James Bond could be in for one heck of a makeover with Skyfall, his twenty-third outing (and no, we’re not referring to his wardrobe). Director Sam Mendes (American BeautyRoad to Perdition) may seem an odd choice for a Bond film, but while his style may be deemed ‘artsy’ by casual moviegoers, he’s taking inspiration from one director known for blending blockbuster action with poignant filmmaking.

The James Bond series has turned actors into household names, yet the ones behind the camera have garnered much less attention. That might make Sam Mendes’ role seem less significant in the long run, but that could be about to change – assuming Mendes can recreate even an ounce of the movies he’s turning to for inspiration.

As promotion of Skyfall has picked up speed, the largest source of enthusiasm and commitment to putting James Bond back on the right tracks has been coming directly from Mendes. Even when discussing the authentic London locations being used for filming, the man at the wheel seems as pleased as a kid in a candy store. But apparently, his thoughts on the project weren’t always so positive.

Mendes explained to ThePlaylist that his spot in the director’s chair came with some trepidation, and while the job may be one that many filmmakers dream of attaining, he wasn’t so optimistic:

“I was never interested and I don’t think I saw most of the Pierce Brosnan films […] I was not into them at the time and then when Daniel got cast I was interested because he was a friend and I had worked with him. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’ I was on record as saying that I didn’t think he was good casting. Then I saw it and was blown away and was suddenly interested again, as a character, and eager to see the next one. I was slightly disappointed with ‘Quantum of Solace’ although I think it’s got a bit of a short shrift, there’s a lot in it that’s interesting. But when I met with Daniel and he asked whether or not I was interested in doing it, I found myself saying yes very quickly. It was just good timing.”

Mendes’ decision to jump on board was a risky one, since he rightly points out that the reception to Bond’s last adventure was lukewarm at best. But those who felt that the first Skyfall trailer revealing the diabolical Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) seemed more ‘Nolan-esque’ than ‘Bond-ish’ may have been right on the money.

The strength of story, drama and compelling turmoil that director Christopher Nolan brought into the Batman mythos “directly inspired” Mendes in his view of the Bond series. Not just as a sign that tired properties can still have potential, but what can be attempted when studio dollars are on the line.

As Mendes sees it, the precedent has been set for directors like himself to bring more artistic flourishes to mainstream projects. What that means for Skyfall isn’t clear, but does sound promising:

“In terms of what [Nolan] achieved, specifically ‘The Dark Knight,’ the second movie, what it achieved, which is something exceptional. It was a game changer for everybody…”

“We’re now in an industry where movies are very small or very big and there’s almost nothing in the middle […] it would be a tragedy if all the serious movies were very small and all the popcorn movies were very big and have nothing to say. And what Nolan proved was that you can make a huge movie that is thrilling and entertaining and has a lot to say about the world we live in, even if, in the case with ‘The Dark Knight,’ it’s not even set in our world. It felt like a movie that was about our world post-9/11, and played on our fears, and discussed our fears and why they existed and I thought that was incredibly brave and interesting. That did help give me the confidence to take this movie in directions that, without ‘The Dark Knight,’ might not have been possible. Because also, people go, ‘Wow, that’s pretty dark,’ but then you can point to ‘Dark Knight’ and go ‘Look at that – that’s a darker movie, and it took in a gazillion dollars!’ That’s very helpful. There’s also that thing – it’s clearly possible to make a dark movie that people want to see.”

Nolan’s accomplishments extend far beyond producing one of the most taut and chilling character dramas the comic book genre has ever seen. The success and praise earned by Inception –  a story Nolan thought up himself – showed that in an age of sequels, reboots and adaptations, an original script can still earn almost a billion dollars at the box office.

It would be optimistic to think that Skyfall can do the same, but everything shown so far pays testament to Mendes’ wishes of making a “big fabulous escapist movie.” The over-the-top action scenes may set a new standard for Bond’s theatrics, but the film isn’t forgetting its heritage either. The new beginning for Bond may not please every fan, but the fact that it will be forgoing 3D (and the attached profits) when it hits theaters should earn some goodwill.

Is Christopher Nolan’s influence starting to seep into too many other franchises, or should directors take inspiration from wherever they can? Think the tone could work for this ‘darker’ chapter of James Bond’s life, or may only weigh down a plot that should be fun above all else?

Skyfall will be in theaters and IMAX on November 9, 2012.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: The Playlist