Skyfall: James Bond is the British Batman
Skyfall is being hailed – and rightly so – as the best Bond of all time. On the franchise’s 50th anniversary, the new film at once completes the reboot of the bond universe begun in Casino Royale and moves forward. Skyfall‘s story is totally contemporary, setting up the franchise to keep Bond fresh in the years to come.
Short version: go see Skyfall. Even if you haven’t seen Daniel Craig’s other two Bond films. Though you really should them too.
Fair warning: Spoilers past this point!
As the film progressed, the comparisons between Daniel Craig’s Bond and Christopher Noland’s Batman became increasingly unavoidable. Both are single, successful orphans. Both face a villain who is the chaotic shadow of the hero. Both have cool cars and wonderful toys. Bond even has an Alfred Kincade and a Batcave Priest Hole. But the similarities run deeper than just characteristics. The way both stories are told – particularly in The Dark Knight – resonate around the same theme.
The Dark Knight and Skyfall tell the same story. But Batman is essentially American, while Bond is, of course, basically British.
M tells Bond that “orphans always make the best recruits” for MI6. So too, Bruce Wayne’s loss is what drove him to become the Batman. Both seek to impose order on the chaotic world that took away their parents. (While this has always been part of the Batman mythology, it’s a new bit of Bond.)
Both heroes succeed against all odds, long after their tricks and gadgets have failed them. Both succeed even when the institutions fail them.
Both have the most marvelous villains.
Javier Bardem’s Silva oozes the same self-possessed insanity Heath Ledger’s Joker demonstrated. He was similarly theatrical and his antics were just as comical and deranged – compare Silva’s sharp-shooting competition to the Joker’s magic trick.
Further, both villains are shadow-images of their heroes. Ledger’s Joker is based largely on Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, where all it takes is One Bad Day to make someone crazy enough to put on a Batsuit kill. Silva, on the other hand, was a 00 agent at some point, and was betrayed by M just as Bond was. Both the Joker and Silva have been disfigured by their Bad Days. And while both Silva and the Joker wreak havoc on their respective worlds, neither seeks fame, riches or control.
Though Silva does want revenge on M, he’s also critiquing the larger MI6 system, and by proxy the British Empire. The Joker, similarly, only wants to create chaos, to demonstrate that human attempts to impose order on the world (as good a definition of Empire as I’ve ever heard) are fundamentally foolish.
Both Batman and Bond overcome the chaotic forces threatening them, both impose order on the world around them, but both pay a high cost.
For all their similarities, the stories make their allegiances known in their differences.
Noland’s Dark Knight Trilogy is fundamentally about what happens when the system fails us. Bruce loses his parents because of the corruption that has rotted the heart of Gotham. His hero’s journey in Noland’s three films transforms him into an icon that can rescue the people of Gotham from the broken system.
Batman resonates so strongly with us is that he is essentially American.
Our national mythology is overthrowing the system once the system has become unjust. We imagine ourselves to be a nation of rebels who mark a new path through brokenness. The line between criminal and vigilante is as hazy as the line separating terrorists and freedom fighters.
James Bond, on the other hand, is an agent of the Empire.
Bond’s mission is to uphold the system, which is fundamentally good. He is licensed to kill by the Empire. He serves the Queen. For Bond, the system is fundamentally good. It might have gotten a bit rusty, but needs only to be updated, never done away with. The British Way of things will never truly go away, at least not as long as Bond is womanizing, drinking and driving his way to victory.
Skyfall is ultimately a very different film from The Dark Knight. In the end, Bond saves the Empire, ensuring the system can continue as is, that, despite Silva’s assertions to the contrary, the Sun has not yet set. The Batman, however, understands that the system cannot be saved, that it is as fundamentally broken as the Joker has revealed it to be.