‘Skyfall’ & ‘Star Trek 2′: Are We Seeing the Christopher Nolan Influence?

Published 2 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 4:28 pm,

Star Trek 2 Dark Knight Rises Skyfall Comparisons Discussion Skyfall & Star Trek 2: Are We Seeing the Christopher Nolan Influence?

It’s undeniable that Christopher Nolan has changed not only the face of superhero movies with his acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy, but the face of blockbuster movies as a whole. With a potent mixture of auteur filmmaking technique; ambitiously-designed set pieces that often utilize practical visual effects; and stories that are not afraid to be as philosophically sophisticated as they are entertaining, Nolan has classed-up the American movie blockbuster in a way that few in Hollywood ever thought possible (that is, if one wanted to make megabucks at the box office).

However, Hollywood is a place where few brave big risks – and even fewer dare to stray from the well-blazed path left in the wake of a big risk that has paid off. That is to say: more and more big-budget blockbusters are starting to look very “Nolan-ish” (in the opinion of more than a few moviegoers) - but are Sam Mendes’ James Bond blockbuster Skyfall, and J.J. Abrams’ upcoming sequel Star Trek Into Darkness drawing from the Nolan well a bit too much?

A friend of mine approached me recently and said something interesting: “Did you notice how Skyfall was a lot like The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception?”

Truthfully, Skyfall came so fast during the beginning of the holiday season rush that I didn’t have much time to dissect it that closely  (other than on our Skyfall podcast); however, my friend had the comparisons already sketched out thusly…


Set Pieces

daniel craig james bond contract Skyfall & Star Trek 2: Are We Seeing the Christopher Nolan Influence?

All blockbuster films use big set pieces to stage their major action sequences – but Skyfall seems to borrow quite a lot from the book of Nolan:

  • The Macau casino where bond first meets Silva’s (Javier Bardem) flunky Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) bears a striking resemblance in both design and visual presentation (cinematography) to the dream sequence in the Asiatic-style estate which bookends Inception.
  • The opening chase sequence in Skyfall is somewhat reminiscent of the Mombasa chase sequence in Inception.
  • Silva’s abandoned island base of operations is reminiscent (in design and presentation) to Cobb’s limbo world in Inception.
  • The Shanghai assassination sequence in Skyfall is also very reminiscient (design, presentation) to the Hong Kong sequence in The Dark Knight.
  • There is a lot of practical (albeit ambitious) design to the set pieces in the film (the train chase, London subway chase, Skyfall manor, etc.), and much of it in the vein of Nolan’s films.


skyfall james bond trailer Skyfall & Star Trek 2: Are We Seeing the Christopher Nolan Influence?

Character development is an important aspect of any story – but in the case of Skyfall, the similarities to Nolan’s Batman films are too numerous to ignore. Besides being a darker, more modern-minded depiction of an iconic character, here are some specific elements of Skyfall that recall some of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy:

  • In Skyfall, we delve deeper into Bond’s past: he’s a wealthy orphan who was trained to battle evildoers… just like Bruce Wayne.
  • Bond struggles with the dark morality of the organization that trained him… just like Bruce Wayne.
  • Bond returns to his mansion home, Skyfall, only to have it stormed by a group of villains who burn it to the ground… just like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.
  • Bond has his own “Alfred” in Kincade (Albert Finney), the wise-cracking old groundskeeper who guards Skyfall manor.
  • After a debilitating physical/emotional blow, Bond goes into depression-heavy seclusion, until a threat born of the past resurfaces… like Wayne in Dark Knight Rises.
  • A weakened Bond is  outwitted by Silva and must reclaim his former glory before he defeats his foe – like Batman vs. Bane in TDKR.
  • Q (Ben Whishaw) provides Bond with (grounded, realistic) technical advantages and a healthy dose of wit – like Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) did in the Batman films. (Ok, so that’s what Q has ALWAYS done, but still…)
  • Bond’s closest collaborator, M (Judi Dench), is burdened by the weight of her past choices and deceptions and must make painful amends – like Commissioner Gordon in Dark Knight Rises.
  • Both Bond and Batman (and their directors) share a penchant for standing on rooftops gazing out over their respective cities. (Ok, so we’re sorta joking here, but still…)

The Villain

Skyfall Silva interrogation scene Skyfall & Star Trek 2: Are We Seeing the Christopher Nolan Influence?

A good villain is essential to any great hero’s tale, and Nolan certainly created some memorable ones in his Batman films – a fact that Skyfall seems to pay homage to…

  • Silva is an insane (but somehow charming) villain with a substantial physical deformity (like Bane or The Joker).
  • Silva is oddly sensual about physical violence or intimidation (like Bane, The Joker or Two-Face).
  • At one point, Silva impersonates a cop to kill a public official (like The Joker).
  • Silva uses the underground sewer/tunnel system in his terrorist plans (like Bane).
  • Silva is a threat from the past (like Bane), and is a good guy who was twisted into evil (like Two-Face).
  • Silva gets a nice interrogation scene with our hero, like Batman and Joker in TDK.
  • He tries to go out murder/suicide style while dispensing his “justice” like Two-Face.

Now, dear readers, before you get up in arms trying to defend Skyfall, just know that I’m not drawing these comparisons out of thin air: director Sam Mendes has openly admitted that he was influenced by Nolan’s Batman films:

“We’re now in an industry where movies are very small or very big and there’s almost nothing in the middle [...] it would be a tragedy if all the serious movies were very small and all the popcorn movies were very big and have nothing to say. And 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 we live in, even if, in the case with ‘The Dark Knight,’ it’s not even set in our world. It felt like a movie that was about our world post-9/11, and played on our fears, and discussed our fears and why they existed and I thought that was incredibly brave and interesting. That did help give me the confidence to take this movie in directions that, without ‘The Dark Knight,’ might not have been possible. Because also, people go, ‘Wow, that’s pretty dark,’ but then you can point to ‘Dark Knight’ and go ‘Look at that – that’s a darker movie, and it took in a gazillion dollars!’ That’s very helpful. There’s also that thing – it’s clearly possible to make a dark movie that people want to see.”

And, after watching the first trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, it seems as though J.J. Abrams is experiencing a similar frame of mind:

The film certainly looks like it will be The Dark Knight of Abrams’ Star Trek trilogy – a darkening tale in which the now-established Enterprise crew has their heroic values challenged by a terroristic enemy (who is possibly one of the franchise’s most popular villains). It seems that the terrorist holds the populace of Earth (or Starfleet) hostage in a similar way the Joker did, and that the film will quite possibly go so far as to sacrifice some major characters (as The Dark Knight did).

Granted, ever since The Empire Strikes Back, all middle chapters of a trilogy tend to skew this way – but The Dark Knight definitely set its own precedent on that design. As many fans have already pointed out, this Star Trek 2 trailer mirrors a lot of what we saw in the first Dark Knight trailer – including voice-over narration by the villain wherein we are introduced to the major themes of the story:

It’s also hard not to note the Inception-style sound effect that runs throughout the Into Darkness trailer (Baum!):

Also hard to ignore the “Franchise logo in the midst of destruction” poster promoting Star Trek 2 - much in the same vein as Nolan’s Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises promo posters:


Star Trek 2 Poster Dark Knight Rises Poster 570x256 Skyfall & Star Trek 2: Are We Seeing the Christopher Nolan Influence?

By now we should all know: Hollywood operates on a “lighting strikes twice” mentality. If someone comes up with a formula for success – like Nolan seems to have done in the last half-decade – then there are sure to be shades of imitation (whether real or imagined).

Just to be clear, I’m not saying this is a bad thing; I for one love Nolan’s body of work and think that the blockbuster movie genre would benefit (read: has already benefitted) from his example. It’s just humorous to see some of the more obvious influences; but if Skyfall‘s box office numbers are any indication, moviegoers are not at all upset about getting a similar experience.

 [poll id="470"]

Skyfall is in theaters now.

Star Trek Into Darkness will be in theaters on May 17, 2013.

Source: Hat Tip to SR Readers Evan and Alex.

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  1. The chase scene in Inception was in Mombasa not Mumbai. tut tut tut…

  2. Yes. I agree especially on Bond’s origin story in Skyfall. It’s just like Batman from the comics. Nolan didn’t create the dead parents trope……. It was used in Batman in the 40′s, Spiderman in the 50′s…… etc. Bond was portrayed in the Flemming books as a lower class scrapper that worked his way up. Skyfall made him a rich guy like Bruce Wayne.

    The similarity you didn’t mention between Skyfall and Nolan’s Batman was their use of the The Prisoner Gambit trope. An overly used device in movies lately.

    Recent uses?

    The Dark Knight: Joker allows himself to be captured and manipulates Batman and the authorities to fall into his double bomb choice trap cliche.

    The Dark Knight Rises: Bane allows himself to be captured at the beginning of the film to effect a kidnapping of that nuclear scientist….. which pays off (poorly) much later in the film.

    Avengers: Loki allows himself to be captured to break up the Avengers with his mind control scepter and also activate the Hulk aboard the Helicarrier.

    And now Skyfall: Silva allows himself to be captured to insert a virus from his laptop into MI6 when Q begins to examine his files….. and also to taunt M.

    They’re wearing this one out. At this point it’s lazy writing, and it ruined the second act of Skyfall …… as soon as I saw Silva in that glass cell (just like Loki’s), it telegraphed the whole next half hour of the movie for me. If I see this trope again it will be too soon.

    • The origin of James Bond is written in the later canon, after Ian Fleming passed away. Not an excuse per say, but it is there.

      The difference is, James Bond isn’t motivated by vengeance (at least, not after he learns to trust no one). He’s motivated to do what is necessary for the Queen, for England, and for the world. Because that’s what he was trained to be and that’s all he ever will be. Entering the navy at a young age and then joining MI6 would have an impact on anyone because that’s what they grew up with for the majority of their lives.

  3. I would be inclined to believe the core thesis of this article if it were talking about J J Abrams. But Sam Mendes is a more experienced maker of movies. I was going to say that inspiration does not mean copying. But then I realise the quote where he mentions “The Dark Knight” doesn’t even sound like he’s *influenced* by that film, more that he can now take risks that previously may not have been possible *because* of TDK box-office success.

  4. I don’t care as long as it’s a good movie. I think more films should be dark if the story doesn’t get lost in its attempt to be edgy. I hope that Abrams Star Trek stays a trilogy and doesn’t turn into a never ending stream of movies. Anyways, i’m psyched for Into Darkness.

  5. Totally agree with your view. I just want to add that the Prometheus Trailer also used the same background score like Inception.

  6. I’ve noticed the parallels too. And frankly, I don’t like it at all. I have to confess that I was disappointed by Inception, the third batman movie was the worst part of the trilogy, and Skyfall, well, pretty much the same. It’s sad to see that people are so fascinated by blockbusters which only pretend to offer also some philosophical ideas, besides entertainment, bombastic visual effects and music.

  7. While there is an undeniable Nolan influence in Skyfall, a lot of what you mention are a actually ‘classic’ Bond ingredients that existed long before the director was even born (including Bond’s troubled past); in fact both Inception and The Dark Knight are heavily indebted to Bond – something that Nolan has readily acknowledged. If anything the Craig films are just Bond reclaiming his heritage, which was slowly eroded during the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s and was ultimately hijacked by the likes of Bourne and Batman.

    There’s a hell of a lot more to James Bond than the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan films would seem to suggest.

    • I completely agree. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how Skyfall and The Dark Knight were similar, but the fact is that those elements have been there for a while now. I’ll admit that there were some unique elements present only in Skyfall, but, for the most part, the similarities I saw were the ones that Bond instilled in Batman years ago.

      Also, just on the wealthy orphan point. That wasn’t an invention in this movie. I haven’t read the books in forever, so I can’t remember what they indicated, but Goldeneye seemed to indicate that Bond’s family was pretty well-off but that they died when he was young. In fact, they also showed how 006′s family also died, showing how, like M said, “Orphans make the best spies”

      • In the Ian Fleming books, Bond was orphaned as a child when both of his parents were killed in a climbing accident in the Alps. He’s from an upper-middle class background and his Father was a senior executive with the armaments firm ‘Vickers’, so they’d have been wealthy – especially as Bond went to Eton and subsequently Fettes and was a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy during WWII (the class system still being very much in place at that time).

        I’ve also heard Skyfall get some criticism for Bonds apparent death and resurrection at the start of the film as if it was ripping-off Bourne, when in fact this too comes from the original novels (You Only Live Twice & The Man with the Golden Gun); it seems to me that folks don’t really now Bond at all beyond the smug, superficial version of the Roger Moore variety and shows just how far the character had departed from his origins pre-2006.

  8. I don’t think there’s anything wrong w/ it. It just means people truly admire what Nolan did w/ batman trilogy. It’s perfectly fine w/ me. Never care for James bond movie before.. I am sure cycle will change again at some point. So for now, I will enjoy this.

  9. What I find funny is that if you look back Batman Begins and Casino Royale were released about a year and a half apart. If you look, you will notice a trend with both movies in the fact that you have 2 characters that, in the past, have always have these wonderful toys and outrageous story lines. Now, with these reboot series you have directors who have made stripped down versions of stories we’re familiar with giving it a more realistic twist. With Batman Begins, you have Bruce Wayne, granted he has a lot of money and an R&D department at his disposal, but his “toys” this time around are rooted more in reality, as well as the story line. No super powered bad guys, etc. With Bond in Casino Royale, he didn’t have a rocket launching pen or anything like that. The fanciest thing he had was a defibrillator in his glove box. And a believable story line. Stuff that could happen to a person in that line of work. So, before we go on about who’s copying who. Think about the fact that maybe it was time for a change to a more believable characterization of some of our old favorites.

  10. I don’t think Nolan has a patent on the darker shades of cinema. I am not sure if he is the influence. These type of stories have been around longer than these directors

  11. Of course we are seeing the influence ! If the writers and directors of these other films had any creativity, they wouldn’t have to borrow or make their films look like Nolan’s ( WHO IS OVERRATED IN MY BOOK) Look at Man Of Steel…a total Batman begins ripoff. No creativity whatsoever.

  12. C’mon, Nolan obviously took a lot from Bond films, thats why theres a similarity. Mendes made a movie based on the classic Bond movies and books, N olan has said many times of the influence of Bond in his movies. If anything, DKR borrowed a lot from Bond.

  13. Totally agreed with Star Trek and mostly with Bond. I hadn’t thought about the amount of similarities between Skyfall and Nolans work, but you’re right.

    Just few thoughts on Bond, Dark Knight and Inception:

    - Both have similar backstories, both lose their loved ones, etc, and it’s all in the books or comics, except for Skyfall
    - Bond, originating around cold war, naturally had fancy gear, including skyhook, which was used in Thunderball, compared to TDK.
    - Chase in Mombasa or Istanbul or where ever they were, Skyfall borrows more from Casino Royale than Inception

  14. I agree with the most of yoür thoughts but in the poster design it is maybe so equal can it be they are from the same artist? for that check out the poster of Minority Report and Schindlers List.

  15. Are you guys serious? Most of the stuff you mentioned for Skyfall, the Bond series has been doing for decades. Interrogation scenes? Most recently, Quantum of Solace. Chase scenes? Most Bond movies, but most notably, the two first Daniel Craig movies. The poster? It’s Bond’s 50th anniversary, you think they wouldn’t make an allusion to one of the most iconic intro sequences in the history of cinema?

  16. the scene where M gives the speech as we see scenes of Bond rushing after Silva as he goes to the courthouse has some resemblance to the scene where Batman and the cops rush after Harvey and Rachel in the Dark Knight. Especially the music and rush feel

  17. To be fair, Nolan has very obviously been influenced by James Bond; the entire third dream level in Inception was an homage to James Bond. While the director of Skyfall may have been following Nolan’s lead, a lot of the similarities are because Nolan almost deliberately created similarities to Bond.

  18. Just realised big copycat from Skyfall and last Star Trek.

    A big explosion in one of their high profile offices – they then convene all important heads all together in another office to discuss first explosion – and BOOM – all hell breaks out and a number if them all get killed.

  19. With Skyfall you couldn’t help but feel bad for the bad guy

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