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Batman Begins

I don't remember the first series of big budget Batman movies too well (and in the case of the third and fourth installment, don't care to) but it became clear quite early in Batman Begins that this would be the best Batman movie yet. Why? Because it tells an intensely personal story. Batman Begins is about fear and mythology, so it's appropriate that the villains are the Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul. But it's mostly about the man Bruce Wayne and his journey to the Dark Knight.

I don't think the man and the hero were ever as well blended in the previous film outings - certainly in the 1989 movie I thought Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne was a charming and quirky genius, whereas his Batman was a homicidal maniac. Not so in Begins where we're always aware of the humanity underneath the cowl - probably because we follow Wayne's every step as he constructs the Batman identity. (I think it takes about an hour before the Batman makes his first appearance.) As such, Rachel Dawes' remark at the end of the movie - about who the "real" person(a) is - doesn't quite ring true.

It's the early part of the movie which is the strongest because it focusses on Bruce Wayne's personal conflict. Later, as he reaches a level of accommodation with his past and himself, the movie shifts gears to "blockbuster" mode. Here it falls apart a bit. Sure some of the set pieces are well conceived and executed (like a rooftop chase with a difference) but the film at this point doesn't offer anything particularly new or insightful. It becomes less interesting as it becomes less personal.

While not an adaptation of these stories Batman Begins owes a lot to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns/Year One conception of key characters and images: young Bruce Wayne's mythic encounter with the bat-filled cave, the Waynes' pearls before the fateful robbery, the young Jim Gordon - one of the few decent men on a force filled with corrupt cops like Flass. But - perhaps unintentionally - it also owes a lot to another Miller character. The first act - Bruce's training and ultimate rejection by a cadre of ninja warriors on top of an icy mountain - reminded me a lot of Elektra's experience with Stick and his group in Miller's first Daredevil run a couple of decades ago. Treating Batman as a ninja isn't something that I recall the comics (or other films) doing, but it does make a certain comic book sense.

All the actors do well: Christian Bale distinguishes between the private Wayne, the public Wayne and the Batman effectively, Cillian Murphy is disturbingly charismatic as Jonathan Crane, Linus Roache is memorable in a small but vital contribution as Thomas Wayne, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do what they do best, Gary Oldman's Gordon looks like he never left the 70s but thankfully he doesn't ham the part up at all, Ken Watanabe has presence but is basically wasted, Tom Wilkinson's ability to play vastly different parts continues to impress, Katie Holmes is perky in an underwritten role. Liam Neeson is good in the early parts of the movie but his portrayal after the reveal near the end lacked intensity.

Random comments:

  • I like way that the Waynes' death is more directly tied into Bruce's feelings of guilt - we can see why he would feel responsible because of an addition to the chain of events leading to the murders. But it didn't need to be stated so explicitly in the scene between young Bruce and Alfred.
  • Which is another criticism: some of the dialogue was a bit on the nose and some of the plot points clunky. For instance the microwave weapon gimmick should have stayed in a James Bond movie (or the 90s Batman movie series). It felt out of place in Nolan's gritty, down-to-earth Gotham.
  • Not sure how I feel about Ra's Al Gul not being Arabic in this movie. Wonder if that decision was driven by the current political climate or by casting.
  • Not sure if I liked how Ra's Al Gul's immortality was portrayed in the movie either - that was always a defining part of his character from the comics (not that I was ever a huge Batman fan).
  • The reversal at the end of the training sequence doesn't quite ring true.
  • And didn't I just see Liam Neeson teaching a young warrior the secrets of swordplay?
  • I liked the production design for Gotham City - there's a clear distinction between the posh uptown and downtown slum areas, with the line becoming murky at night.
  • I think this is the coolest Batmobile yet. For once it felt believable and practical.
  • Thankfully, the only nipples we glimpse through an outfit are those of Katie Holmes.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 16, 2005 2:57 AM.

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