Like all great films of considerable success and longevity, films that cannot stand alone and spill over fervently into sequels and prequels and franchises, James Bond and Batman were born of considerable thought and efforts, sharing the common thread of mass appeal by combining everyman nobility, human fallibility and flesh and blood vulnerability. The fact that they do not possess super powers or otherworldly origins, that each in their own way excel despite these limitations and rely on superior intellects and keen powers of persuasion suggests they are one of us, a champion from the masses, making them more human and approachable at the same time. However they are also class players, members of the privileged and blessed with a wealth of gadgetry and special connections that push them beyond our fences and high above our heads in million dollar empires of the sky. The reason we seem to care is because of their charm and charisma, the fact that they often fall victim to their own vices the way we fall down all the time in everyday America. Bond is often smitten by the beauty of women and a good martini while Bruce Wayne’s self-indulgent morality and ardent bravery, civic duty and a code of honor often blinds him to his own zealous abandon putting himself and the people he loves in danger. It is there in the differences and similarities that we connect them to our lives, that they outgrow their comic book containers and blockbuster movie theater edges where distances become the familiar faces and places we’ve been collectively as much as individually come alive.
James Bond and Bruce Wayne share much more than their gadgetry and wealth, more than their respective gentleman assistants and flair for fast cars, dangerous women and lavish lifestyles that include confrontations with colorful bad guys and secret missions. When it comes right down to it, their traits tell us as much about their personalities as our own cultural similarities and differences – the extrovert millionaire philanthropist who wants to save the world and make his tower the tallest in the sandbox while simultaneously protecting ours – it’s hard not to immediately draw lines to include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Donald Trump – the suave looks-could-kill gentleman spy with a penchant for the finer things in life – why not any number of stand out world players like Virgin’s Richard Branson or what of Prince William and Prince Harry – high adventure and clandestine missions in the dead of night for queen and country or corporation. Bond and Wayne are iconic figures that cross in and out of fantasy to reveal our secret desires and worst nightmares, the men who take charge to right all the wrongs in the world in exaggerated, often overblown and virtually incomprehensible ways that somehow manage to fuel our tampered down sensibilities with a pressure cooker release valve. It is this link to that which explodes in us everyday but must be wrestled to order, to the broken people and far away places we need to believe in that we can all come together in the form of supermen heroes that rescue without question and save us from ourselves. Instilling this kind of personal exceeds the medium to simply entertain us in one two-hour afternoon or evening. If James Bond can play the 2012 Olympics beside the Queen in the opening ceremonies and angry fans of the Batman films go so far as to send death threats to reviewers who dared write bad reviews, and if a confused young man can blur worlds with the worlds of make-believe even for a moment, there’s no denying the impact of the characters in our collective societies as well as the world.
Bond was an immediate success and remains one of the best-selling series of books of all times, so ingrained in culture and country as to not only survive but flourish in the many forms and interpretations over the years. Batman was infused with the ideology and iconography of the early twentieth century, caught in the transformational divide between comics with obvious propagandistic chores and the need for sheer entertainment. Bond is the child of Englishman author, journalist and naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming who featured the iconic gentleman spy in what would span twelve novels and two short story collections before his untimely death. Batman is the child of two fathers, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, though Finger has been denied his rightful contributions for far too long, a man as owning our appreciation and respectful acknowledgment as anyone who has since been involved in the world of Gotham City. Perhaps after all is said and done it is there in the “defense of the normal” that we adore, their ‘everyman’ superhero powers of flesh and blood vulnerability, nobility and cause that we need them to protect our everydayness and be one us, one of the many serving the many, our champions.
Whatever role Batman is now or has been in the past – adventuresome Saturday afternoon cartoons or high camp television series, comic books and the Burtonesque gloomy-capped crusader to Schumacher-abstract expression – he is now something entirely closer to our own ministries and fumbled futures, our world as much as any world ever made up of laughs and silly shenanigans, en part a reaction to our crumbling facade as commemoration of it. Batman is no longer, he has been burned down to the ground and risen again the Dark Knight; or at least until someone else comes along to change him back again. Nolan has taken the man apart and disassembled Gotham City to see what makes it tick, to find ourselves there and erect it again in effigy. Through his revisionists dream, his interpretations and modernization Nolan has given us a way into the fictional to find the factional, the relational, returned to Bruce Wayne’s childhood beginnings in order to chronicle his rise and fall to the mythic, the iconic, the emblematic Dark Knight of chivalry and purpose. Batman Begins to The Dark Knight and finally The Dark Knight rises – Nolan has given us our American hero and we’ve reacted in strange and dangerous ways, embracing the notion that our heroes are after the good in our world as much as theirs and that there is unspeakable horrors shared that must be excised regardless of the consequences. If we only need to look at our reactions to these latter films to know what Batman represents to the many, why his resurgence has struck a nerve around the world, it is knowing how long he has been a part of our imaginations that we remember our youthful abandon to dream again and pretend all our troubles might be so easily dispatched.
Ian Fleming‘s creation is one of the most prolific and profitable characters of all times, spawning syndicated newspaper strips and comic books, radio broadcasts and video games, nearly all sorts of merchandising and marketing to television, movies and perhaps the most known and celebrated film franchise of all times – second only to Harry Potter in terms of earnings, and Sherlock Holmes and Godzilla in terms of the number of films. In an era when change is almost mandatory and new interpretations are the ruin of many a great childhood memory, James Bond is that rare creation that changes and remains the same, morphing ever so slightly with what came before in order to introduce new faces taking over the famous role and accomplished director’s at every turn of the camera. James Bond’s humble beginnings and earliest formulations from star of the United Kingdom to star of the world stage seems like an odd champion – the womanizing chauvinist, the male ego unchanged, a man of mischief and at least some malfeasance but how our heroes have come to be embraced as much for their wrongdoings as our imaginings of their right. It is in their fallibility that we find ourselves there, are failures become their strong characteristics to teach us or to simply offer us places to escape. James Bond has taken a new direction since Daniel Craig‘s taken the role and new directors see modernizing at the cost of traditions, but it says so much more that we need them still in times when such behaviors seem to get the best of our leaders and citizen counsels all looking for a way into our hearts.
As long as Batman is America’s James Bond in myths and legends, James Bond the equivalent overseas hero in charge of expressing our primordial instincts and drive via high stakes adventures and self-indulgent dreams for all us sinners, returning from time to time to take us out of here, we can agree to disagree on the flamboyancy for the greater good – that is our inner child’s well-being. Everyman heroes born of curiosity and childhood bravado, iconic symbols so very much larger than even our imaginations make them out to be must be allowed simple pleasures, unhindered detours for the roadblocks in our lives. In times of trouble and prosperity with personal and collective worries at every turn, it’s no better time than to believe in make-believe and reward ourselves with fantastic voyages and colorful guides because even when so very much is beyond our means, escapism is always free.