Martin Campbell has resurrected James Bond from the dead. Twice. So why is he not the permanent James Bond director? After 1989’s License To Kill, almost everyone (including me) wrote off the James Bond series. Then came Campbell’s Goldeneye, the best Bond film since 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.
Following the release of Die Another Day, everyone wrote off Bond again–until Campbell’s Casino Royale, possibly the best Bond movie ever made, hit movie screens.
What I admire most about Campbell’s directorial style, displayed in the Bond films and in movies such as The Mask of Zorro, is that he is a master craftsman when it comes to filming action. There is not a single moment in any of the aforementioned films where we are left scratching our heads during an action sequence wondering, “What the hell is going on?” There’s no micro-editing, no drive-by close ups. Campbell knows how to choreograph action, and he knows how to shoot it in a way that delineates spatial relationships. (Another director who possessed this skill in spades was Walter Hill.)
The James Bond series needs this skill. And an awful lot of other directors would do well to learn it.
As great as he is, I have major problems with Christopher Nolan’s abilities in this area. People make excuses for the nonsensically-edited action scenes in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Even Roger Ebert has offered mea culpas for the most recent Batman films, citing Batman’s ninja roots, and the fact that the action is meant to be a foggy blur. And yet, in his review of The Chronicles of Riddick, Ebert complains, “There are a lot of violent fight scenes… but never do we get a clear idea of the spatial locations of the characters or their complete physical movements.”
David Edelstein is a reviewer who seems to be a man after my own heart. In his mostly negative Dark Knight review, he makes the following observations about Nolan:
He got away with the chopped-up fights in Batman Begins because his hero was a barely glimpsed ninja, coming at villains from all angles in stroboscopic flashes. There are more variables here, which means more opportunities to say “What the f— just happened?” I defy you to make spatial sense of the early scene in which Batman battles faux Batmen, gangsters, and the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy in a cameo that comes to nothing). If you can, move on to Level 2, diagramming the “Bat-tank versus Joker-truck versus cop car” chase. Then, finally, take the Ultimate Challenge: following the climax with Batman, the Joker, more faux Batmen, decoy hostages dressed as clowns, a SWAT team, and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius with some kind of sonar monitoring gizmo that tracks all the parties on video screens. Actually, Freeman looks like he knows what’s going on. Maybe the sequence plays well in sonar.
To my dismay, Edelstein has offered similar criticisms for the upcoming Bond film, Quantum of Solace:
If the staging were as witty as the plotting, Quantum of Solace might have been a corker like Casino Royale. But when the action starts, art-house-refugee director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) mashes together close-ups in the manner of The Dark Knight, and every big set piece is borderline incoherent.
While I have not yet seen Solace, after reading that, I want Martin Campbell to return to the James Bond director’s chair. As far as I’m concerned, he was born for it.
Alas, Campbell apparently doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, and has agreed to direct something called Nagasaki Deadline, which is only of interest to me because it is not the next 007 movie.
The best Bond films, sorted chronologically:
From Russia with Love
The Spy Who Loved Me
That’s two in the “win” column for Martin Campbell. So my message to him is this:
Quit messing around and get back to directing great Bond films. For England, Martin!