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Paul Ratner

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Bond and Batman Need Shrinks

Posted: 11/29/2012 7:12 pm

I think of myself as a sensitive, intellectual person in touch with my emotions, but I walked out of the latest Bond installment Skyfall feeling like I've had enough. Enough of these morose, soul-scraping, suicidal male "heroes" who seem over-burdened by the courage required by their fictional jobs and just want to bemoan their fates for the extra 40 minutes that have grown like tumors within most major action adventure films. The fault likely lies with the success of Christopher Nolan's approach to Batman, a hero so tortured that he'd much rather stay in his cave. Even if he does good, he seems to feel bad about it. And it's not even clear what he feels -- with all of his mumbling from behind a mask, which seems utterly unwarranted. It makes some sense that the speech of his current mumbling nemesis Bain is impeded by the contraption around his face, but Batman must really want to speak in the funny way when he dresses up because the mask leaves his mouth open. The deeper voice he suddenly acquires while clothed in superhero garb reads like an inexplicable psychological condition rather than an imaginative asset.

In both Bond and Batman, inspiring gadgets and pretty ladies have given way to existential angst.

Perhaps these movies are the sign of our dark and troubled times. Perhaps the encroaching darkness is the reason for why the third act of Skyfall takes place in and around a dusty old house in the middle of the night rather than some exotic location full of villains, beasts and technology. Perhaps it's important for Bond to look and feel old, to accuse his employers of non-caring while sitting in shadows, and for the film to keep insisting that secret agencies no longer do their job using advanced equipment as they either lost their funding or ingenuity. Perhaps it's important that Javier Bardem's character is essentially a co-worker with a grudge against the elderly rather than some mad gentleman with a white cat and a neat plan to take over the world. I think that's the problem for me -- this sense of self-importance that permeates both this film and the recent Batman franchise. This notion from the directors that all this nonsense must mean something. The problem is, the moment this kind of heroic tale becomes the director's pulpit and means "something," it stops being what it is, mainly because the "something" is skin deep and is just grossly out-of-place. As a result, the new Bond film was no Bond film at all. It's missing almost all the key ingredients that made this fantastical hero a lasting cinematic archetype. A battle of grandiose "what ifs" has become a competition of sighs and complaints.

The overall message of both films seems to be that it's very possible that people aren't really worth saving, that they get the villains they deserve and the heroes that used to help don't really feel like saving anybody any more and might only do it one last time out of old habits. It's like Hollywood is tapping into the depressing philosophy that the trouble in the world is our fault and even the superheroes/gods are close to not caring. Sounds like any religious dogma you know?

 

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