Monday, June 20, 2005

Batman Begins: A Darker, Stormier Knight

Batman, the Tim Burton movie in 1989, introduced us to Michael Keaton's Batman, a troubled soul with a quick wit. Michael Keaton made us happily forget the comical Batman of the '60's, and took us back to roots. We tried not to worry about the fact that Keaton's physique didn't stand close inspection. Then we were treated to Val Kilmer and George Clooney, who did all but destroy the fascinating Batman story of a man who competes with super heroes even though he has no super powers.

Thank God for director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reintroduce us in a proper way to the Dark Knight.

Batman Begins tells us the story of how Bruce Wayne became Batman. The first third of the movie is almost wholly internal, showing us a man imploding with guilt and anger over his parents' murder in the streets of Gotham, a murder he witnessed as a young boy. His inner search for peace is guided by the mysterious Ducard, played by Liam Neeson in another wonderful role, in a top-of-the-snowy-mountain Tibetan setting. Wayne proceeds to learn how to tackle dozens of attackers, how to be invisible in his stealth, etc., from the inhabitants of a strange cult. How many times have we seen this, where heroes learn ninja-like moves from old and wise Asian mentors? While this sounds like the set-up to a bad Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, there are twists and turns here that are delightfully unpredictable.

Director Nolan has made some interesting choices. Much of Batman Begins is cinematically black and white, and he relies on the close-up over and over. You rarely see a long shot or even a two-shot. Because of this, and the darkness in which the bat man works, the movie is a series of fast cuts of the action scenes in the dark sewn together, and this makes it hard to discern exactly what is happening. However, the editing is skillful, and the gestalt of the shots tells you the gist of the action even if you can't exactly see the details. This technique makes for a chilling effect.

Christian Bale strikes exactly the right balance between angry/vengeful and righteous/vigilante. He IS a vigilante, and yet has a code of honor and a sense of justice beyond vigilante-ism. We see, step by step, how Bruce Wayne matures, learns his craft, and eventually dons the cowl.

The cast is plentiful. There are many, many identified characters in this movie, and you're called upon to remember each one of them. Nobody is used as a castaway figure, as each is important to the plot in some way. The use of recognized character actors (and in some cases, stars in their own right) helps us recognize these characters and their roles when they come around again. Each is effective, although each actor seems a weird choice for the role he or she inhabits: Michael Caine as butler Alfred, Gary Oldman as good cop Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as scientist Lucius Fox, and Rutger Hauer as the chairman of Wayne Enterprises.

Katie Holmes, another interesting choice (read: I probably would have gone with somebody older and stronger), plays Bruce's childhood friend. She acts as his conscience, holding him to a higher standard at different times of his life. As such, she's a useful tool for the story even though she really doesn't have much else to do. On the other side of this cinematic coin is Cillian Murphy, a man who might be your accountant, as a psychiatrist with a truly pathological mind. Can you imagine anything more frightening? He is really something to watch.

Batman Begins takes its time with the story. Every piece of film, every actor, helps propel us toward the movie's conclusion, the birth of Batman. As a whole, it's phenomenal.

Christan Bale is Batman. The Dark Knight has returned.


At 5:54 AM, Blogger Jon said...

I actually ended up seeing Batman Begins twice at the theatre because a friend wanted to go see it after I had already been during the opening weekend. Although I enjoyed it the first time through, this is definitely a film that gets better on a second viewing, which says alot about a comic book based movie.

I found that the story sets up many intricate relationships between Wayne, Falcone, Ducard and the rest of the characters that are more unstandable (and enjoyable) after an initial viewing when you know how everything turns out.

I also found this to be one of those movies that opens with important dialogue that is either accented or mumbled before getting into the flow of the film (I find this happens alot when I watch movies with British or Irish accents) and the second viewing certainly helps to flesh out the initial meeting between Wayne and Ducard.

Overall, this certainly a "comic book movie" that a grownup can enjoy and a step in the right direction for the new series (I really hope they can get Mark Hamill as the Joker in the sequel).


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