like Tom Hiddleston to be the next bond. He was superb in the Night Manager. As for director I would go with Martin Campell because Casino Royale was one of my favorite Bond movies. Kathryn Bigelow won’t be bad either.

  39. John says:

    Joe Carnahan, cast Charlie Hunnam as new Bond – go for an edgier, more intense style.

  40. patrik says:

    two – Paul Greengrass , and Sofia Coppola(1)

  41. KB says:

    I think either Hiddleston, Fassbender, or my favorite Chiwetel Ejiofor should take the role. All three are amazing actors.

  42. Milano says:

    Susanne Bier, who did such a good job with The Night Manager.

  43. Spider says:

    John McTiernan should direct the next Bond film.

  44. Daniel Wiles says:

    Nolan is the obvious choice. Although I’d like to see a less action-filled Bond film.

  45. LOL says:

    Paul Verhoeven.

  46. Cath says:

    Just let it end.

    • nobody important says:

      Unless it stops making money, it’ll never end. Besides, it’s almost a tradition to keep it going.

  47. Bill B. says:

    I gave up on this series years ago due to all the silliness, repetition and weak leading actors after Connery, but Casino Royale and Skyfall were sensational and so was Craig, but that ended with Spectre, It wasn’t terrible, but it is falling into its own kind of monotony. I’m back to not being interested in Bond, but if anyone can give this a new & original spin, it would be Tarantino.

  48. Jimmy Green says:

    Inject new excitement, sex, and intelligence. James bond should be played by Zac Efron. Start a new Bond…one not just with good lucks but youthful vigor and intelligence. He would bring in a newer audience AND show them how good a film with a plot can entertain without animation or CGI.

    • me says:

      The character of James Bond was not full of “youthful vigor”. Read the books. That’s another movie, but it’s not Bond.

      • Jimmy Green says:

        I’ve read them. Did you read my comment? “A new Bond” is what it needs to open so many more plot lines. The Ipcress File used a very young agent (Caine) and sequels followed. Zac WOULD invigorate like Damon.

    • Jodie Bowman says:

      Seriously Bond should be played by Henry Cavill. The man is intoxicating and is extremely talented in his acting ability. If the box office wants to sell tickets and up the audience to millions of women (housewives) there is no doubt he should be considered. His “swag” as Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E should testify to his superb acting skills to play a spy that bleeds all the Bond qualities. I have been fond of Bond movies since a little girl and there is no doubt Henry would be legendary in this role. Not to mention the fact that as a celebrity he brings good representation by being a genuinely humble person outside of his roles. Don’t label Henry just a superhero…I believe him to be capable of bringing back huge box office turnouts if by chance he would land this very iconic role. I’ll be honest as a middle aged educated women my friends and I would be sprinting to the movies!

      • Greggan says:

        Cavill has the looks, voice and presence of a gameshow host.

      • Bill B. says:

        Problem is, he’s kind of boring. He was the wrong choice for Superman and The Man From Uncle was a poor film.

  49. Matt says:

    Tarantino or Guy Ritchie

    • Jodie Bowman says:

      Haha…I’m talking acting skills not critiquing that The Man From Uncle was an Academy award winning movie. Boring as in…he’s not in the tabloids? Give us something to look at…and someone to fill the Bond role with charisma= Henry Cavill. Thanks for your response Bill…Fellow bond fan.

    • Jimmy Green says:

      Tarantino is an old buffoon guaranteed to kill off the franchise in five minutes of film

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