Batman Begins (2005)

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The reviews are out there, and most of the critics are saying, “This is the Batman film we have all been waiting for.” That seems to be the battle cry, and I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

What does this movie hold for you? What if you aren’t a Batman fan, especially after the horrid Joel Schumacher films? Well, this story, stands alone. The story is self sufficient, and, oh, it happens to be a superhero.

Where do I start, I was sweating in the theater. The detail, the explanation, to realism, the action, and the suspense, articulate and well planned, Batman Begins has been worth the 8 years we’ve been waiting. A good script by an oft kilter director, Chris Nolan (Momento), makes a nearly perfect film.

Warning! I am going to include everything, down to spoilers. Don’t read on if you don’t want to know.

Batman is my favorite. Here is a mix of fantasy, but it is dependently intertwined with the idea that this is a real man. A man who is angry and his only super power is his amazing wealth and knowledge, and the drive to make himself better than the rest. I loved Batman, and seem to be the only person on the planet who liked Batman Returns the best (to date) because it was so dark and violent. Batman isn’t shiny kids, he isn’t a laughing, “Oh, I’m so unsure and poor” Spiderman type. This is real, this is dark, and it is as close as a reflection of real like and apathy that a movie goer can expect in a movie of the genre.

So, not to take away from Tim Burton. Michael Keaton, nails the quirkiness and the demeanor in the Batsuit. However, does not have the stature to be intimidating, and doesn’t play the handsome womanizing version of Bruce Wayne the shell well at all. Come on, Keaton? Hot? Christian Bale. Nails every aspect. Great looking great stature, anger and rage boiling at the surface, and can pull of humor and intelligence that the shallow Bruce Wayne facade needs to cover up his nightly activities.

The rest of the cast is sublime. Michael Caine plays the part of Alfred so well, and has deeper, richer things to say because of such a great script. Lucious Fox, Bruce Wayne’s right hand financial man in the comics. In this movie, has a scientific background as well as a corporate knowledge of the Wayne Enterprises. This was a satisfactory divergence from the story, like everything else, it makes sense.

Carmine Falcone played by Tom Wilkinson, eh, not so much. Seemed hardly believable, but not terrible. Ken Wantabe and actually, (Spoiler) Liam Neelson as Ra’s Al Ghul, a great translation. Ra’s Al Ghul is not a well know character, but he is Batman’s equal. In the beginning you believe that he dies, and as a fan, you are furious. It shouldn’t have been that easy. Bale is training in some remote location in the mountains, with ninjas and shadow warriors, but when his ideals cross with theirs, his extradition is sudden and logical and we believe Ghul is a casualty. But we find out later, that he is just as intelligent as the comics, and things are not what they seem. Bale pulls out his mentor in his training, Neelson, only to find out he is really Ghul later in the story. But again, a logical translation from the sinister mind that lives in the mountains, older than time that is kept alive by boiling lava pits called “The Lazarus Pits”. Insane but highly skilled, he knew Batman’s secret and could match him in every way. So, smart mentor of the shadow people, good translation.

We are to the villain. Everyone complains about how the focus was on the villains in the other movies. Well, that is not the case in this one. Cillian Murphy, perfect, actually, the second best casting in the movie only to Bale. The piercing murderous eyes, and the unforgiving and unrelenting nature that allows his natural revealing of his dark side the Scarecrow in the blink of an eye.

Jonathan Crane, a psychologist and scientist in the comics, was also hard for me to understand how he would translate. I think that Nolan kept scenes with him out of the previews for a reason. For all the geeks, this was the best part. Crane was a villain with the power that he deserved, without so much as a flinch, nearly killing an inexperienced Batman in one of the opening scenes. How? By lighting him on fire. And oh, well, scaring the crap out of him and the whole theater. What a perfect translation of his fear toxin. An weaponized hallucinogenic found in a rare plant in the same mountains where Batman trained. You will be scared in how they did the sequences here, some of the nice complimenting CG work that is done in the film. But not to worry. It is just the toxin and a cloth mask that most victims seem maggots crawling through. It isn’t the cheesy, outdated scarecrow like costume that we find in the books.

Gary Oldman does a perfect James Gordon, but Katie Holmes, well, she’s just there. I have read that people think he lines are forced and awkward, I didn’t see that too much. She does a nice job of being an intelligent entity, not like these other girls that take the whole movie to realize, oh crap, he’s Batman and can never be had / be too close too / has too many demons blah blah blah. But still, he performance, not so moving.

The overall theme of this movie, and why it stands on it’s own, is the relative realism. In a day and age where movie goers need to relate to their films, this one is set in a realistic modern city, a necessary translation from the gothic dark Gotham of old. Every one of Bruce Wayne’s actions, emotions, and tools is explained. Nothing is left to chance. We empathize with the pain he bears of losing his parents, the lengths he guest to train himself to understand a criminal, and rid himself of fear. Nolan goes through great lengths to help us understand all of his gadgetry, his costume, even how he orders it without anyone knowing.

The whole film is just real. There isn’t a high gloss to things. All of the equipment is homemade for Batman. Heck, the lighted symbol is just thrown together and is blurry in the sky. The buildings look like a modern metropolis, down to the Batmobile, and that is a whole other paragraph.

Other than other little things I saw in previews, I was most nervous about the Batmobile. I really liked the mobile from the Burton universe, and hated the one from Schumacher. (Why did he even change it? To be more gay?) But, all I kept hearing was, the whole story is a translation of Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. The Batmobile is from “Returns”. I was like, ok, but does it fit that story because otherwise, who cares. It does, hands down. Why have a pretty crime fighting car, when you can have a car that is military in style, drive over anything, and get busted the hell up. He needs to get the job done, and we never see any sort of intense scene with the Batmobile, unless you count when it gets taken over in “Returns”.

I am jumping all over the place, but there is so much to talk about. This movie is about Batman and his elemental essence. He does some quips, but he shouldn’t be talking too much. He is a hero of action. But Bale is scary, and does a nice growl in his voice. It is an adjustment, Keaton may have had the best voice but it isn’t corny or cheesy like I read around the internet. There is a scene with a corrupt cop hanging from the building that apart from the dropping him 20 stories, I would have been scared enough talking to him to let the cat out of the bag.

I also have read a lot about the action sequences being unclear. I don’t really get this. To me, Batman works efficiently. He gets guys in the shadows, takes them out silently, uses the dark to his advantage as well as the fear. The fighting does that just fine. It doesn’t seem scripted like the last two did, and even though the fighting isn’t street, it isn’t highly polished nin-jitsu either. It is the stuff to get it done.

Like I said earlier, the movie escalates. You have the first half of the movie being the build up back story with the shiny city, and then the second half you have dirty Gotham, with the steam and the homeless people in their rundown buildings. The end sequence in most fitting, as Gotham’s water supply is contaminated with fear toxins and is being vaporized by a microwave military weapon, the whole atmosphere is dark and eerie. The citizens of Gotham are running scared on fear gas, and there is this demonic feel, fear at every turn.

What can I say. I can’t logically review this movie. This is what is has in bullet points;

  • Great Translation of the classic characters
  • Nearly perfect Casting
  • Great script, lines, story, and plot
  • Realism and Empathy
  • Real time action with a nice mix of CG
  • Emotion

But in the end, will it appeal to everyone. I hope so. We need it to do well, and to keep Bale and Nolan together for a whole bunch more of these with the same dedication that Sam Raimi has to the Spiderman franchise. I don’t think that everyone will quite get it, and not nearly in this way.

But what I would say is, don’t be scared off by the old versions. This is worth your money and should start to erase bad memories. It is a great story, and it happens to be about Batman. Everyone should give it a try.

Awesome Awesome movie. Thank you Chris Nolan.

And Chip. I hope you like this when you see it. I know I hated the gloss and corniness that was Spiderman 1, and I don’t know about “Show not Tell” but I think this movie did a good job of showing more than telling. I just hope you really appreciate this movie for how great it is.

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