Monday, June 27, 2005

Movie review: Batman Begins

Okay boys and girls, this is one of the movies that I was really looking forward to seeing, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed!

I’ve been disappointed before with Batman movies, though. Just about everyone who ever got a kick of seeing Michael Keaton playing Batman in the first two movies directed by Tim Burton felt betrayed when director Joel Schumacher cranked out “Batman and Robin” as a grade F camp movie that’s only good for two things: killing time and really wasting money.

When director Christopher Nolan, whose past works include the innovative “Momento”, announced that he was picking up the Batman franchise for its fifth movie, the one and only question from everyone was “Will this movie suck too?”

Thankfully Nolan answered that question with a resounding “HELL NO!”

Batman Begins” is about the birth of Batman, told in a way that really hasn’t been told before… from a realistic view. Everything about the Batman mythos, from the training to the tools to the cave to the car to the suit and even to the cowl itself was explained. Even the “pointed ears” of the cowl had a reason for being that way, which was demonstrated quite well in the movie.

Christian Bale plays the role of Bruce Wayne as slowly develops from a perpetual crime victim to a man looking for justice. His quest takes him to the other side of the world, where he is invited to train with the “League of Shadows” under a man named Ra’s Al Ghoul, who also supposedly seeks justice. Eventually, though, the justice that the “League of Shadows” wants involves destroying Bruce’s home of Gotham City. There is a great fight scene involved here, and Bruce returns home with a new sense of purpose.

A big problem with previous Batman movies has always been how Batman was portrayed the actors. Actors like Val Kilmer and George Clooney thought Batman was just Bruce Wayne in costume. Keaton got it right when he showed that Batman WAS Bruce Wayne, and the “millionaire playboy” was the real disguise. Keaton got it right, and so did Bale in this movie.

Bale’s Wayne isn’t perfect. He wakes up in the afternoon full of bruises from battling bad guys. He actually FEARS bats, which he uses as a weapon in some very ingenuous ways. As Batman, he doesn’t pose for the cameras or make charity appearances like Clooney’s version did. He skulks around like a ninja. He disappears when people aren’t looking. He makes people FEAR him, and in one memorable scene, he grabs a corrupt cop to the top of a building to shake him down for information. When the cop cries out “I swear to God,” Batman replies “SWEAR TO ME” before dropping him just a few inches from certain death. THAT is Batman! That’s the Batman that fans have been looking for all this time.

There are some big names in this movie as well. Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, and of course Michael Caine help flesh out the movie, but again, director Nolan made it clear that this wasn’t about star power. This was about telling a story. That was the other big problem with previous Batman movies, especially with the two made by Schumacher. Every character filled by a superstar in Schumacher’s movies was played to such an extreme that it couldn’t HELP but come out campy. That obviously didn’t happen here.

The movie shows Gotham as a city crumbling under rabid corruption and crime. It’s not pretty. It’s not glitzy and glamorous and larger-than-life with neon colors and oversized statues. It’s dirty, it’s diseased, and it’s dying. It’s the kind of city that we can recognize. And the struggle to bring it back up was also a great metaphor for the Batman franchise, which was also corrupted and brought down by its lack of credibility.

In short, if you’re a fan of the Dark Knight… and especially a fan of Frank Miller’s classic “Dark Knight Returns”… then you will LOVE this movie! Hopefully Warner Brothers can keep the same direction for the next two Batman movies that Bale is contracted to be in, especially given the hint of the next possible villain at the end of this movie.

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