This week in cinema brings two industry titans back into focus. There is the new Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk, stretching the screen in an IMAX near you now, which is reviewed here. And Monday evening rewarded cinephiles further: James Bond will return, on November 8th 2019 in the US & slightly earlier in his beloved U.K. (You may have noticed that will be 3 years to the day since some Americans elected an evil caricature as their commander-in-chief. Personally I’d pay to see Bond take down that orange stain, although he’s far too incompetent for a place alongside Goldfinger, Blofeld, Scaramanga et al).
Fevered discussion is already underway on whether Daniel Craig will bring his stony, sour assassin back, or whether a new figure will be fitted in the finest of suits. There is another equally intriguing question though: with Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Spectre) having ruled himself out of the reeling, who will be behind the camera? One of the public favourites for that position is none other than Mr Nolan. A popular, innovative director, at first thought he seems like the perfect fit. But would it be so wise? Here follows the case for both sides, and I will endeavour to keep the Bond puns to a minimum.
- Christopher Nolan is not just a phenomenally successful director; he’s a brave one, who takes every film he gets to make as a chance to reinvent a genre and add something new to the history of movies. This would be so useful in the Bond canon; the next film will be the 25th, a record for a series of this kind. It demands reinvention, and whatever your views on Casino Royale, Skyfall & Spectre (Quantum of…what?), they are of similar tone & exist largely in the same world. He made an amnesia thriller; a noir set in perpetual light; and a heist where no-one can die. If anyone can breathe new life into the ageing Bond bones, it’s Nolan.
- A crucial part of any Bond film, & something they’ve greatly improved upon in the Craig era, is the fight/action scenes. Under Mendes & especially Martin Campbell on Casino Royale, the punches had weight, the wrestling was raw and you could almost feel the blood. Time and time again, Nolan has nailed combat; crucially he can do it across many situations & with many participants. There’s the cat-&-mouse logjam chase of Insomnia, the temple martial arts masterclass in Batman Begins; Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s messy gravity-free grapple in Inception‘s rotating hallway; while Batman & Bane duking it out in The Dark Knight Rises provides two of the film’s most visceral scenes, one in isolation & the other in the thick of a wider battle. Oh, and Matt Damon & Matthew McConaughey’s fumble on the ice in Interstellar. And all of Dunkirk. He’s earned his black belt, that’s for sure.
- Nolan is one of the most prominent advocates for film, both in frequent public speeches & his films – the challenges he has overcome to shoot physically (putting an IMAX in a Spitfire!) are evidence of his fidelity. Film is an institution, but one that is struggling. Bond is also an institution; if the industry’s primary film enthusiast were paired with its primary series, it would put a proper marker down for the relevance of the reel going forward.
- One of the struggles for any Bond director is making it feel true, despite all the whistles, bells and exploding whatevers. Another feature of Nolan’s work is his insistence on actually creating as much of what he shoots as possible. The most renowned example is that spinning hallway, made on a rig and for which Gordon-Levitt trained specially. The Dark Knight‘s exhilarating van chase was also real (Bond loves a pursuit), as was almost all of Dunkirk. As for The Prestige, well, Nolan is a magician of equal ability to the two of the story.
- For a young filmmaker to take on an ailing Batman character & negotiate a style that kept the studio happy but is also utterly his own was some feat. Nolan is not just a great director but an outstanding writer, entirely capable of deciding which Bond traditions to keep and which to cut. He knows that the film has to come first; any baubles or crowd-pleasing lines can be added as required.
- Mendes may be out but there seems to be a reasonable chance his leading man will continue. I don’t know about you but the idea of Christopher Nolan directing Daniel Craig is making me drool more than those famous tight blue swims.
- We know Nolan likes to do his own thing. A dream-based sci-fi from an original idea over a decade old; a three-part war epic inspired by a channel crossing 20 years ago. A comic book superhero with the colours turned right down. So many people want him to do #Bond25 – would taking up the mantle dilute the individuality that is so important to his work?
- Nolan has made 10 films and none of them have centred a woman protagonist, which is at best unfortunate. Barring the (currently) unlikely introduction of a female Bond, this would be his 11th. It is pretty sad that he can bend worlds and reconfigure time, but can’t make a film about a woman.
- Bond is seen as a prize for established directors, but why shouldn’t it be a chance for a director to prove themselves? Whatever their CV, they would have a huge team to help, & as any good interviewer knows it is the ideas and the passion that are more important than what you did 20 years ago.
- We may be some way from a woman as Bond, but there is absolutely no reason why a woman can’t direct him. And as the industry finally, creakily starts to open to the entirely normal notion of women having creative jobs, there is a field of candidates who would step up with style and drive. Ana Lily Amanpour made one of the most atmospheric, stylish films in years. Kathryn Bigelow is a confident, powerful filmmaker who has taken on huge projects before; the same goes for Ava DuVernay. Susanne Bier just made The Night Manager, which was basically Bond On TV. Lone Scherfig, Andrea Arnold & Lynne Ramsay all have an excellent understanding of both contemporary Britishness & of power, which would be fascinating to see explored through the prism of tradition-fetishising Bond. Near the front of the pack is Patty Jenkins, fresh from helming Wonder Woman which for my money was the best superhero film since, well, Nolan made one. It’s an electrifying, forceful blockbuster that shows the style & humour that would be well-suited to 007. We must be asking ‘if not now, when?’ It will always be easy to find an excellent man whose ‘turn’ it is; the chance for one of these excellent women is long overdue.
There we have it. The case in favour may seem slightly more substantial – Nolan certainly has all the credentials & you can’t help but feel he’s given some thought to what his English agent would be like. However the masculine mandate on this high-profile position simply has to go soon. At the very least, it would be brilliant to see #Bond25 expand on the consideration of this performative masculinity & heteronormativity we’ve seen in recent films. He’s been both more fragile (the Casino Royale shower scene & the whole narrative of his broken heart) and more suggestive of a varied sexual past (‘What makes you think this is my first time?’ is Skyfall‘s best quip in a strong field); give us more of that, in words and action.
So I’m just calling it in favour of ‘For’. Come on Christopher; if you can make such cinematic majesty from Batman, Joker & Bane, what could you do with this most experienced of executioners? Here’s hoping that the next time the name’s Bond, he’s in the hands of a director worthy of his potential.