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Movies: Batman Begins

My opinions of the last four Batman movies -- Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin -- were, respectively, "so-so," "wretched," "good, but only in comparison to the others," and "it's stuff like this that makes me wish the Neanderthals had clubbed homo sapient into extinction back on the savannah." And after each and every one, even the ones I kinda liked, I walked out of the theater thinking the same question. Why, when scores of excellent Batman comic books have been written, does Hollywood feel the need to hire some screenwriter with zero comic book experience to come in and make up the entire mythos from scratch? And I'm not just talking about the big stuff, like "The Joker killed Bruce Wayne's parents?" and "Catwoman gains superpowers after being licked by cats??!" but even the minutia, like making Batgirl Alfred's niece. You could argue that things like Batgirl's identity don't really matter, but that's my point: if they don't matter, what's the point of changing them?

What I really wanted was for someone who wrote Batman comic books (or read a few, at least) to take a crack at the script. Who woulda guessed that Christopher Nolan-- the genius behind one of my all-time favorite movies, Memento -- was that guy? And the co-writer, David S. Goyer, is not only an honest-to-goodness comic book writer (he pens Justice League of America), but has worked on such films as The Crow, Blade, and the forthcoming film The Flash -- not to mention the sublime Dark City. Put 'em together and you get a Batman movie that (mostly) feels right.

Batman Begins at the beginning, even before the death of Bruce Wayne's parents (which is not at the hands of The Joker, thank God -- signaling that this new series is completely divorced from the earlier claptrap). In fact, we don't even get to see the familiar cape and cowl until the midpoint of the film, as the story focuses on the events and training that shaped Bruce Wayne into the legendary crimefighter.

Right from the gate it's apparent that Nolan's approach to the material is radically different from Tim Burton's, as he strives to make the narrative as realistic as possible. Burton created a fantastic, comic book universe for his Batman movies; Nolan grounds the hero in our own. In fact, my one gripe with Batman Begins stems from this fact. Nolan does such a good job of making the back-story believable that that Bruce Wayne's transition from "angry guy who's really good at martial arts" to "angry guy running around in a cape" is a bit jarring, taxing the audience's suspension of disbelief to the limit.

But, in my opinion, two things make up for all of this movie's other deficiencies: Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner (sory, "Captain") Gordon. As the mythos of Batman has evolved in the comic books it has become clear that these two men are more than just supporting characters, they are every bit as integral to the success of The Batman as Bruce Wayne himself. Batman Begins treats them as such. As far as I'm concerned, this alone shows that Nolan (and Goyer) understand the story of Batman better than any of the previous screenwriters did.

Batman Begins is not perfect, and there's a few scenes and lines that ring false. But it's a quantum leap better than the older ones, and, as superhero movies go, on par with the X-Man series and Spiderman II.

A waited a month and a half after Batman Begins' release to see it, and then only because it was getting rave reviews. I assumed that no good Batman movie would ever be made. But when the sequel debuts -- and assuming Nolan is still behind the helm -- I may well be there on opening night.

Posted on August 05, 2005 to Movies





Comments

I LOVED the movie. And I'm the one who's constantly arguing that Spider-Man is cooler. Batman Begins lends credibility to the dying superhero movie genre.

Too bad Fantastic Four was there to ruin everything again.

Posted by: Jack on August 9, 2005 12:22 AM

As a non-spiderman fan I loved it. Here's some advice though (which you probably don't need to be told, but whatever), don't see fantastic four. Ever. Really, if someone offers you money to see it then the money isn't worth the agony of it all.

Wonder Woman's out soon and while that would normally fill me with dread Joss Whedon is directing it, the man who did Buffy and Angel and who won awards for some comics he guest wrote. There's promise there at least.

Posted by: Sparticus on August 9, 2005 4:24 AM

I loved it, but I'm a batman fan so of course I loved it. I still believe Michael Keaton as batman is maybe the greatest casting move ever made, but I think Val Kilmer and Christian Bale rank right up there tied for a close second, we'll see how Bale does in the sequel.

But, I do think the script did have some weak points. Specifically when Batman feeds Rachel Dawes line back to her in the "hey, I might be dressed as a giant bat, but I'm actually your childhood friend Bruce Wayne" scene. She says "Who are you?" he says "It's not who we are blah blah blah, it's how we act blah blah"

That would have been the *perfect* moment, the absolute perfect moment to do this:
"Who are you?"
"I'm Batman"

right?! ok, that's my biggest problem with the film. I'm not saying the other line doesn't work...I'm just saying, that was set up as maybe the greatest lead in to "I'm Batman" ever, except for maybe that snickers commercial.

bam.

Posted by: Tom on August 9, 2005 5:10 AM

I thoroughly concur. Best BATMAN evar! Great supporting cast; my fiance was shocked by how many Brits doing fabulous American accents there were. And you're so right, Michael Caine as Alfred. There's a point in the film where young snotty Bruce asks Alfred, "Why do you care about this house so much anyway? It's not your family." Ooooh. Alfred looks as though he's been slapped. And Liam Neeson is awesome. His character could totally kick Qui Gonn's ass. I too await the sequel with actual excitement.

Posted by: Eh... not so much on August 9, 2005 5:28 AM

I agree. It took me a bit to get over my love of the first Batman movie and recognize Begins as the superior, rather than equally good, flick. Have you seen the V for Vendetta trailer yet? Hugo Weaving appears to be playing an extremely similar character to Liam Neeson's. A line from the trailer: "Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. There is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof."

Posted by: chris r on August 9, 2005 7:48 AM

I loved the film - the only problem I had with it was Katie "I'm just here to lecture Bruce" Holmes. And she's not in the sequel! Hooray!

Posted by: Ryan Waddell on August 9, 2005 7:50 AM

To me, the live action Batman films steadily declined after the first, then Batman Begins pushed the reset button. Though for very different reasons, I enjoyed them equally (maybe a 7 of 10).

But if you have never seen the animated Batman films, I highly recommend them. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106364/) is phantastic and Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0143127/) actually manages to be touching.

Posted by: James on August 9, 2005 7:52 AM

Completely agree. If there's any justice in the world the first four "Batman" movies will eventually have as much story-relevance as the TV show. Now, would someone ask Christopher Nolan to remake Star Wars I - III? Please?

Posted by: Dug Steen on August 9, 2005 8:32 AM


Tim Burton does great stop-motion movies but his Batman was a joke, by far the worst part was the Joker.
Jack Nicholson is a great actor, but leave it to the Hollywood machine to make the Joker into an overweight gangster- that's almost as bad as trying to make Hale Berry into a superhero. I'm looking forward to the Joker getting the treatment he deserves as this Batman's arch nemesis.

Posted by: Damon on August 9, 2005 9:01 AM

Hands down, the best Batman movie made. I'm sure I don't have to re-state the plethora of reasons why (all of you have stated this far better than I ever could). I pray to the bat-gods that there's a sequel with the same directors, writers, and actors. (Christian Bale as Batman gives it that "I'm just a bit psycho" touch the character needed, without the homoerotic nipple suit.)

I'm surprised no one's mentioned the Hummer/Ferrari beast known as the Batmobile. Did anyone else find that just a bit disturbing? I mean it's cool and all, but -- well -- I miss the old (Batman 1) Batmobile.

Posted by: gnorb on August 9, 2005 10:42 AM

gnorb, i loved the batmobile. it was so much more extraordinary, which is what it needed to be. what was the batman 1 batmobile? a lincoln with tailfins? lame.

Posted by: kirsten on August 9, 2005 11:22 AM

I LOVED this movie. I also resisted the temptation to write you and ask why you hadnt reviewed it yet. I had faith it was coming.

I think the scene while Wayne was still in training, the "pawn dance" scene, was absolutely brilliant - in its conception and the fact that they got it across on film.

Dug Steen - no kidding, can we get Nolan to redo the Star Wars prequels...please!

Posted by: Chris on August 9, 2005 1:07 PM

it was the best movie EVARRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111111111111111ONEONEONEELEVEN or maybe it was because i was just a little stoned? naw it was the best movie evarrrr.

Posted by: poohax on August 9, 2005 5:17 PM

I too adored Commissioner Gordon beyond all measure.

The rest was just fine, although I'll note that
1) Katie Holmes looks more like a lhasa apso with every film, and
2) This was the third movie in a row in which young man learns to master fear from Liam Neeson and who dons a trademark black suit upon Neeson's death. It is truly the Curse of Liam.

Posted by: meg on August 9, 2005 5:40 PM

Interesting observation, Meg. Perhaps it was Liam's own curse, suffered in "Darkman", that led him down this shadowy path.

Matthew, I fully agree with you that a comics writer is the best person to do a comic book movie. Sin City was amazing in that it took that to the next level. No screenplay: the storyboards and lines were FROM the comic.

While I didn't hate the Burton Batman (well, maybe I hated "Batman Returns") and despised the Schumacher one far less than most, I felt the crusader really came into his own in this one. And the Batmobile? Straight out of "The Dark Night Returns" - I loved it! Also it was cool to see Gary Oldman play a good guy for once. He was far and away the best Gordon we've seen.

Posted by: Happy on August 9, 2005 8:52 PM

Excellent movie. Note that the bat suit had no nipples, which was nice. Though, trough most of the scenes in the beginning I tought that Bruce will say:

I believe in taking care of myself, and a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I'll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now. After I remove the ice pack, I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower, I use a water activated gel cleanser...

Posted by: Elenko on August 10, 2005 3:21 AM

Kirsten: I mean the Batmobile in the first Batman movie by Burton. (http://www.alexreade.net/acatalog/Batmobile.jpg)

Posted by: gnorb on August 10, 2005 3:33 PM

I actually fell asleep during it. Keep in mind I didn't care for the previous Batman movies.

The whole "poison water" thing is one of the lamest ideas for a possible catastrophic event in the history of cinema.

Posted by: Mark on August 11, 2005 9:01 AM

.
.
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**Warning - Spoilers Herein**

This was a great Batman movie, but I still have a number of reservations. As Memento showed, Chris Nolan can obviously do a great job at directing psychological thrillers (though Insomnia gives the opposite impression). So it is no surprise that it is in the dramatic (more talky) sequences that Batman Begins really shines. Unfortunately, when Nolan attempts to direct action he completely falls flat on his ass in descending to trite Hollywood cliches such as rescuing the damsel in distress, fights on a runaway train, car chases, etc...

IMO, Nolan's Batman Begins would have been much better had it ommited 90% of its action and all of its superhero elements (ie. once Wayne becomes Batman he looks and acts absolutely ridiculously). The evil ninja clan and Wayne's mentor, who tries to lure him to the dark side of the force, were also stupid and cliche. Though, to be fair, his acting was quite good, as was the acting of the rest of the main villains.

The Scarecrow was actually a relatively original villain, for Hollywood (though not for comics, which have an endless supply of awesome villains), and his character was acted and scripted quite well. The scenes with the Scarecrow were the only "supernatural" elements of that film that worked.

Apart from that, if Nolan had ditched virtually all superhero/supervillain elements from this film, it would have been for the better. We really don't need to see a fistfight between Batman and the Scarecrow (or a fistfight between Batman and his "traitorous teacher"). We don't need to see Bruce Wayne dreass up in a silly costume or swing from ropes like Tarzan. I do realize these kinds of things are part and parcel of of what Batman is about. So maybe what I'm saying is that Nolan would have been better off exploring some of the more serious themes he dealt with in this movie in a non-Batman film. For, it is mostly where Batman himself or his supervillain nemesis come in that this movie falls apart.

Another one of my gripes is that when Batman just swallows an "antidote" to the Scarecrow's venom to defeat him, the audience is cheated. For, Batman never does conquer the fear that is the essence of the Scarecrow's power. Swallowing an "antidote" is a just a trite Hollywood copout for dealing with a serious issue (something that other parts of this movie at least take a stab at).

If Nolan absolutely had to put some gratuitous action sequences in the film he should have handed them over to a competent action director instead. As they are, the action sequences are some of the slowest and least believable parts of the film, and they needlessly drag on forever. He could have at least used a few good editors.

That said, I still enjoyed most of the non-action/non-superhero parts of the film, which also featured some solid acting and decent dialogue. If only Nolan could have avoided more superhero movie cliches I would have enjoyed Batman Begins much more.

Posted by: aaa on August 11, 2005 9:09 AM

I just want to eat Cillian Murphy up with a spoon.

I'm almost as embarrassed about thinking it as I am of posting it. Sorry everyone.

Posted by: lauren k on August 12, 2005 10:55 AM

The first *first* Batman movie was good, too.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060153/plotsummary

I thought the latest was okay. I mean, you've got all the melodramatic backstory all the comics people seem to think matters (come to think of it, I think the comics people would be happiest if super-hero movies were nothing *but* over-researched backstories). The Bruce Wayne character was all too *sane*, though, from what I remember from Batman comics. Keaton did a better job showing us what a real nutjob the character was, IMO. The villain sucked in the lates one, too. Say what you will about Nicholson's Joker, but at least you get a memorable line ("Wait'll they get a load of me," etc.).

Posted by: JP on August 12, 2005 11:38 AM

I agree, great film. My one nitpick here is that a quantum leap is a really, REALLY short leap.

Posted by: Mr Pedantic on August 14, 2005 10:43 PM