Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Batman Begins... ...to rule!!!!

The stars have re-aligned. The balance of nature has been restored. Chris and I are once again (after the Star Wars Episode III fluke) back to agreeing on films.

Batman Begins is quite simply the best Batman ever put to film. Better than campy 60's Batman--which I grew up on and have a soft spot for. Better than Joel "Codpiece" Schumacher's Batman. Better than Burton's. Heck, it's better than any Batman film I've dreamt of. It rules exactly that much! And here's the reason: Batman is the main character. Wow, sounds like a novel concept, eh? Let the main character be the main character. Don't let the Joker be the main character. Don't let the Riddler and Two Face be the main character. Don't let the nipples be the main character. Let it be Batman.

You've read it before, and you will again, but this film's biggest triumph is the character development of Batman/Bruce Wayne. We see his training that allows him to be quick, quiet, and ferocious. We see his reasoning for getting said training, and his reasoning for deciding to fight crime in Gotham. We see surprisingly smooth and logical reasons for each of his gadgets (including the suit, the car, the belt, the grapling hook, etc.). And it all works. It all makes sense.

Why has no one ever tried to give us this textured, layered Batman before? Why have we never seen the explanation for his gadgets before? Was it so easy to simply say, "He's a millionaire, and that's how he gets his cave and his toys." Heck, Burton even put in a throwaway joke for the Joker about the origin of the tools Batman uses.

But this is what such a backstory and reasoning does: it humanizes the character. It connects him to the audience. In short, it makes him more real.

Now, I'll let the review Chris wrote stand as the objective, intelligent one (as we've come to expect from him) and allow mine to de-evolve rapidly into yet another bulleted list of things I liked (frothed at the mouth over) and things I didn't. Here it is, relatively spoiler-free (which means nothing a trailer or two wouldn't have shown you):


- The car. Man, oh man, the car. Again, I'm far from the first to say this, but....why did we ever think a super-fast sports car was what Batman needed? This monster is what he needs. It drives on and jumps to the roofs of buildings for Pete's sake!! (one of my favorite lines is a police officer trying, over the radio, to convince his superior that the Batmobile is not on any road.)

-The backstory. Batman doesn't show up in costume for about an hour or so, and that first hour was some of my favorite stuff. Explanation is not bad, people...it's good. Batman's cool and all, but knowing why he does what he does and how....well, it takes cool and turns it into jaw-droppingly awesome!!

-Gary Oldman. As Chris said, the most normal he's ever been. And I really enjoyed it.

-Freaking Michael Caine. Jeez. I thought I loved the Alfred from the last four films--and, indeed, that guy was good--but he's no Michael Caine. Caine adds layers of wit and compassion and fatherly love that I never saw in Alfred.

-The Scarecrow's toxin. Again, not to sound like a broken-repeating-Chris record here...but the scenes of people hallucinating on the toxin are scarier than any horror movie I've seen in years. Way scarier, for instance, than a faceless girl with black hair crawling out of a TV. Great effect when we get shots from what I call The Toxin Cam. It will wig you out a little.

-The way Batman moves around his cave, particularly in the scene with the hurried injection of an antidote to a toxin-laced victim. He doesn't fly, really. Nor jump. He sort of glides around. Just awesome.

-Gordon's reactions while driving a special car. Nothing terribly original, but still funny.

-The Bat signal, and the first time we see it. Good stuff.

-The flying bats, and the way they're used as a transition to a new scene.

-Villians as secondary characters. I think the villians are even smaller players here than they are in the Spiderman series, and that works. Future movies can give some more screen time to the villians. This movie is about Batman. And it never loses that focus by going off on villian-monologue rants.

-There is a shot, after Batman finally dons the costume and busts up a drug delivery at the docks, where we swoop through the cityscape and finally circle around Batman standing at the top of a skyscraper....and that shot nearly made me vomit with love. It was maybe the coolest thing about the movie for me...they just nailed that shot.

-The cape is made of a military experimental fabric that....well, I don't want to ruin it...but the cape is my favorite gadget. Loved the explanation they gave it and how it ties in to the tricks we've seen Batman doing for generations.

- Did I mention the car? Yeah, I did. But no harm mentioning it again. It rules.

- The big finale was cool. I love the monorail train that Gotham has, and how it ties into the action.

- The humor. Like Spiderman, there are several moments of good humor in this film, laugh-moments, that aren't jokey lines. The humor comes from character.

- "Come on Bruce, we have more hotels for you to buy!" I love the playboy image Bruce conjurs up for his public life. I like how this movie presents Batman as his true identity and Bruce Wayne as the act. That's a nice twist, and probably much more realistic. I think, having the backstory as we do in this film, that he would feel much more comfortable as Batman than as Bruce.

-I know he only has limited screen time, but Linus Roache as Bruce's dad was freaking great.


-So some of the fighting is too close up to tell what's going on. And while I'm tired of that trend....at least this movie has an excuse. I mean, this is under the list of things I didn't like, but I actually didn't mind it nearly as much as I thought I would. It sort of works in a way where I can see Nolan saying, "I wanted the viewer to feel the fury and panic and confusion of the thugs Batman is taking down." And I get that. Batman is a ninja basically, and his foes never know where he is or where he'll strike next, and the camera work in the fights (while a tired trend) actually contributes to that. Ultimately Batman's coolness in this film doesn't come from specific punch or kick moves in battle, but from his stealth and the way he strikes fear into the hearts of the bad guys.

-Katie Holmes. She wasn't awful...heck, she wasn't even bad. But she wasn't good either, and nearly everyone else in this movie is good. I get the character and how she fits into the story, but a host of other actresses could have given us more with it than she does. She's just sort of average. She looks good, sure. But her acting is just okay. Wish they'd have cast someone else.

-Music. Again, it's not bad music...it works. But where's the theme, guys? The Batman theme! Not the one from Burton's movies, or any previous one for that matter. I'm glad they wrote entirely new music....but I want to remember it. There has to be some theme that we can immediately identify with Batman (like the Burton film, or like the Spiderman films have). I missed that. Didn't make me dislike the movie, and the music does a fine job underscoring the highs and lows of the film. But I was hoping for something instantly classic. Maybe I'll pick up on something in a second or third viewing, but this first viewing didn't give me that.

- That's about it. Seriously. No major complaints. It's a pretty good sign when the worst things you can list about a movie are things that were average or "just okay."

So there you have it. I'd say this movie puts the franchise on track to keep up with the Spiderman and X-men franchises as far as "indie directors telling good stories and making superhero movies good again." I loved it. My roommate loved it. We both grew up on Batman. But my girlfriend and her sister loved it too, and they definitely did not grow up on Batman. Nor are they huge Superhero fans. They went because of some of the actors involved that they liked from other films. An hour in, my girl turns to me and says, "I'm absolutely loving this movie." And I thought to myself...."Yeah, me too." This movie should be huge. You honestly don't have to love Batman--or even superheroes--to love this film. It's that grounded in character and story. I was beyond impressed. Bottom line is this....this movie kicks ass...period. Man, Hollywood, can we say now that we've finally learned that treating the characters with respect is the best way to do these films? I love the Burton Batman, don't get me wrong....it was the first cool filmed Batman I ever saw....but after seeing this new film, it's hard for me to say that Burton took his characters seriously. Oh wait, Hollywood, you just hired Brett Ratner for X-Men 3. I guess we have a ways to go before this lesson is learned completely. At least Batman Begins helps us take another giant leap in that direction.

I'm sure I'll think of things later I'll wish I'd have remembered to put in the review...but this is it for now. Go see it. You won't regret it.


At 6/14/2005 11:40:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I have now seen it twice...and it still holds up. You know when you watch a movie and you've seen it before, and you get that anticipation for upcoming scenes, it is one of those type of movies. I didn't feel myself going through the motions of watching it again.

At 6/14/2005 11:44:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Yeah, the kind fellow who threaded it up for me and my friends (Buckley, who I'm told will be visiting our blog and commenting more often in the future) watched it a second time and said he loved it just as much as the first time.

It's all about the character development, man. Skip that, and your movie can only be so good. You can have all the cool gadgets and action sequences you want, but they're never as thrilling if you don't care about the people involved.

This movie is just solid. I'm not sure when, but I'll be seeing it again. And I already can't wait.

At 6/14/2005 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Kevin Rector said...

I have to say KW that was an excellent virtually spoiler free review and because of it I now can not wait to see the movie. As you may very well know I was a big Batman junkie for a long time (I still have a few hundred of the comics in plasic sleeves backed by acid free cardboard) and so he will always be my favorite superhero. What I always liked best about him was his humanity and from the way you describe it we get a lot of that in this movie. So yippie.

At 6/15/2005 03:06:00 AM, Anonymous Buckley said...

The best thing I liked about this movie was that if you knew nothing about Batman you didn�t have to. Even if you never read the comics, never saw any of the movies, never saw the original show from back in the day, never had a Batman lunchbox, backpack, notebook, or action figure from late 80�s to early 90�s �. I could go on and on. This film lays everything out on the line for what its worth and really pulls you into the movie. After watching it the second time I freakin loved it even more. Yes, I agree Katie Holmes was probably put in for sex appeal and you really could�ve cast anyone and I wouldn�t have cared. The movie is named Batman Begins for a reason. Also, I did a little research. Did you know that all the other movies from the franchise were released in June? (1989, 1992, 1995, 1997 & now 2005) This movie is set-up so perfectly there is no way it can fail to disappoint any fan or average movie goer. As for the fighting sequences, just one comment, Batman isn�t known as the �Dark Knight� for nothing. You have to have quick movements and dark lighting and not be able to see what�s going on to truly understand who and what Batman really is. It is part of him, and I think it fits into the movie flawlessly.

At 6/15/2005 03:57:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I hate to disparage this movie in any way, and like I said in my own review, the action scenes and the way they were filmed did not detract enough to make me dislike it--in fact I still love it.

I will say that the scene where Batman is dispatching a bunch of bad guys and they don't know where he is (Tom Wilkinson in a car, etc.) makes a nice scene where this quick-cut thing is not jarring--but when Batman is in the middle of a scrum and he's decided to show himself--there needs to be some spatial relationships established.

Another scene that does this is before he's even Batman. The prison. People wearing the same things. They get muddy. You have no idea where Christian Bale is. You just have to assume he's kicking everyone's ass.

Any time a character and another character are fighting and both know where each other is (hand-to-hand combat), I need some breathing room. I need a medium shot or a long shot. Fight choreography is just like dance choreography--if I see a person dancing on film, I want to see the whole body during that action at some point in the sequence or else I feel cheated.

I usually feel the quick-cut is used to blanket flaws in the action. Someone asked me once how FIRE DOWN BELOW was and I told them, "Steven Seagal lays out his enemies with rapid-fire editing." The quick-cut makes everything seem like it's fast and furious and usually a viewer will let his mind believe that these guys really are punching each other this quickly, and that it's so amazing. But it'd be so amazing to see that kind of fight from a bird's-eye view, or hell, just anywhere that's far away, so as I can see both combatants and I can therefore be more blown away.

When it's time for a close-up, and more furious action, I should still have an idea of what happened (was it a punch or a kick? where did the punch or kick land?) We see all these body parts flying around and the standard thump! thump! thump! of these body parts connecting with other body parts--but we have no idea what happened. We just know Batman won.

At 6/15/2005 09:15:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Yeah, I think I'm straddling the fence here. I think the way they set up Bruce Wayne, there can be some measure of confusion in the fighting. But not total confusion. And there really is total confusion in this movie's fight scenes.

It didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. But I'm with Chris in that there should have been some set-up shots from a distance, where we can see the whole picture and learn who is doing what.

I read something that the Batman suit might have been too tough to move around in to let the cameras pull back that far. But I don't buy that. They can do anything with costumes these days. Just because the suit is supposed to be armor doesn't mean they can't put the stunt man in something breathable (that looks like armor) for the fight scenes.

I think Nolan was clearly going for the ninja-cam feel, and while it works well on the dock scene. It does frustrate a little in some of the other scenes. (also works well in the training scene where everyone's dressed in black, because it adds to the sense that Bruce doesn't know where Ducard is).

Anyway, a couple things I loved that I forgot to list:

-The rainy scene when Batman pulls Gordon's partner up to the building tops and yells at him...outstanding. "Fear me!"

-The way Batman's always disappearing during conversations with Gordon. Adds to the ninja aspect, but mostly just adds a bit of fun to the characterization of Batman.

-I also liked how the movie just kicks right off. It doesn't feel like the traditional start of a movie, but rather feels like you're picking it up halfway through. Fast-paced, but not overly so. It was just unusual enough to make me pay attention, but not so jarring as to frustrate me. I really think Nolan is a filmmaker who will make great films for a long time.

At 6/15/2005 06:44:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

It amazes me that Nolan has only made 4 films. He's kind of like Tarantino in the fact that you think he's been around forever due to how great his films have been so far. I haven't seen "Batman" yet; I think I'm going tomorrow night, but I can't wait.

It also amazes me that no one seems to talk about "Insomnia" or "Following," these are the two Nolan films that have seemed to slip away. Everything I read about "Batman Begins" mentioned Nolan as the director of "Memento." But these are two great films that should always be mentioned with Nolan's name. I personally like "Insomnia" better than "Memento." Maybe I didn't on first viewing, but "Insomnia" definately holds up better on multiple viewings.

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