The puffs of white smoke have emerged from the roof of the discreetly lavish offices of Eon Productions in London’s Mayfair – so weirdly similar to the old MI6 building in which Ian Fleming imagined 007 reporting for duty. This is the place where producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli make serious decisions about the colossally lucrative James Bond brand. The director of Bond 25 has been chosen. And any rumours we may have heard about Yann Demange being anointed turn out to be quite wrong. The person at the helm is to be Cary Fukunaga, 41-year-old director of Beasts of No Nation, Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre.
What an interesting pick. Fukunaga is a very smart, capable director who has shown with his wide range of projects that he can handle action, ambitious location work and big above-the-title performances. Beasts of No Nation was the disturbing tale of African child soldiers which famously featured a showstopping turn from Idris Elba as the terrifying commandant – Elba himself being once mooted for 007. Jane Eyre was Fukunaga’s interesting and perhaps underrated adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, in which he shepherded excellent performances from Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Sin Nombre was a tough, socially aware thriller about Central American kids trying to get into the US. All of these pictures collectively showcase relevant CV ingredients: violence, suspense, sexual tension, black comedy.
But Fukunaga has also shown himself to be a master of longform television, a string to his professional bow which previous directors haven’t had – not since the New Zealander Martin Campbell, who directed GoldenEye and Casino Royale. And Fukunaga is a thoroughly modern TV creative of the streaming era. He was a director of True Detective and, even more to the point, the forthcoming Netflix comedy drama Maniac, with Emma Stone – about a strange pharmaceutical giant claiming to have a wonder drug to cure all psychological ills. What a Bond villain that firm’s CEO would make. TV is where directors demonstrate their showrunning skills and ability to shape narrative arcs. That’s not a big necessity for Bond, of course. But TV reveals a sensitivity to script and performance, and there’s an army of Netflix customers who want classy, witty material as well as luxury cars, absurdly expensive watches and things getting blown up.
So Fukunaga has an awful lot to offer. But what must also be a factor is what he is not offering. Unlike Danny Boyle, the brilliant director who finally couldn’t abide the corporate limits of Bond, Fukunaga does not come with people who want to start messing with the script and “bringing it up to date”, the bone of contention which apparently caused Boyle to press the button marked “ejector seat”. The screenplay is still going to be the province of Broccoli and Wilson’s tried-and-trusted writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. If they had been changed, that really would be news.
James Bond is such a gigantic industry, comparable to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with only one superhero. So Eon are very cautious about changes. Obviously, they are aware of the importance of being seen to refresh the product, and new directors are part of that, bringing their prestige as well as abilities. But rightly or wrongly, Eon doesn’t want auteurs. Sam Mendes, the director who took Bond to the next level of box-office success with Skyfall and Spectre, isn’t an auteur, but an outstanding team captain. So it is Fukunaga who will bring down the curtain on the Daniel Craig era – Craig’s last hurrah. Quite a responsibility.