Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Spy who threw a Batarang at me.

Christopher Nolan has a lot to answer for. Read any review of the new Bond movie, and I’ll bet 50% will reference the Dark Knight. Whether you think this is a positive or a negative, everyone seems to agree that the new Bond is basically Batman without the Bat.

What that essentially seems to mean, is that rather than Bond being the wisecracking charmer who kills or shags everything in sight…he’s the wisecracking charmer who kills or shags everything in sight. Except now we’re supposed to muse on Bond’s motivations and his inner demons while he’s doing it.  What both New Bond and New Batman actually share in common is the desire to take an essentially unrealistic character, and then to target their unrealistic and unsavory characteristics through some heavy introspection…and then have them win anyway through some ridiculously unrealistic plot. It’s basically having your cake and eating it. You still get the sexism, the casual, fascistic violence and the foiling of ridiculous plots through ridiculous means, but because Bond seems actually traumatized and compromised by all of this, it’s a deep and meaningful piece of serious film making.

This is, obviously, bullshit. It’s still a sexist, fascistic and unrealistic film, and the fact that Bond still wins for no other reason than being Bond means that being a sexist violent psychopath is never actually a problem. But while you might be able to forgive a film like that if it happily aims at nothing more than titillating your baser impulses (and I do like old Bond, and many other casual throwaway thrillers), the rules are a bit different if you’re trying to be taken seriously. If you’re going to make a ‘serious’ or ‘realistic’ Bond (or Batman) you have to open yourself up to ‘serious’ or ‘realistic’ criticism. And neither character is ever going to stand up to that scrutiny.

So I completely understand my friends’ feelings (summed up by David Mitchell HERE) that they miss the escapism of the wisecracking light hearted Bonds. So it might come as a surprise to learn that…..I still enjoyed Skyfall.

Why? Well, for the same reason I actually enjoyed the Dark Knight (the other two films were pretty awful). Because of the villain. Javier Bardem is menacingly charismatic and totally twisted, and he makes the film. Not only because, as the villain he can openly revel in the violence and abuse in a way that the new serious Bond can’t, but because he openly mocks the whole notion of Bond in the film.

From the constantly resigned exasperation as Bond escapes again through some ridiculously implausible act of physical daring, to the last frustrated growl as he finally succumbs at the end, Bardem’s villain is one who knows his place. He knows how the film has to end, with Bond on top, and finds this as dreary a possibility as the audience. Scenes such as his grand entrance to the final sequence in a helicopter blasting out ‘Boom Boom’ are exactly the kind of ridiculous, over the top campness that Bond used to excel at. The fact that every move like this is countered by the new, surly, aging Bond causes appropriate levels of irritation to him, and to some extent undercut and counterbalance the pretensions of new ‘serious’ Bond.

For many people this won’t be enough. Bardem alone doesn’t quite balance Craig’s brooding, and you still have the sexism and pointless ultra-violence thing to deal with. But just like the Joker in the Dark Knight, he provides enough charismatic turns to lighten the load of an otherwise overlong film.

But, I’ll leave you with a happy thought, at least we can be grateful that of all his films Nolan’s influence seems to have come from the Dark Knight. Just imagine what the Bond equivalent of the Dark Knight Rises would be…..

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