Friday, June 17, 2005

Batman Begins - for real this time!

For over 10 years I remained a loyal fan of Tim Burtons original Batman film. Having grown up on films like Superman, Captain America and Flash, the sight of this dark and brooding Batman was the perfect antidote to years of camp latex.

However, for the last few years, George, has been trying to convince me that, despite her own love of Tim Burton, the Keaton film is a poor and unrealistic portrayal of the Dark Knight. Not being a comic afficionado I had difficulty seeing her point, until she lent me 'The Dark Knight Returns', a gritty comic by Frank Miller (Sin City, Daredevil).

It isn't an understatement when I say that this comic changed the way I view not only Batman but all superheroes. Superman is the golden one, a product of middle-American upbringing and thus easily manipulated by the American President; Spiderman is the confused kid who struggles from crisis to crisis only wanting to help (and impress the girl while he's at it); while Batman is the stubborn, detached vigilante cut off from society both because of his mission and equally due to the billionaire status of his alter-ego.

We've been lucky in the last few years to see a clutch of movies about superheroes that actually have a level of depth to their characters. It started with X-Men and reached full speed with Spiderman 1 and 2. With Batman Begins, the juggernaut looks unstoppable.

Christopher Nolan has produced a film that is as much about the inner demons of Bruce Wayne as it is about fighting crime. It is fitting that it takes a good hour before we actually see a fully costumed Christian Bale bringing down Gothams bad guys.

As the title suggests, this movie is about origins, and a lot of time is given to how and why any man would choose a path like Batmans. In Tim Burtons 1989 film we are given an insight into how the death of his parents led Bruce Wayne into a quest for vengeance. However, with Batman Begins we see a more complete story, one that paints a picture of a tormented young man who has to go through anger, fear and self-loathing before he can ever find the focus to don the cape.

I should have expected nothing less from Nolan, the man who brought Memento and Insomnia to the screen. Both are films that deal with the dark side of the human psyche, and with Batman Begins, Nolan completes a superb hat-trick of psychological thrillers.

The central figures all play their roles well, with the relationship between Bales rebellious Bruce and Michael Caines loyal Alfred a particular high point. Even the obligatory love interest, in the form of District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), is handled with great subtlety so as not to detract from the main story of Bruce Waynes journey from a lost boy to a legendary hero.

Amidst all the darkness, there is still time for some comedy. Waynes attempt at counteracting his alter-ego by creating the persona of a billionaire playboy is wonderful, while Gary Oldman offers up some subtle one-liners as one of Batmans few allies; honest cop Jim Gordon.

The flaws in the film are few and relatively small, the main one being the rather implausible 'super-weapon' that is used to set up the final confrontation. When you consider that Nolan spends 2 hours creating a World not that far removed from our own (a feat in itself for a movie about a superhero) it is an unfortunate oversight. Personally, I also found the final fights, while well choreographed, a little poorly shot. I think this has a lot to do with Nolans own claustrophobic style of directing, which works very well when delving into the psyche of a tortured soul, but less so with fast paced action set pieces. It's an issue of personal taste though, and I'd be surprised if anyone found their appreciation of the movie significantly lessened by it.

When I left the cinema I was surprised to find that only 2 hours had gone by. Nolan has managed to fit a significant amount of backstory, character development and kickass action into Batman Begins, while ensuring that the central story does not lose its way, even briefly. This is, after all, Bruce Waynes story. A story that, for me, doesn't disappoint.

In summary, Nolan delivers a sublime cross-genre movie which draws on everything that is great about action, martial arts, horror and psychological thrillers. Batman Begins is not just another movie version of the origins of the Dark Knight, it is the only movie version. I'll always have fond memories of Tim Burtons Batman, but I think I finally have to admit, that it was but a poor imitation of a Bob Kanes tremendous legacy. With Batman Begins, we finally have a movie worthy of the comics.


Anonymous said...

Batman rocked. Best film of the year so far. Not sure what you meant about the fights, they were brutal and harsh. The plot device thingy was silly! Now I just wanna see Batman kick Supermans ass in the next film :-)

Anonymous said...

Never read any comics, but the film was great. Even Michael Caine couldn't screw it up.