Monday, June 13, 2005

Batman Begins

Batman Begins (Director: Christopher Nolan)

BATMAN BEGINS has been nominated for Best Cinematography (Wally Pfister)

Nolan directed a movie that is still one of the best of the decade in Memento. Then he did the disappointing American remake to Insomnia. He did another film called Following which is pretty good. Nolan wrote the screenplay for Batman Begins with Blade scribe David S. Goyer.

Welcome back, Batman! After an 8-year hiatus spurred on by the utter failure of Joel Schumacher's regressed vision in 1997's Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers went through all sorts of incarnations (like an adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One with Darren Aronofsky directing) in revamping the franchise, something that had been done with great success by Tim Burton in 1989, when the "new" Batman wiped away the cartoony Adam West visuals with something darker. But after that, it was all overkill for me. Burton went way over the top with Batman Returns, and Schumacher wanted to make us remember the cartoony feel with his two sequels.

Talk about re-invention. This movie decides that none of that other stuff ever happened and starts from scratch. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is in an Asian prison, and his skills with fighting his fellow inmates draws the attention of Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), who takes him to meet a master warrior in Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), who heads a band of vigilantes who want to destroy crime-ridden Gotham. Though Wayne is motivated in his need to avenge his parents' deaths (that hasn't changed), his mind has changed in how to deal with evil, and he finds this council untrustworthy. He decides to leave with a bang, and tries to save Gotham using his own brand of justice, rather than wiping it out completely. His first task is to try to stop The Scarecrow, who is spreading poison around the city--but he works for an unknown entity.

The story is complex. Almost L.A. Confidential complex. Who's going to argue with that? Not me. We have tons of characters. Katie Holmes plays D.A. Rachel Dawes, the love interest and long-time friend of Wayne who has an idealist point-of-view. Then ace actor Michael Caine plays Alfred, the butler but mostly family friend of the Waynes. Always-reliable Morgan Freeman plays the smart Lucius Fox, who is sort of the "Q" of this movie, as he supplies Wayne with gadgets. Rutger Hauer is would-be Wayne Enterprises boss Richard Earle. Gary Oldman, in a performance completely devoid of the psychotic tics of almost every character he has played in the last 15 years, is Sergeant, soon-to-be Lieutenant, Gordon. Rounding out the main cast is Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), who plays Arkham Asylum's psychologist Jonathan Crane--The Scarecrow.

The complete and absolute joy of this movie comes from the great setup of the iconic hero. It's not told in the way that a Star Wars prequel might try to tell you--like Whoa! That's the Bat Cave! and then we get an inside joke that nerds will enjoy. It's told methodically, matter-of-fact, and most importantly, in an entertaining manner. The setup would kill this movie if Nolan (and Goyer) didn't give it all a sense of wonder, because many people might have been turned off by the fact that you don't see Batman until much later into the film. In fact, one of the most entertaining action pieces in the film occurs before there's even a hint of Batman--it's so well done and so original that it instantly becomes memorable.

How's Christian Bale as Batman? We've never seen a Batman with more expressions than just one stoic look the whole time. One scene is particularly of note because Batman actually looks angry and has lost a little cool. I must also stress that the Scarecrow hallucinogenics and their effects are scarier than every horror movie combined that has been released this year. Also, the villains in this film aren't cackling buffoons bent on world domination.

One thing I think needs a little work is the staging of the action scenes. It's important to know your space and where everyone fits into it, and to be able to follow everyone (we had a big discussion about this last year with The Bourne Supremacy). Most fight scenes are quick-cut punch and kicks, and it's sometimes hard to figure out where the hero is. That's a flaw that can be fixed with future versions, hopefully. But it will not detract completely from your enjoyment of it. Hell, even the script has some smart moments, which is something for a comic book film.

So yes, it's a superb action film. It can be better, but hey, it's just the beginning.


At 6/13/2005 09:04:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Woo-whoo!! Man, I can't wait.

I got a call last night, Chris, that this thing was delivering a day earlier than expected--even called you to tell you that, but got your voicemail. I should have known you'd go see it. Man, am I ever jealous. I have to wait for tonight.

But I'm still cool, though, because tonight is still earlier than the general public will see it.

I think I'd much rather have a great movie that takes the hero seriously but has some action staging problems than a poor movie that insults the hero and has great action staging.

But--and this is prior to seeing the film--what will it take for people to realize that these super-fast blitz-cut fight scenes aren't enjoyable to the fans if they can't tell who's who? I've read a ton of Batman Begins reviews (Variety, Time, etc.) and they all mention the fighting sequences could have been less confusing.

There's the argument that maybe the director means to confuse you, but still...we've seen it. Been there. Done that.

Anyway, that makes it sound like I'm ripping the film when I haven't even seen it yet. And I don't want to do that. As my "woo-whoo" to start this comment implies...I'm giddy! I'm pumped. This could be another great superhero movie.

I know you've only seen it once, Chris, and it looks like that was very early in the morning....but what's your gut on where this thing stacks up with the other fine superhero films of late such as X-men, Spiderman, & Hulk? Man, I love me some Batman!! Can't wait. I'll tell you all what I think tomorrow--hopefully the title of that post won't be "Batman Begins and Why I Hated This Piece of Crap Movie." I'm hoping it's more along the lines of "Batman Begins and I Soil My Trousers."

At 6/13/2005 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

As far as BATMAN movies go, I think this is better than any of those earlier ones, and I'm a pretty big fan of the 1989 Burton film because of Nicholson and Keaton, and it's got some nice action in it. This is just a better-told story.

SPIDER-MAN 2 is better than this. I think that is a damn masterpiece, but then again, it was a sequel where they got everything ironed out from the original, a movie I liked OK but certainly didn't feel it was awesome.

And, my feelings about the X-MEN series is that I've never been impressed with those films. I liked HULK but it's sort of middle-of-the-pack.

How I'd rate the comic book translations? Of course, if I were a comic book geek I'd be flogged for my list, but I think these are the best:


Those 3 are the only ones I've ever come out of really liking. I liked certain moments of X2 (like freaking Nightcrawler's opening). If I were to rank further, it'd probably go SPIDER-MAN, X2, HULK, and then after that, there'd be movies I either hated or didn't like all that well. By the way, don't get me wrong, I love some old-school SUPERMAN every now and then. The first two are classics, but dated.

At 6/13/2005 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Dude...freaking Nightcrawler's opening scene in the White House is just flat out one of the coolest things ever put to film...period. I almost peed myself. That seven minutes alone is worth the price of the DVD. But, I agree that the overall X-men movies are not quite up to the level of, say, the Spiderman films.

Glad to hear this Batman is so good. Tonight cannot come fast enough for me.

At 6/13/2005 10:02:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

What about "The Punisher" with Dolph Lundrgen, or "Howard the Duck," or "Superman IV," or "Swamp Thing," or "Judge Dredd?" And if anyone thinks I'm being serious, well, I don't want to know you.

At 12/27/2005 09:00:00 AM, Anonymous Ezra Tep said...

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At 12/28/2005 01:02:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Thanks, Ez. Glad you enjoy the site.


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