Blade Runner 2049 to Bond 25: yes, Mr Villeneuve, we expect you to direct
Like Christopher Nolan, Sam Mendes and Peter Jackson, Villeneuve is a rare example of a visionary film-maker with franchise nous. Can he get the 007 gig?
Sam Mendes may have done more than just reload 007s Walther PPK with box-office bullets when he took on Skyfall five years ago. For decades, Bond production company Eon vacillated between recruiting indie directors with a handful of arthouse hits on their hands (Quantum of Solaces Marc Forster; Die Another Days Lee Tamahori) and tried and tested industry stalwarts (Casino Royale and GoldenEyes Martin Campbell; The World Is Not Enoughs Michael Apted). But in the wake of Mendes success in taking Bond past the $1bn mark for the first time, then almost repeating the feat with 2015s Spectre, an entirely new calibre of film-maker is being mentioned to take charge of 2019s 25th official 007 movie.
While suggestions that Christopher Nolan might be prepared to take on Her Majestys top suave super spy seem to be little more than wishful thinking, whispers surrounding the involvement of Blade Runner 2049s Denis Villeneuve appear to be more grounded. Villeneuve was named by Deadline in July as a frontrunner to take over from Mendes, and the Daily Mails well-connected Baz Bamigboye reported last month that the French-Canadian director of Sicario and Arrival was Daniel Craigs top choice for the role.
Both Nolan and Villeneuve are members of a rare coterie of Hollywood film-makers who have proven themselves both as directors of original, intelligent cinema and as trusted carriers of the franchise flame. Warner Bros is still struggling to reinvent Batman five years after Nolans Dark Knight trilogy closed, and Villeneuve has just resurrected a 35-year-old sci-fi saga to rapturous critical acclaim (even if the films US box office looks pretty disappointing). Like Mendes, both men know how to play the studio game. Nolan would never have been given the greenbacks to film brainteasing sci-fi blockbuster Inception, or this years Dunkirk, had he not proven his box-office clout with a trilogy of hit superhero movies. Likewise, Villeneuve and Mendes will find their personal projects easier to greenlight now that they have proven their value to studios desperate to inject the rarefied alchemy of visionary film-making into safer franchise fare.
Looking at the other mooted candidates for Bond 25, neither has quite the same standing. David Mackenzies Hell or High Water is a fine modern spin on the western, while Yann Demanges 71 is a lean and muscular Troubles-set thriller with just the right balance of genre thrills and historical grit. But Blade Runner 2049s mesmerising visuals and its sheer echoing, cerebrum-twisting existential weight suggest Villeneuve has the chops to not just keep 007 rolling along nicely but take the suave spy to another level entirely. His partnership with 13-times Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins also bodes well, for the Bond series has perhaps never equalled for bravura visual eloquence the dazzling Deakins-shot sequences in which 007s adventures took place against the ice-blue cityscapes of Shanghai and golden, gilded opulence of Macau.