It seems the almighty publicity campaign behind Skyfall (2012) paid off. Weeks of plugging everything from Xperia mobiles to Heineken beer gave Bond the push he needed to reach the top of the all time UK box office list. First Harry Potter fell, then Toy Story 3 (2010), leaving a James Cameron double header between 007 and the number one spot. Titanic (1997) went quietly but JC’s Fern Gully (1992) update took some beating. But finally this week Avatar (2009) was toppled. And it feels good having James atop our charts. But the superspy had an unlikely ally in scaling the table; the Batman.
Having waited for the Skyfall hysteria to die down, it was only this last week that I caught Bond’s latest outing. And despite Empire Magazine ruining the climax with their early Review of 2012 (and there are spoilers ahead here for those that still haven’t seen it), it was an outing that thrilled me from start to finish. Everyone knew the series had to up its game after the stale Quantum of Solace (2008). Pre-production moves were bold, none more so than the hiring of distinguished director Sam Mendes. But in the end it was Skyfall’s trio of screenwriters that made the most daring choice.
What struck me most when Skyfall’s credits rolled were the number of story beats it shared with The Dark Knight (2008). A facially disfigured villain with a penchant for blowing things up and dressing in policeman garb, allows himself to be captured by the good guys as part of his wider plan; the villain escapes to cause more chaos. Said villain strikes up a bond with his nemesis, our hero. He toys with him, endangers him, but ultimately respects him. The hero is an orphan whose parents were killed when he was young, left to be raised by a kindly butler / grounds keeper in a stately country manor with tunnels and caves beneath its floors. The hero fails to stop the one woman he cares about from being killed in the film’s climax, and finishes up standing on a rooftop, brooding, staring out over the city he loves.
So which film is that, Skyfall or The Dark Knight? You wonder why the Nolan brothers aren’t picking up the phone to their lawyers. The Bond / Batman parallels have been around for years. Both are well-heeled orphans, fighting crime without any thanks or credit bestowed upon them by a world that knows little if anything of their bravery. They do it for the love of their country / city alone. Aside from the odd shallow tryst, neither of them have women in the lives, and when they do choose to open their hearts it never ends well (Tracy Bond / Rachel Dawes). But it was Batman who got there first, Bob Kane putting pen to paper thirteen years before Ian Fleming did. Time for an expensive Warner Bros. lawsuit? Step in Sam Mendes.
The reason WB and DC Comics haven’t kicked up a stink is mostly down to Mendes. The British director managed to cover up the plot similarities so well you completely forget they’re there. Skyfall is by some considerable margin the most beautifully filmed Bond movie ever. From the misty highlands of Scotland to the neon facades of Shanghai, Mendes not only captured each locale wonderfully, he incorporated their most striking elements into the visual story; see Bond’s skyscraper tussle with Patrice. Throw in some brilliant tributes to many bygone Bonds (the return of the DB5) and some breathtaking action sequences and Batman is all but forgotten.
Then we have Daniel Craig. Having spent his first two Bond outings lumbering around like an emotionally stunted troglodyte, Craig finally cuts loose with some humour, "Oh good, here comes a train”, and pathos. In fact it’s the latter that is most striking. All Pierce Brosnan had to do in Die Another Day (2002) to get back in the game was shave off his beard. Craig has to go through much more than that. Alcoholism, a wonky shooting arm, he really does feel like a tortured soul, and Skyfall has so much more heart because of it. Maybe even too much; there are times when Skyfall doesn’t feel like a Bond film at all, most notably when Bond is cradling M in the finale. Mendes could have milked the scene dry but instead he underplays it, leaving Dame Judi to utter one last shattering line. For once Bond was fighting for his leading lady not because he wanted a cheeky last minute leg-over but because he genuinely cared for his woman. Yon can thank the scriptwriters for that.
So to say that all Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan did was pinch The Dark Knight’s story would be a tad harsh. Plot holes aside (what did happen to the hard-drive with the Nato spy info on it?) we are treated to more Bond back-story than the previous twenty two films provided us with combined. It’s truly tantalising for fans and many would say long overdue. As a choice for moving the franchise forward it was another bold move by the Brocollis and all involved. And so what if they borrowed from Batman; like so many filmmakers have said in the past, if you’re going to steal, nab from the best. And in so doing they’ve not only created a contender for film of the year, but a contender for best Bond movie of all time.