Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Resurrection in Batman, Bond and Captain America movies

"Well, everybody needs a hobby." — James Bond 
"So what's yours?" — Raoul Silva 
"Resurrection." — Bond 

When Easter Sunday started rolling around this year, I realized I had watched three action films in recent succession, all of which coincidentally dealt with the "resurrection" of the main characters. In less than a week, I watched "The Dark Knight Rises," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and the James Bond flick "Skyfall."

I didn't plan this; it just happened. After all, these films don't just feature my three favorite characters, but are flicks I can watch time and time again. The cinematic equivalent of comfort food, if you will.

The Easter season aside, each film gave me a different perspective on death and resurrection and got me thinking about each story used those timeless concepts.

First, some perspective on resurrection. Simply put, it's coming back from the dead.

There have been countless times when a hero has been presumed dead — but that's a far cry from actually being dead.

Artist Alex Ross did the covers for the
"Batman R.I.P." storyline in the original
BATMAN title.
Name virtually any superhero and they've been dead at some point in the last 25 years. It's a who's who of the DC and Marvel universes — from Aquaman to everyone's favorite member of the X-Men, Wolverine. And yup: Pretty much everyone in between.

Heck, Batman didn't just die once; writer Grant Morrison killed him off in the original BATMAN title in the "Batman R.I.P." storyline only to try to have it both ways (but failing miserably) by having Darkseid shoot him with his Omega Beams in FINAL CRISIS — an entirely different storyline by Morrison happening and being published about the same time.

How confusing was Batman's death?

Many issues after the conclusion of "R.I.P.," Morrison had to go back and write a two-part "Missing Chapter" story (BATMAN Nos. 701-702) in which he had to explain how the two stories connected.

To make matters worse, Bruce Wayne had to jump through time as various incarnations of Batman before rejoining his own time period.

The Grim Reaper must really have it out for Batman; the Dark Knight has lost three Robins to death (Jason Todd in "A Death in the Family," Stephanie Brown in the "War Games" crossover storyline and most recently, Batman's son, Damian Wayne, in BATMAN INCORPORATED No. 8) — only to have each of them come back from the dead.
This is image by the late artist Jim Aparo of Batman holding the dead body
of the second Robin, Jason Todd, still packs a punch.

I'm not going to lie: I was hoping Damian would stay dead, but for some reason Batman became obsessed with bringing him back to life, no matter what the cost was.

In short — and in case, you couldn't tell — resurrection has become the most overused plot device ever created in comics. And soap operas, for that matter! (After Damian was "killed off," I went off on the subject of comic-book deaths for my nearest comics store, The POP! Shop.) There's no point in mourning the loss of your favorite superhero; he or she is bound to return to the land of the living.

So that finally brings me back to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Skyfall." In each film, none of the main characters actually die, but there some form of experience of resurrection. (For the record, pardon me as this op-ed requires me to recap spoiler-y chunks of the plot in each film.)

Cap himself is a "winter soldier," a phrase which infers resurrection for lifelong Capheads like me.

In the comics, Steve Rogers goes into suspended animation for decades after his body plunged into the North Atlantic Ocean following a bomb explosion on a World War II plane. (Bucky Barnes, later dubbed Winter Soldier by the Russians who reprogrammed into a killer, was on the same mission as Cap.)

Similarly, in the movies, Rogers sacrifices himself by crashing a massive jet housing planes equipped with bombs designated for various world cities into the Arctic. He then goes into suspended animation and once he wakes up, Rogers has undergone on obvious type of resurrection.

Named Winter Soldier by the Russians who brainwashed him, Barnes gets placed into a controlled suspended animation after each of his missions. Many times, his memory is wiped. So each time Winter Soldier is revived, Barnes' life is extended.n

There is much more powerful resurrection imagery "The Dark Knight Rises."

Bane (Thomas Hardy) slugs it out with Batman (Christian Bale).
Bruce Wayne returns from the dead — or a sort of death — twice.

After a self-imposed retirement as Batman at the end of "The Dark Knight," he once again dons his Dark Knight costume to take on the menace of the terrorist Bane. There's no logic to Wayne returning to his top fighting form after a decade of inactivity at Wayne Manor, but nonetheless Batman kicks plenty of thug's asses before Bane breaks part of Batman's spine in a vicious one-on-one battle.

Imprisoned in Bane's prison and once again crippled, Wayne patiently trains his body until he can scale a seemingly impossible wall to retake Gotham City from Bane's reign of terror. It takes Wayne three times before he successfully climbs the wall. The theological significance of the number 3 is hard to miss for Christians, just as you can't help but consider Wayne's triumph over the wall and leaving the Pit similar to triumphing over death and Bane, who tells him he can only die after he witnesses Gotham's death/destruction.

Aside from the various leaps in logic, "Rises" is a tremendous story. It personifies the unrelenting human spirit, no matter how physically or spiritually broken Wayne has become.

To take on Bane initially, he rises again as Batman, only to have to rise one more time from the stark imprisonment of the Pit and again become the Dark Knight who leads the Gotham City Police Department in defeating Bane and Talia al Ghul.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) chooses to live happily ever after with Selina
Kyle (Anne Hathway) after his time as Batman.
Somewhat like Rogers, Batman seemingly dies when he flies a nuclear bomb away from the danger zone in the middle of Gotham. But the Dark Knight fakes his own death and/or allows all of Gotham to believe he died during the explosion over the water.

Wayne has his will distributed so he can live again — this time overseas in anonymity with the alluring Selina Kyle.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Gotham Police Officer (Robin)
John Blake in "The Dark Knight Rises."
But there's even more resurrection imagery -- the most powerful stuff I've witnessed as a lifelong Batman fan.

Wayne bequeaths the Batcave to (Robin) John Blake, essentially handing over the Dark Knight's legacy to the ex-cop. By doing so, Batman will live on. In essence, it means Blake will resurrect the Dark Knight, who once again rises.

In "Skyfall," M16 declares James Bond dead once Eva Moneypenny misjudges a long-distance sniper shot and shoots 007 while trying to hit the man he's fighting on top of a moving train. Like Rogers, Bond plunges into the water.

After some time vacationing (doing what Bond does best -- besides killing -- having sex with a beautiful woman and drinking), Bond shows up at M's house after a terrorist bombs the headquarters (do you sense a pattern here?). This sends Her Majesty's Secret Service underground. Literally -- in both the American and British vernacular.

M, who has written Bond's obituary, growls at Bond, asking him why he returned. Never one to mince words, M wonders why 007 didn't stay "dead" and like Wayne's ultimate fate, live the rest of his life off the radar and out of danger.
James Bond (Daniel Craig) fires at a target in the underground headquarters
of M16 in "Skyfall."

Unlike Wayne, who is unbelievably almost back to tip-top fighting shape (at least when it comes to thugs and lower-tier assassins) upon his return as Batman, Bond struggles with passing M16's battery of tests. He's "declared fit for service," but in reality has failed and for a reason undisclosed by M. 007 heads back to the field to find former M16 agent Raoul Silva.

Since 007 is declared dead, his resurrection in "Skyfall" comes much closer to the dictionary definition than Captain America and Batman, whose circumstances and return to life are more symbolic.

From a storytelling point of few,"Skyfall" takes Bond back to his roots of previous films in the massive 007 franchise.The 2012 film closes the door on actress Judi Dench's tenure as the first and only female M (over actors Pierce Brosnan and then Daniel Craig), but also opens the door to Ralph Fiennes' Gareth Mallory as the new M and reintroduces Q and Moneypenny to the Bond universe.

In every sense of the word, "Skyfall" is a resurrection for James Bond.

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