What a great week for Cary Fukunaga. Ahead of the premiere of the filmmaker’s new Netflix miniseries Maniac—which he directed and helped develop alongside creator-writer Patrick Somerville—on Friday, Fukunaga was announced as the new director of Bond 25 on the franchise’s official Twitter account on Thursday. Production for the film will begin in March 2019, and the release date has been pushed back from October 2019 to February 2020.
“We are delighted to be working with Cary,” Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said in a statement. “His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure.”
Bond 25, which is expected to be the last film starring Daniel Craig as 007, experienced a setback in August when its original director, Danny Boyle, left the project over “creative differences.” The conflict likely stemmed from the fact MGM and the producers were scrapping Boyle’s Bond 25 script, cowritten by John Hodge, in favor of one written by frequent Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade—an issue that Broccoli and Wilson probably should’ve seen coming. But here we are: Bond 25 is good to go, and only a few months behind its initial schedule. And with Fukunaga at the helm, the franchise will hit a couple of milestones: This will be the first Bond film directed by an American filmmaker [bald eagle caws in the distance], and perhaps the first Bond movie in which its director could also step in front of the camera and capably play MI6’s most trusted agent.
Cary Fukunaga's dog gets it. pic.twitter.com/05SjIAvSC2— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) August 27, 2018
For MGM and production company Eon, Fukunaga is a bold choice, one that’s not without a level of risk for a project that’s already suffered one delay. There are a lot of pros to picking Fukunaga to direct Bond 25—but also, one crucial con.
Pro: He’s, Uh, Very Good?
Fukunaga doesn’t have the deepest directorial résumé, but all of his projects across television and film share one common characteristic: They’re very acclaimed. His 2009 feature film debut Sin Nombre was a harrowing tale following an immigrant and a gang member as they journeyed to the U.S.-Mexico border—a project that allowed him to take the reins of a well-liked Jane Eyre adaptation released two years later.
Fukunaga, however, is best known for directing the entire first season of True Detective, HBO’s brooding megahit that definitely spurred the one-take outbreak—and all those weird, rambling Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercials. Fukunaga won an Emmy for his directing in the series, and his influence—or lack thereof—on the second season of True Detective was apparent, as the show crumbled beneath labyrinthe plotting and creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s unfettered melodrama and distaste for e-cigarettes.
Fukunaga’s latest, Maniac, is a surrealist dreamscape that follows Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as their characters undergo a drug trial that doubles as a cacophony of computer-generated fantasies. The show’s narrative is hard to follow—one might argue it’s intentionally incomprehensible—but Maniac allows Fukunaga to brilliantly experiment with various genres and tones. In one episode, Stone and Hill are a bickering couple from Long Island who retrieve a lemur stolen by gangsters; in the next, they’re pulling off a heist inside a swanky ’50s mansion that seems to come alive at every turn. (Like I said, it’s weird.) A show like Maniac could easily fall off the rails, but Fukunaga serves as its guiding force, tempting you to let Netflix autoplay the next episode, as if you’re under the same trance as the characters in the trial.
All of which is to say: This dude’s proved he can direct the shit out of projects. The Bond franchise’s decades-long persistence relies on its ability to adapt to the eras the movies exist in, but also on the creative directors working behind the camera. And on the merits of his filmmaking alone, Fukunaga is a logical choice to give the Craig era a sumptuous, epic conclusion.
Pro: Remember That Six-Minute Single Take?
The success of the Bond franchise in the Daniel Craig era has been contingent on thrilling action set pieces. The best pure action sequence of arguably the whole franchise is from Craig’s Casino Royale—a parkour chase in Madagascar that culminates with 007 blowing up an embassy (as one does) and killing his target, but not before chasing the guy across a construction site and jumping off cranes. Whereas other Bonds relied on suave or comically campy stunts (looking at you, Pierce Brosnan), Craig’s bond is brutal, uncompromising; he wears the trauma of the job on his sleeve and in his brooding eyes.
As a director, Fukunaga, despite having a very diverse résumé untethered to any single genre, is best remembered for a thrilling six-minute single take in the fourth episode of True Detective’s first season, “Who Goes There.”
“Who Goes There” landed fourth on The Ringer’s Best TV Episodes of the Century, a designation credited in large part to Fukunaga’s stunning single take. “Yes, there had been oners before—ER specialized in dizzying track shots through reception areas and operating rooms—but Fukunaga’s was like nothing TV audiences had seen,” Chris Ryan wrote in his tribute to the episode. “His camera passed through multiple settings—from exterior to interior, through multiple rooms, and back outside—while transmitting story through depth of frame.”
Though not as visceral as the True Detective oner, Maniac does feature a chaotic yet coherent gunfight in one of its fantastical jaunts that’s about as good as anything seen on TV this year. When the project calls for it, Fukunaga’s displayed a knack for nailing these moments—ones that are, obviously, crucial to making a good Bond film. Don’t expect a rehash of that famous single take for Bond 25—for starters, the last Bond film, Spectre, already messed around with a long tracking shot at a Dia de los Muertos celebration. The more important takeaway here is that Fukunaga has displayed proficiency at adapting his style to meet the material. It wouldn’t be a Craig-Bond sendoff without another rollicking action set piece; the excitement comes from seeing what the auteur can conjure up to try to top the parkour chase.
Con: Fukunaga’s Checkered Past
Of course, the biggest issue with hiring Fukunaga is there’s always the question of whether he will actually finish the project. After his 2015 Netflix film Beasts of No Nation, Fukunaga developed a bit of a reputation for leaving projects over creative differences—the same vague calamity that led to Boyle exiting Bond 25. Fukunaga’s biggest creative clash occurred when he was attached to the live-action It, a project he dropped out of in May 2015. “The studio just kind of pulled the plug when they felt like I was going to be too difficult,” Fukunaga said with a shrug in an interview with The New York Times Magazine. (Fukunaga still retained a screenwriting credit on the film.)
Fukunaga also dropped out as the director of TNT’s prestige-inclined miniseries The Alienist. The prevailing issues in that case were reportedly the show’s budget—which, if true, is a bit ridiculous, since TNT shelled out a reported $5 million per episode—and scheduling conflicts. Fukunaga says The Alienist in its final form—which went on to be nominated for six Emmys, including Outstanding Limited Series or Movie—was different from his creative vision. (Fukunaga still retained a screenwriting and executive producer credit on the series.)
Considering the director’s reputation for clashing over creative differences—Fukunaga and Pizzolatto even reportedly butted heads on True Detective’s acclaimed first season, and have been throwing shade at each other since—and the fact Eon and MGM just parted ways with Boyle for that very reason, tapping Fukunaga for Bond 25 seems like a considerable risk. Another setback would be disastrous, not just for Craig’s final Bond film, but for Fukunaga’s ability to get another project of this magnitude. On the other hand, it’s clearly a risk both he and the studios are willing to take. The good news is that Maniac proves Fukunaga is at least willing to compromise: As the filmmaker told GQ, Netflix scrapped a draft of an episode because algorithmic data posited that it would make viewers flee; Fukunaga went along with it, saying “It was an amazing exercise. It will be even more amazing to see people’s reaction to the show. I have no doubt the algorithm will be right.”
Plus, Fukunaga’s previous conflicts with It and The Alienist occurred when he was also part of the writing process. The Purvis and Wade script for Bond 25 should be non-negotiable (they already dumped one director out of loyalty to the script), a fact Eon and MGM likely made clear to Fukunaga before he accepted the job. He is there to direct. If he sticks to that, Bond 25 will likely stay out of the news for the wrong reasons.
Whatever happens with Bond 25, Cary Fukunaga’s career is at a crucial inflection point. Shepherding a proven franchise and raking in hundreds of millions at the box office could allow the auteur to pursue more projects that matter to him—the same way studios trusted Christopher Nolan to create films that weren’t tied to pre-existing IP after the Dark Knight trilogy. That seems to be Fukunaga’s goal: As he told GQ, “I just kind of want to make something that’s idiosyncratically all mine.”
Bond 25 won’t be his, per se, but it’s as valuable a stepping stone as any for a young, talented director on the path to pursuing future passion projects with less producer oversight. In a perfect world, he’ll get the freedom he eminently craves. The flip side? Well, just ask Phil Lord and Chris Miller.