The Increasing Batmanization of Bond Movies

Will SPECTRE be even more of a Christopher Nolan homage than Skyfall?

Warner Bros. / Columbia Pictures

In one of the highest-grossing movies of the 21st century, an orphan-turned-superhero fought a terrifying anarchic villain with a gruesome facial deformity and a penchant for shooting his own associates. The villain targeted the lone surviving woman the superhero loved, eventually killing her after an epic succession of showdowns involving helicopters, secret underground tunnels and a kindly white-haired caretaker. Oh, and there was also a trip to China in which the hero chased a villain around a skyscraper.

The above movie, is, as you’ve surely guessed, Skyfall. And also The Dark Knight. Sam Mendes’s first Bond movie was a critical and financial success (it’s the highest-grossing movie ever in the U.K.), but it also felt remarkably familiar in parts, from its demented antagonist (Raoul Silva, or Javier Bardem outdoing even Anton Chigurh in creepiness) to its vast, sweeping shots of Bond surveying his city from the top of a tower. Mendes acknowledged that Nolan was an influence on the film, telling Indiewire, “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 that we live in … it’s clearly possible to make a dark movie that people want to see.”

Bond has always been Britain’s Batman, in a way, and both franchises have nodded at the other throughout their most recent reboots, exploring the origins of each hero and their metamorphoses from troubled orphans into fearsome, self-appointed protectors of Gotham/Queen and Country. But Skyfall was the first Bond movie that felt explicitly Nolanesque, framing its protagonist within an iconic city under siege, beating him down, and stalking him through a seemingly endless series of streets and tunnels and burning buildings. Bardem’s Silva seemed to have as great an affection for Bond as Heath Ledger’s Joker had for Batman, perhaps with added sexual undertones. And Bond was forced to confront his demons (note his furious reaction to the word “Skyfall” in his psychological exam) and manipulate them to his advantage in order to battle Silva at his old family estate.

The announcement that the 24th Bond movie will be called SPECTRE, and that its cast will include Christoph Waltz, Andrew Scott, Monica Belluci, Lea Seydoux, and Dave Bautista, seems to imply that Mendes intends to continue with the Nolanization of Bond. The movie’s cinematographer is Hoyte van Hoytema (a Bond villain name if ever there were one), who did genius work on Nolan’s most recent movie, Interstellar. Waltz, who for weeks has been rumored to be playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, is apparently playing a character named Oberhauser, which is also the name of Bond’s beloved ski instructor and mentor who’s found murdered in the Alps at the beginning of Ian Fleming’s novella, Octopussy. Might Waltz’s character be the resentful son of Bond’s father figure, who turns to professional terrorism, revenge, and extortion to enact vengeance on his father’s favorite tutee? It’s a stretch, but then everyone assumed Marion Cotillard was playing Talia al Ghul until it was announced that she was playing an unknown character named Miranda Tate (who naturally turned out to be Talia al Ghul).

Then there’s former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, who’s reportedly playing the absurdly named Mr. Hinx. Bautista, whether sporting a cardigan for a press event or just showing off his tattoos, is possibly the most Bane-like Bane approximation to ever enter the same room as a Bond movie. Every superhero needs a terrifying and physically imposing bruiser to fight, because the alternative of watching them tackle hapless weakling after hapless weakling starts to feel unfair after a while. Bond has fought myriad monsters throughout the course of his cinematic career, from Jaws (infinite strength, metal teeth) to Renard (impervious to pain) to Stamper (a Teutonic ubermensch with peroxide highlights and a yen for sado-masochism). But as comic-book ludicrous as they might have come before, Mr. Hinx is the first Bond villain to actively resemble a Batman baddie.

Until SPECTRE is released, this is, of course, all conjecture. It’s highly possible that Andrew Scott, whose Moriarty managed to inject real terror into the otherwise fairly good-natured Sherlock series, is playing a perfectly lovely MI6 agent who isn’t evil at all, and that Bond won’t eventually defeat Mr. Hinx after an extended series of skirmishes that leaves Bond seriously injured, and that Oberhaus’s character will answer the long-neglected question of how exactly a womanizing English civil servant is also an Olympic-level skier. It's also possible that Jesper Christensen returning to play Mr. White, a high-up in the nefarious institution known as Quantum, means that the title is all a long con, and that Blofeld and his professional team of cat-strokers and piranha-feeders are just a relic of the past. But the fact that some of the most successful and influential blockbusters of the past decade might also end up being copies of each other is still worth noting.