A Franchise is Reborn with "Batman Begins"
I was a bit apprehensive that Batman Begins simply wouldn’t live up to the hype, but this movie is truly the real deal. Forget Burton and Schumacher, Nolan has the right grasp on the franchise. I grew up, and loved, the Burton films, but it’s time for something new. Not only do we finally get an indepth look into our hero’s origin, but we get a worthy story and excellent visuals to go along with it.
Each previous installment did have their own unique charms, and pros and cons, but this is the one that gets it all right. This will definitely be an interpretation of the character that will remain just as timeless as some of those that have come before.
Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns were great gothic yarns, but lacked heart and made the title character seem cold and inaccessible. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin turned everything into a farce, taking the movie series in a different, gaudy direction. Some liked it, most didn’t. It’ll be interesting to revisit these installments on the “Special Edition” DVDs slated for this fall, side by side with Batman Begins.
Now back to the movie! So, can this movie be as good as everyone is claiming it is? Yes! Believe the hype. Finally, 66 years after the inception of the Batman character in Detective Comics #27, the Dark Knight has been gloriously reborn on film. We finally have a live-action version of this great hero that can live-up to definitive Batman: The Animated Series counterpart. Watching this movie come together infront of my eyes was enough to cause me to tear up in pure joy. I do have a couple small gripes, but those are so far outweighed by the uncountable pros in this movie. Be warned, this review will contain spoilers.
We follow the young Bruce Wayne from the murder of his parents to donning the cape and cowl for the first time. We’re filled in on his journey, taking us places we’ve never seen before. After years of intense training under the guiding hand of Ra’s Al Ghul and Henri Ducard, Wayne returns to Gotham with the intent of cleaning up the corrupt city where he was raised, a town that has gotten so bad most citizens believe it is far beyond reprieve. There’s more to it than that, of course. He confronts some old demons, reconnects with a childhood flame, has his first run in with a costumed villain, proves himself against an old mentor, and decides on his true ‘mask.’ They manage to make all of that work in the 140 minute running time. It’s never boring, and always engaging.
A perfect cast led by an excellent director, Christopher Nolan leaves no stone unturned as he approaches this heavy subject matter. One thing I must give Nolan credit for his decision to explain just about everything, leaving no question left unanswered for the viewer. He explains every nuance of the character and even adds an interesting twist or two. By the end of the film, you can try to pick it apart to death, but you will find that Nolan has covered his bases almost completely. How his gadgets work, why he picks the cave as a base, even how the Batmobile (very awesome in this flick) can go roof to roof without collapsing into a building. All of it.
Christian Bale gives the character a depth he has never before enjoyed, at least in his on-screen depictions. He depicts Bruce’s uncontrolled, unfocused anger perfectly. From the icey sword fight to the amazing interrogation of Detective Flass, Bale nails it. He does get a little bit cheesey in a handful of moments, but his Batman is just about spot on! Again, look no further than his Detective Flass interrogation. As Wayne, Bale also gets to have a little fun playing a rich playboy. It also helps that the character of Wayne himself is only “playing” a rich playboy. He puts up an excellent front without his mask on.
The supporting cast is surprisingly strong for this series. Michael Caine handled Alfred with absolute perfection, undoubtedly the best choice one could imagine. I also enjoyed the changes they made with Lucius Fox’s character, who now plays an integral part of Wayne’s crusade. Where do all of these toys come from? We got an answer now. Some fans may be upset that Batman doesn’t create these devices himself, but the switch to Batman having his own “Q” seems logical.
Gary Oldman is a perfect choice as James Gordon. It looks like Gordon has just jumped off the comic page, as Oldman gives the best live-action rendition of the character yet. He just melts into Gordon’s role, and the result is perfection. The scene between Oldman and Batman on GPD roof was exactly how it should be, down to every last word.
The villains take more of a backseat here, with mixed results. As Dr. Crane, Cillian Murphy is just creepy with engaging hypnotic eyes and a look of steady, quiet insanity. He manages to be scary in and out of the mask, though that mask does amp up the fright factor abit. I like the fact that the creators on the film didn’t hold back with these hallucinations, even if they were a tad bit short.
Liam Neeson’s Henri Ducard and Ken Wantanabee’s Ra’s Al Ghul serve the purpose well, and the twist concerning these characters is a nice case of misdirection. Both play the roles perfectly, Wantanbee with a slight hint of madness, and Neeson with steady, father-like approach to Wayne’s training. It all works, though more scenes of Wayne and Ducard training would have been nice.
Tom Wilkinson’s small role as Falcone does what it has to do. His “New Yawk” accent is well done and the idea behind his character, and connection with Dr. Crane and Detective Flass, works fine. I was worried that this movie would be overloaded with too many villains, but Nolan handles them all just fine. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes is adequate.
One thing I love about this movie is the lack of CGI effects. After watching CGI heavy events like Spider-Man 2 (also a fine yarn), it’s great to see that’s an actual person dangling from that rope, not a computer creation. Yes, there is CGI to be found, but it’s very minimal. Nolan and his crew use a staggering amount of practical stunts for this day and age. The CGI work is subtle and exquisitely integrated. It enhances and never distracts, but it stands out when it has too (the hallucinations) and blends in just fine every other time (the CGI bats, small bits of the Batmobile rooftop chase). And just how sweet is the chase scene? Not only do we finally have a Batmobile that can rip down streets, but it owns the road. It makes sense Batman would choose a vehicle like this over some sweet-looking ride.
Christopher Nolan has taken command of the franchise and raised the bar for comic-based films. He knows how make the character work. I found the fight scenes, laced with distractions and confusion, fit the character. Batman just swoops down like a demon, unleashing hell upon evil-doers. Everyone’s on the ground before they know what hit them. No bat-skates here, just brillaint, inventive directing.
I do have a couple minor complaints. Katie Holmes is okay as Rachel Dawes, but her character isn’t terribly important to the story. We see that she does help anchor Bruce, but her role should have been larger. And during the climactic battle, Batman’s “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” rubs me the wrong way. Sure he did bust out that window which I assume was for Ra’s, but ideally Batman would extend his hand, and Ra’s would slap it away, but it’s a minor complaint. And Ra’s moustache looked very fake. Very, very fake.
In the end I’m just thankful Batman is not killing thugs left and right, something that left a bad taste in my mouth from Batman (1989) and Batman Returns.
Nolan creates a realistic world and unveils Batman’s origin in a manner that everyone can understand. Not through a short flashback or by a few dialogue hints, but he goes into detail and makes the character relatable and accessible. We know why he puts the mask on every night.
Before wrapping up, I just wanted to add something. There is one scene that the crowd goes nuts over more than any other one. When we see certain perp’s “calling card” at the end of the movie, it receives such a wild applause and standing ovations. Never before have I seen an audience react like that to such a scene.
Nolan doesn’t gloss over the story or the drama that surrounds the action, but interweaves all of these aspects into a film that surpasses some of the great previous efforts that came before. This is it, people. This is first Batman movie to get him down perfectly.