Sunday, June 19, 2005

Batman Begins: Take # 3

dir. Christopher Nolan

I'm not sure if I'm adding much new to what KW and Chris have already stated, but I thought I'd add my two cents. Both of them have started off with there feelings on the first set of films in the franchise, so I will do the same.

In 1989 I was thirteen years old, and like every other kid at that time I could not wait to see "Batman." I've always been more of a "Spiderman" fan, and more of a Marvel fan for that matter, but it looked like that movie was never coming out, and so for us comic book lovers, "Batman" seemed like a godsend. I saw it quite a few times in the theater and watched it quite a few times after it came out on video. I loved the hell out of it back then. Now, like so many movies I thought were incredible as a kid, while I enjoy a few parts of it, overall the thing is a mess. The movie might as well have been called "The Joker." And that became the main problem with the first four films; they were about the villains and not Batman. Everyone to this day seems to love the hell out of Nicholson's performance, but I thought his performances suffered like many of Nicholson's performances have suffered from the nineties on; he's just playing Jack. And that's a persona that everyone seems to like, so there's really nothing wrong with it. But let's call a spade a spade people. It was not the almighty performance that people want to make it out to be; not in this reviewer's eyes at least. "Batman Returns" got us a better villain in Michelle Pfeifer's performance as Catwoman, but it also gave us Danny Devito's ridiculous showy bullshit that he did with the Penguin; not to mention Christopher Walken's pointless character who wanted to of all things hold the city's water supply hostage. Apparently Tim Burton loved "A View to a Kill," and he told Walken to just do a take on his over the top villain in that movie. The problem with Tim Burton's take was that he was going for some kind of film noir/gothic masterpiece, and it didn't work. First off, Batman is not film noir. In film noir everyone is a criminal in their own way; film noir is more of an updated Shakespeare tragedy where everyone dies in the end in one way or the other. Batman has never been about death; Batman is about wanting to make a difference, wanting to change things for the better. Burton turned Batman into yet another one of his freak shows for the world to look at with awe and disgust. Burton is this era's PT Barnum.

As for Schumacer's two films; "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin." I have no issue with a homocentric superhero film, but why not create new characters and make your own superhero movie. I mean, to each his own, but where Burton wanted film noir, Schumacer wanted a Vegas Revue. And the way they teamed up the villains in these later films made no sense. Especially in "Batman and Robin," where Poison Ivy, who is basically a crazy tree hugger, and Mr. Freeze, who wants to freeze everything, join forces. How do either of their causes fit together? Not to mention, they throw Bane in their as Ivy's henchman. Bane was the character in the comics who broke Batman's back and sidelined him for over a year so the criminals could have their way with Gotham. A character like that deserved his own film, not to be Poison Ivy's chauefer. Also, the look of Gotham went from art deco to flashy colors and a city that apparently had no bottom to it. These will go down as two of the strangest movies ever made. And Schumacer obviously had had enough of this big budget bonanza. After these two films he went on to make a slew of smaller darker films for better or worse like "8mm," "Veronica Guerrin," "Phone Booth," and "Tigerland."

It's taken eight years and many possible scenario's to get "Batman" back on the screen. The initial take after "Batman and Robin" was a film in the same vein with Jeff Goldblum playing the Scarecrow. At one point there were joint projects going on; one had Darren Aronofsky teaming with Frank Miller on an adaptation of Miller's popular graphic novel "Dark Knight Returns;" the other had Boaz Yakin doing a version of the popular cartoon "Batman Beyond." Wolfgang Petersen was in the preproduction stages of a "Batman/Superman" film. Then for various reasons all of those were scrapped and Christopher Nolan and David Goyer were given the greenlight to their version, "Batman Begins." A version that would wipe out the previous films and start fresh. A film that would be the ultimate Batman experience and start the franchise all over for Warner Bros. How Nolan and Goyer ever got this film made is beyond me, but whoever it was at Warner that let them go their own route and bring this version to the screen, I would like to thank them; I would like to thank them very much.

Finally, we get a Batman movie about Batman. It might have taken 16 years for this to become a possibility, but at long last it has happened. Christian Bale is outstanding, and not only as Batman but as Bruce Wayne as well. Bruce Wayne is just as important to the Batman story as Batman and the villains are, and Jon Peters and his team of monkeys never could figure that out the first time around. Part of the reason the first two "Superman" films work so well is how they deal with Clark Kent as well as Superman. What would "Superman II" have been if it hadn't been for Clark Kent's journey to discovering why he also had to be Superman to make a difference. Some of my favorite scenes involve Bruce Wayne. A lot of the movies clever humor comes from Wayne's antics not Batman's. I especially loved the scene where Wayne sees the article in the paper that says "Drunken Billionaire Burns Down His Own Mansion."

They also get Batman's supporting cast down pat as well. Michael Gough's performance as Alfred in the first four films was one of the few saving graces, but Michael Caine is even better in the role. The relationship between Alfred and Bruce Wayne is one of the strong suits of the Batman story, and Nolan and Goyer nail it here. Caine and Bale have perfect chemistry; they feed off each other very well. Morgan Freeman as Lucias Fox is also a good fit. Fox has always been an underrated character in the Batman universe, and I'm so glad Nolan decided to stick him in here. Freeman, who can deliver a line like no one else, turns "Didn't you get the memo," into one of the best lines in the film. Gary Oldman is also good as a young future Commissioner Gordon; he's lieutennant by the end of the film. KW and Chris have already stated that Oldman gives his most subdued performance to date, and it's one of his best.

The villains are handled very well. When I initially heard that Ra's Al Ghul, the Scarecrow, and Carmine Falcone were all going to be used in the story, I was a little leary. I thought that they were oversaturating themselves with villains yet again. But they manage to make it work. They tie them all into the story very well, and when you see any of them on screen you aren't taken out of the movie with over the top performances like you were with say Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow is the best performance as a villain in any of the Batman films. Murphy is an actor to watch for in the future; I'm really looking forward to his villanous turn in Wes Craven's "Red Eye" later this summer. Tom Wilkinson is perfect as crime lord Carmine Falcone. He has the old school "Godfather" esque mob boss role down; I hope they can find a way to stick him in "The Sopranos;" it would be a good fit. I don't want to give too much away about Ra's Al Ghul; that's a great twist in the film, but I will say that it works beautifully. And for the first time this year I was actually given a surprise in a film that I didn't see coming.

As for how true they stay to the comic. Here's the thing; I'm sure the purists are going to have a field day with this film. However, with a comic book character, you can do just about whatever the hell you want to do. Batman has been reinvented over the years so many times that who's to say what the true story behind him is. But the character is treated with the most respect in regards to his comic persona. Yes, in the comics, to my best knowledge he was never trained by Ra's Al Ghul's men, but who cares? In this version, it works for the story and doesn't take away anything from the character that we have grown up loving. In the end this is still the Batman we have been wanting to see on film for years, so how can one complain. I loved how they incorporated how he gets all of his gadgets, his suit, and the batmobile. They ground everything into a realistic setting. And for Nolan and Goyer to make a story about a guy that dresses up like a bat to come off realistic, I give high kudos and praise.

There was so much else I loved about this film, I'll try to get it in this paragraph. Batman's voice, while sometimes coming off absurd, is handled very well. This is the voice that would strike fear into the criminals. "Fear Me!" Hell, yeah. The police chase with the batmobile is a thing of beauty; the jumping over rooftops is one of the most spectacular sequences put to film this year. The trials they go through with the suit and mask are somehow very entertaining; "For the time being, try not to fall on your head." The scene on the train at the end was outstanding: "I'm not going to kill you, but I don't have to save you." And I'm sure there are plenty of things I'm forgetting, but there is so much to like in this film.

The problems I had with it are minor, and are basically the same ones KW and Chris have had. Katie Holmes doesn't really take anything away from the film, but she doesn't really add anything either, and her speech at the end is basically Peter Parker's speech to Mary Jane at the end of "Spiderman" with the roles reversed. The fighting sequences can be a little confusing. The score is not very memorable. This has not been mentioned, but the Scarecrow just disappering with about twenty minutes left in the film left me a little cold. Also, the twist at the end that reveals what the next film will probably entail seemed a little unecessarry to me. But it's not anywhere near the bullshit that say, Freddy's glove coming out of the ground at the end of "Jason Goes to Hell" was. And I'm curious to see what Nolan and Goyer's take will be in the next film. And while this is a praise as well as a nitpick; I don't want to have to wait three years for the next film, but I'll live.

Overall, the best film I've seen so far this year. Seeing "Cinderella Man" and now this in the past two weeks has almost made me forget about all of the shitty films that have led up to them. If you haven't seen this, shame on you. And if you have, go see it again, now!



At 6/21/2005 04:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have not read a review i have agreed with more than yours uptil now about this movie.. i really feel that this movie managed to get the fluidity a good movie should have with all the characters giving meaningful and solid performances.. "does it come in black?" !!.. cheers to the new franchise.. my personal favourite aspect of the movie was the depiction of Gotham city - train and all.. respect to the comic books..

At 6/21/2005 03:46:00 PM, Blogger MaraJade said...

I could have just missed it, but what did you guys think of scarecrow? I wans't a big fan. Just wrote a mini review in my own blog (I had to link to you guys again since you did it already and better) and I thought he was a bit too. . .gay for my tastes.

Anyway, great reviews. Keep 'em coming.

At 6/21/2005 04:43:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I liked Cillian Murphy, who played Scarecrow, and his attacks lead to some cool problem with Scarecrow is that he's defeated really easily at the end--he's a nothing villain by that time since they want to get on with the Ra's Al Ghul stuff.

At 6/21/2005 09:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree.. I think Cilian Murphy was very good as the scarecrow and i especially think that the scene that transpired between him and Falcone was well done. This is in line with the played down and more suave versions of all characters from the comics.

At 6/22/2005 06:49:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

As I stated in my review, I thought Murphy was to this date the best villain performance given in a "Batman" film, but his sudden dissaperance at the end left a little to be desired. And to be honest if I were to pick my second and third favorite villanous performances in a "Batman" film, Wilkinson and Neeson would be right up there. It's a hell of a film, really.


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