Sam Mendes Calls Directing James Bond a No-Win Scenario

Sam Mendes talks about how, in the end, taking on the task of directing a franchise like James Bond is more about survival than succeeding.

Sam Mendes is one of the most celebrated directors of his generation. Winning awards for both his productions on stage and screen, including an Oscar for American Beauty, he’s tried his hand in his most genres and conventions… even Bond. The director of the two most recently released James Bond 007 adventures, Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015), Mendes was first celebrated for handling Bond’s highest grossing adventure on the 50th anniversary of Dr. No’s release, and then often vilified for what many consider the disappointment of Spectre.

He famously declined a third go of directing Daniel Craig in the tuxedo, instead focusing his energy on the astonishing World War I thriller, 1917. Indeed, that film’s uninterrupted illusion of being filmed in one shot is even influenced by the opening scene of Spectre (which he told us about in October). Yet like Bond’s past, Mendes cannot escape 007’s legacy, even when promoting his latest triumph. While speaking with The Sunday Times recently, the subject of how some 007 fans were displeased with his double-0 efforts, including the successful Skyfall, came up. Mendes, for his part, became gracious in reflecting on the pressure placed on 007 directors.

It’s just so hard. You feel like the England football manager. You think, if I win, I’ll survive. If I lose, I’ll be pilloried. There is no victory. Just survival.

It is a fair assessment of his time with 007. While Skyfall was largely well-received, earning about $1.1 billion worldwide, a small but vocal group of fans were put off by the film’s focus on Bond’s relationship with Judi Dench’s M, as opposed to a traditional love interest. Additionally, the movie’s villain (Javier Bardem) had no greater aspirations than murdering her, reducing the third act to a confrontation between Bond and a dark double on the grounds of his family home. Others disliked the Straw Dogs approach to that ending, or the film simply breaking tradition by exploring Bond’s childhood.

But even after directing what is widely considered one of the best Bond films, he might’ve simply “survived” the experience. For as soon as he disappointed a majority of the fanbase with Spectre—even in spite that film’s more winning elements, including a terrific opening sequence in Mexico City with the aforementioned long Steadicam shot(s), as well as a thrilling car chase through the streets of Rome—Mendes’ name is mud in the parts of the British and genre press that only care what you’ve done for them lately.

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Mendes probably feels relieved the gun barrel has thus moved onto someone else, in this case Cary Fukunaga, who has taken over directing the 007 franchise for Craig’s last entry in the series: No Time to Die. That film is due out in April, and we have more about it right here.

David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.