June 20, 2005

Amateur Movie Review: Batman Begins

Is this the best Batman movie? Yeah, probably. Is it the perfect Batman movie? No, it isn’t. It tries, really tries, but it doesn’t quite get there.

As promised, this is the origin of the screen version of Batman. It certainly fit’s the Dark Knight version of Bats prevalent in the comic book since the mid-80’s. The movie is dark, gritty and while not totally humorless, it does lack whatever zaniness that Tim Burton brought the franchise and Joel Schumacher drove into the ground. Despite what screenwriter David Goyer might claim, this movie is strongly influenced by Frank Miller’s “Year One” saga.

We start in flashbacks, explaining Bruce Wayne’s obsession with bats, and retelling the story (with a few twists) of the death of his parents. The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne is the first standout scene of this movie. Director Christopher Nolan drops Burton’s theatricality and makes the scene quick, brutal and very, very effective. It also reestablishes one of the more important bits of Batman history: Joe Chill, the Wayne’s murderer, is a nobody. He’s just an average street thug, and no matter what Batman accomplishes, he’ll never be able to avenge his parents.

We fast forward to Bruce in his college days, and follow him through his dropping out of sight. He travels the world in an attempt to understand the criminal mind, and is eventually found by Ducard (an effective -but distractingly facial haired- Liam Neeson), who introduces him to Ra’s Al Ghul, leader of the League of Shadows. The League, a centuries old vigilante group, trains Bruce and inspires him to become the Batman.

Once back in Gotham, Bruce reconnects with longtime friend -and now DA- Rachel Dawes (the appallingly miscast Katie Holmes), and goes about creating his alter ego. Only, and this is something Nolan gets more than either Burton or Schumacher, Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the real person. This movie is impeccably cast, with Michael Caine as the perfect Alfred, Morgan Freeman being very Morgan Freeman-y as Lucius Fox, and Gary Oldman as a fantastic Jim Gordon. That makes the casting of Holmes even more inexplicable. The character of Rachel Dawes is supposed to be a tough-but-idealistic DA in a thoroughly rotten town. Holmes, while an attractive and oftentimes capable actress, seems stuck on adorable throughout the movie. She blends into the scenery, especially when compared to the ultra-intense Christian Bale, who seems close to perfect as Batman. She’s further upstaged during her scenes with Cillian Murphy, who is even creepier as the deranged Dr. Jonathan Crane than he is as the Scarecrow.

As I said, Batman Begins isn’t the perfect Batman movie. It’s too long overall and seems to drag at times. The plot gets a bit twisted at the end, culminating in a more unbelievable then necessary ending threat and a plot twist you’d have to be blind not to pick up on. My wife pointed out something that I missed when we saw the movie. The best comic book adaptations (X-Men 2, Spider-Man, the original Superman) have an element that recognizes the overall absurdity of the situations. The most misbegotten adaptations (Daredevil, Hulk) seems to forget that and drown in their own self-importance and pretentiousness. Batman Begins falls somewhere in between.

Posted by Frinklin at June 20, 2005 10:20 PM

Actually, what I said is that comic books lend themselves well to impossibility, not absurdity. Comic books require you to suspend belief and imagine that certain things are possible, and are happening, as you read. Seeing something played out in film makes it more difficult to blend the idea that one panel (or shot) leads to another in a leap that isn't visible and can contain anything. Instead, you are forced to sit through one person's vision of what is happening, which often looks absurd when you place it, moment by moment, on screen.

Posted by: ensie at June 20, 2005 10:31 PM
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