Batman Begins

Monday June 20, 2005 @ 12:37 PM (UTC)

Before some of you (say, for instance, my sister) begin to complain that my 1.5 sentence blurb on Batman Begins did not contain sufficient detail, I shall write a real review.

I had high hopes for this Batman movie, based in no small part upon the simple fact that it was inspired by Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, which is probably my favorite Batman story ever told. Year One is an intelligent, believable, slightly noir story about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. Batman Begins is an intelligent, believable, not quite so noir story about Bruce Wayne becoming Batman. I was not disappointed.

The first step to making a serious Batman movie seems to be to fill it with serious actors. This was a fabulous idea. Christian Bale, being a classically trained badass, played both Bruce Wayne and Batman to perfection, and was perfectly believable in both. Michael Caine’s presence, and perhaps the rough edges of the working-class accent he used for Alfred, made that character, the dubious, critical, highly moral ur-parent, have the importance and power he does in the comic books. Liam Neeson was fabulous beyond measure, and I think perhaps Christopher Nolan played off the fact that the last role in which the general audience saw him was Qui-Gon Jinn. Gary Oldman made a wonderful Gordon; tense, moral, but aware of how to play the game. He even looked right, but maybe anyone would with that moustache.

I was really dreading Katie Holmes, both for her own sake and because I am rather sick of new love interests being trotted out for Batman every time there’s a movie, as if to say, “No, he’s totally not gay! Cuz, look, GIRLS!” However, I was pleasantly surprised. The character was not a dixie-cup damsel, was played just fine, and fit intimately into the plot.

The second step seems to be getting an intelligently written script which crams in just enough character-building and dialogue of pith and moment without overwhelming the viewer. The script plucked out specific themes from the Batman mythos - fear, most prominently - and wrote a totally unified, tight script around those central concepts and emotions. This is a Batman movie that feels like it was written by an English major.

And everything else? The dressing, the action, the fun? The props, the gadgets, all the Bat-trappings were beautifully believable, letting you suspend just the right amount of disbelief. The city? As Frank Miller wrote, “Gotham City was cold shafts of concrete lit by cold moonlight, windswept and bottomless, fading to a cloud bank of city lights, a wet, white mist, miles below me.” It was kind of like that. The action? Exciting and badass and scary. He treated Batman, from the point of view of the thugs, like the monster in a monster movie. That is, after all, the point.

Were there things I didn’t like? Sure. I wasn’t 100% pleased with the Waynes, or with the seminal Crime Alley scene, and the music was cookie-cutter and forgettable. Batman did one thing I thought was not in character. But the rest of the movie was so fantastically awe-inspiringly shiveringly beautiful that I quite simply did not care about the few things I didn’t like. I was, to put it mildly, riveted and thrilled.

The history of the Batman movie franchise has been not unlike one of those VH1 specials about a young band. Young franchise shows early promise, makes a lot of money, has experimental phase, loses sight of its identity and spews out several slickly-produced but horrifically dumbed-down albums that the original fans abhor, and breaks up. In the last act, the band gets back together; older, wiser, more worldly and more subtle. The music means something. Here’s to a run of new albums, guys. Keep rockin’ on.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10. Best Batman movie ever made; emotionally true, viscerally exciting, thematically cohesive and resonant. The .5 is for not grabbing me by the music center.

Retraction, 2008: After rewatching and years of distance, I must tell you: Katie Holmes was not forgivable. Only being high on a good Batman movie led me to let her slide the first time. She clashed with the film on every level, from the visual (as I said elsewhere, she’s “about as noir as Hello Kitty”) to the emotional (not one, but TWO toddler-slaps for your friend who was planning on committing murder? Puhleez.). She’s so bad she distracts me from the good, which is why I am so happy that they’ve replaced her for Dark Knight.


Answer will be revealed in next comment, which will be QUITE SPOILERY. YOU ARE WARNED.

At the end of his fight with Ra’s, when Batman says “I won’t kill you…”, sabotages the train , “but I don’t have to save you…” and escapes, leaving Ra’s to crash and burn.

I justified this to myself by saying, “Well, he hasn’t been Batman very long at all, perhaps he hasn’t pinned down all the ethics of the thing yet.” But in the comic books, Batman doesn’t allow people to die by omission of reasonable action. Let alone ARRANGING the dangerous situation and then omitting the action. So it didn’t ring true for me, even though it was badass.

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