THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SKYFALL
There was once a boy who grew up in a great big mansion with his mother and father. Tragically, the parents died while the boy was still a child. With only his accented caretaker to assist as a father figure, the young boy grew up and eventually turned into a dapper, dashing man of mystery who dedicated his life to fighting forces of terror. As an adult, the boy wined and dined many beautiful--yet often dangerous--women whilst railing against the forces of villainy. Yet deep down he was always haunted by his dark past.
If you’ve seen Skyfall, you probably know I’m talking about James Bond. If you haven’t (and if you haven’t, why are you reading this?) you probably think I’m talking about Bruce Wayne. Or, maybe I'm talking about both.
There are a lot of great elements in Skyfall. Dare I say it is even a great movie: It's splashy and big and full of a wonderful sense of British character. There are enthralling car chase sequences and luscious visuals--even Komodo dragons! But what really sets Skyfall apart from the other entries into the Bond franchise is the glimpse we get into the psyche of the man who sits behind the mask of Bond. James Bond.
And that man is Bruce Wayne.
Let’s look at the superficial comparisons first: Bond and Batman both had a renaissance in the ‘60s, with a history rooted in earlier comic books and novels. Each had a somewhat embarrassing revival in the ‘90s. One had a naked lady covered in gold glittery body paint; one had Arnold Schwarzenegger in blue glittery body paint.
But Bond and Batman truly become bizarre-world versions of each other when we look at Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy side-by-side with Sam Mendes’s new Bond. Late in Skyfall, the backstory of James Bond is told to us through the eyes of wizened caretaker Albert Finney, a wise old Alfred-replacement named Kincade. The titular Skyfall turns out to be the name of the estate where the Bonds lived once upon a time. Upon this revelation, the camera pans lovingly upon the graves of Andrew and Monique Delacroix Bond. James Bond's parents died in a far less sensational manner than Bruce Wayne's-- a mountain climbing accident as opposed to a mugging gone wrong-- but both Bond and Bruce were left to their own devices as children, with Bond even locking himself for days at a time in a cavernous underground tunnel. (A bit like a bat cave, perhaps?)
What really made Skyfall feel like Nolan's Batman wasn't Bond at all, though-- it was the way Javier Bardem plays the villain. In his turn as Raoul Silva, he seems to channel a foe that mixes up all of Nolan’s supervillains – Scarecrow, The Joker, Bane – into one maniacally cheerful ex-agent. In fact, what a perfect name for a villain! Ex-Agent, the blond Spanish devil in disguise. Somebody at DC Comics, call me.
Gotham City thrives on the insane—after all, why would Arkham Asylum exist if it weren’t for all of the supervillains take up residency there? (And would Batman really have a job if it weren’t for its shoddily locked doors?) Bardem’s gleeful insanity would fit right at home as a Gotham’s enemy number one. It’s not too hard to imagine him as a foil for the Joker.
I would almost feel as if I were stretching if the whole thing didn’t feel so obvious. Of course James Bond would be the British equivalent of Batman! It feels so blatant as to be absolutely absurd that I never picked up on this before. The British are far too sensible to have caped superheroes wandering around their cobbled streets. Why not have an international man of mystery to admire instead? After all, Britain has always extended far beyond the petty streets of London—when Bond was created, there was still a sense that the sun would never ever set on the British Empire--while the affairs of America have always seemed to stem from the heart of our city centers. Batman guards the streets of Gotham, and Bond guards the whole world-- each men defined by and driven to protect their countries.
There is much more to unpack here—questions about masculinity and the way we look at the archetypal male hero from both sides of the pond. But maybe it just suggests that this is what we want from our male heroes: we want them to be stoic, we want them to be strong, we want them rich but not whiny, we want them to be lone wolves without any sort of families, we want them to be seductive and, perhaps most importantly, we want them to change faces every five to ten years.