So, Sam Mendes is reportedly in talks to direct the new James Bond film. The man behind American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road - all thoughtful, theatrical and Oscar-winning movies. Does this mean we can look forward to a deadness in Daniel Craig's piercing blue eyes as Bond descends into a crushing suburban midlife crisis? Will 007 find beauty in a plastic bag rather than a Beretta? Could Mendes's wife, Kate Winslet, be the next Bond Girl?
So many questions. And the answers, one suspects, are all in the negative. Bond will still sport a tuxedo, ever his ruthless, remorseless self. His favourite drink won't change from vodka martini (shaken, not stirred), to a nice glass of cranberry juice. And that's because, uniquely, directors are not hired by the famous Broccoli film producing family to put their own stamp on the Bond series. They're asked - and not many turn it down - because they are seen as a safe pair of hands, who will follow the Bond blueprint to the letter.
Yes, with Craig, Bond did become a harder and tougher, less of a gadget-toting, figure of fun. But that was all at the design of the producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. They were the people who decided in 2006 - in the wake of Paul Greengrass's tremendous Bourne Supremacy - that Bond should be "rebooted", and picked Craig for the job. The aesthetic of Casino Royale had little to do with the director Martin Campbell. The man who helmed the Zorro films was probably chosen because he had been in charge the last time Bond had successfully changed direction with GoldenEye in 1995 and told not to have any thoughts of a British spy hamming it up in swashbuckling style.
All of which means it's not hugely surprising that Mendes is in the frame - after the success of Casino Royale, the producers clearly want accomplished filmmakers rather than action directors. This is why the director of the last Bond outing, Quantum of Solace, wasn't somebody with much of a reputation for car chases and action sequences. Marc Forster was the man who brought us Halle Berry's Oscar-winning turn as the wife of a man on death row in Monster's Ball. Forster's JM Barrie biopic Finding Neverland had a lead character about as far away from a tough-guy spy as it was possible to get. When asked to direct Quantum of Solace, he even said: "You've got the wrong director." In the end, such doubts did reflect on the film: there was almost too much emphasis on breakneck action at the expense of a satisfying story.
The reason Forster did it, despite his initial reservations, is that you can't apply to be a Bond director. You have to be asked. Steven Spielberg made no secret of his desire to take on the most famous spy in history before For Your Eyes Only was filmed. His cachet was suitably high after the success of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But Bond isn't a character to be messed with on a whim. Instead, John Glen - a hitherto unknown director who had worked as a second director and film editor on other Bond films - got the nod. It was like a football club promoting the assistant manager to keep continuity, and the Broccolis were so happy with the relationship that Glen ended up directing more Bond movies than anyone else. Still, Spielberg got over the rejection: what is Indiana Jones if not James Bond with an interest in archaeology?
And if Inglourious Basterds played fast and loose with the Second World War, can you imagine how Quentin Tarantino would have approached James Bond? Neither could the producers, which is why Tarantino was none too pleased after publicly suggesting a remake of Casino Royale back in 2004, only to be ignored when it was decided to do just that. A wise move, although the dialogue would have been superb.
Perhaps there is another reason why the producers don't always do the obvious, which, right now, would be to bite the bullet and ask Greengrass whether he fancies a crack at Bond. Perhaps it is vanity that has led them to Forster and, possibly, Mendes: Bond films have won just two Oscars, for special effects, awarded back in the 1960s. There is definitely a sense that their current predilection for hiring directors known for stylish films rather than action thrillers points towards a gap in the trophy cabinet, a desire for recognition beyond mere stunts and commercial success.
With Mendes, the Bond franchise would have that director. And by hiring Peter Morgan (of The Queen and Frost/Nixon fame) it now has the scriptwriter. It already has the most actorly - if not the best ever - Bond in Daniel Craig. It all makes perfect sense. All that remains now is for it to make sense for Mendes, too. * Ben East