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...
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.
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...)
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:
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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.
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.