Last April, when Daniel Craig confirmed that he would be returning for one final onslaught of Heineken commercials (and making another James Bond movie to support them), news of who would be helming the currently untitled 25th installment of the spy super-franchise seemed imminent. And yet, almost a year later, the director’s chair is still empty. With November 2019 just around the corner, it goes without saying that each tick of 007’s Omega Seamster 300 watch is starting to grow a little bit louder.
Rumors — fueled by the wishful thinking of fanboys everywhere — had it that Denis Villeneuve or Christopher Nolan might be up for the gig, but both of those multiplex titans have publicly taken themselves out of the running. Now, word on the street says that “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle is “high on the list” of people who MGM and Eon Productions are considering for the gig.
Hiring him would be a potentially disastrous mistake. Perhaps this speaks to a failure of imagination on our part, but Boyle’s live-wire aesthetic feels all wrong for Bond. For one thing, 007 is a character who’s consistently been defined by his unflappable calm, while Boyle is a director whose work increasingly looks like it was shot by someone who was crushing Adderall into his eyeballs between takes.
There’s something stately (perhaps even sedate) about how Bond never flinches, the spy’s Cold War cool growing all the more refreshing as the world spins off its axis. His hair color might change — and one day, maybe his skin color along with it — but Bond is fundamentally an old-fashioned rogue whose sole purpose in life is to keep the future and its filmmaking tropes safe from those who might weaponize them against the free world.
It’s not a coincidence that the most disastrous mistakes of the Daniel Craig era have resulted from bucking tradition in an appeal to modern audiences (e.g. how “Spectre” self-destructed by insisting on a Marvel-esque “everything is connected” approach), or that its greatest triumphs have resulted from going back to basics (e.g. “Casino Royale” depicting the loss that broke him, and “Skyfall” cutting to the heart of what the character holds dear).
Boyle, on the other hand, is practically allergic to simple charms. We’re talking about a guy who somehow turned a movie about a dude pinned to a rock into a hallucinatory and visually exhausting music video about love and death — a guy who couldn’t stop himself from turning the last scene of his Steve Jobs biopic into a faux-inspirational fireworks display of flashing lights and hallmark feelings. Boyle is a visionary director whose greatest films have come from capturing the pulse of a generation or seeing new technology for how it might be able to inject fresh life into dead genres, but James Bond doesn’t need to be reborn just yet, he only needs to be refined. It’s hard to say if Boyle would ever be a good fit for the ultimate spy franchise, but he’d certainly be better suited to kickstart the next iteration of 007 than he would be to end the Daniel Craig era.
There are a number of other U.K. filmmakers who are must better suited to take this one (and who have at least a semi-realistic shot of landing the gig). Some because they’d get it right, some because they’d only get it wrong in the most fascinating ways, and some because they’d be able to close one chapter of the Bond franchise while simultaneously opening a door to the next. Here are the top five directors who should direct “Bond 25.”
5. Joe Wright
Of all the good choices available to MGM, Joe Wright is probably the safest. As British as a crumpet (and currently basking in the runaway success of his Winston Churchill biopic, “Darkest Hour”), Wright is a wily veteran who’s stylish enough make a mark on 007, and also enough of a hired gun to satisfy the demands of a series that’s older than he is. His breakthrough adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” showed that he knows how to preserve the integrity of a classic tale, while the operatic maximalism of his “Anna Karenina” illustrated his ability to orchestrate a thousand moving parts at once (the secret behind any of the great Bond setpieces).
And then there’s “Hanna,” a fairy tale “La Femme Nikita” made by a guy who implicitly understands the musicality of a memorable fight scene (just imagine The Chemical Brothers and/or Dario Marianelli riffing on the Bond theme!), and has a knack for framing old school violence in dynamic new ways. Wright may not have a perfect track record, but given the franchise’s rigid iconography, there’s little chance that his “Bond 25” would become another “Pan.”
4. Lynne Ramsay
Of all the good choices available to MGM, Lynne Ramsay is probably the most daring. Your confusion is understandable. Until last year, the idiosyncratic Scottish auteur behind “Ratcatcher” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” wasn’t even a remotely plausible candidate to direct a blockbuster spy movie that comes with a full set of baggage — prior to her most recent film, Ramsay seemed as well-suited for James Bond as Apichatpong Weersethakul does for the next “Star Wars” spin-off. But just wait until you feast your eyes on “You Were Never Really Here” (in theaters April 6), a bruising Cannes sensation in which she manages to turn a mutteringly schlub-tastic Joaquin Phoenix into the most exciting hardcore action hero since Jason Bourne.
Okay, so Ramsay is still a pretty reckless choice for a studio in need of a billion-dollar hit — and not only because the cumulative gross of her previous films is less than Daniel Craig’s personal speedo budget from “Casino Royale” — but her elliptical style could play to the series’ recent strengths. In Ramsay’s hands, Bond would go back to being more of an idea than a man, a haunted abstraction whose penchant for violence obscures a deep wound in his heart. The director’s elliptical style wouldn’t be entirely foreign to the franchise (imagine the choppiness that Marc Forster brought to “Quantum of Solace,” but on purpose), and her pummeling approach to violence would be a harsh rebuke to anyone worried that Bond is going soft. Beyond that, we’d also be guaranteed a rhythmic 95-minute adventure and Tilda Swinton as the series’ best villain (and/or Bond Babe) of all time. If Daniel Craig wants to end his tenure in a wild blaze of glory, Lynne Ramsay is the director to help him do it.
3. Richard Ayoade
Armed with a quicksilver wit and an exactingly dark eye (think Taika Waititi meets Terry Gilliam) “The Double” director Richard Ayoade is one of the smartest people working in the movies today, even if he isn’t working nearly as much as he should. Co-creator of the morbidly hilarious “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” Ayoade would be a perfect complement to Daniel Craig, whose chilly sense of humor has made his incarnation of 007 funnier and more severe than any of his predecessors. Not only is he the only director with the courage to address the question that has been weighing on hardcore Bond fans for years, he’s also the only person on this list who could just start playing Bond himself once Craig finally decides to retire from her majesty’s secret service.
2. Steve McQueen
The mind boggles at imagining what Steve McQueen would do with a $250 million budget — at what sort of poetry in motion a Turner Prize-winning visual artist could produce with those kind of resources at his disposal. If McQueen could mount a chase sequence or a classic brawl with even a fraction of the raw physicality he brought to the opening minutes of “Hunger,” we’d be in for the most harrowing (and hyper-political) Bond movie of them all. Say what you will about “Shame,” but there’s more coiled energy to that simple tracking shot of Michael Fassbender jogging across midtown than there was in the last two hours of “Spectre” combined. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that “12 Years a Slave” gave McQueen the strength he’d need to fight the studio for his vision. In fact, this could be a mutually beneficial hire — the Bond series would get a visionary filmmaker capable of sophisticated classicism with a progressive edge, and McQueen would buy himself a blank check to go make whatever the hell he wanted next.
1. Paul King
There are a few good reasons why “Paddington 2” director Paul King is currently being courted by every studio gig on the planet: He’s young, he’s cheap, and he just made what might be the 21st century’s most satisfying movie. But that’s not even the half of it. King, who earned his chips on some of modern Britain’s most delightful TV shows (“The Mighty Boosh,” “Come Fly With Me”), would be as fine a steward for James Bond as already has been for Paddington Bear. The proof is in the marmalade: “Paddington 2” is the work of a filmmaker who’s comfortable with the CG elements required for a contemporary blockbuster, who excels at the kind of character-driven chaos that’s sustained the 007 brand for more than 50 years, and who implicitly understands how comedy can be used to create emotion. In his last film alone, King managed to squeeze in a train fight that’s better than the one in “Spectre,” a prison break that’s better than the one in “Skyfall,” and a pun game so strong that it makes the immortal final line of “The World Is Not Enough” feel like a lump of coal by comparison. And if that’s not enough, just think of how much fun Hugh Grant would have playing every surviving member of Quantum.