Batman Begins

A movie review article by: Ray Tate

Batman Begins is a very good Batman film. Christian Bale portrays Batman well. The performances of Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy and the rest of the cast are uniformly good. There are no major plot-holes in the ingenious script by David Goyer. The direction by Christopher Nolan exhibits skill and isn't without inspiration. The score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard enhances the tone, mood and atmosphere. 

Batman Begins will not make Batman fans forget about Michael Keaton or Tim Burton, the Batmobile of the two films nor the unique look of both. The score will not make one forget about Danny Elfman's signature score for the Dark Knight, but really; how could it possibly do that? "Save Me" by Remy Zero in Smallville is a fitting new Superman signature song, but you can't help smiling when the musical director begins infusing John Williams' Superman theme to the series. 

Batman Returns is still in my opinion the greatest Batman movie of all time, and it is still in my opinion the best super-hero film ever made. Batman is its second, and if I were to lump them all together Batman Beginswould be third. However, comparing Batman Begins to the ground breakers is not fair. It's better to separate the two from the one, and call this the beginning of a new cinematic Batman era. 

There was never any hope of a good third Batman movie in sequence. Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman sabotaged any chance of there ever being a third movie in sequence. They are hacks of the lowest order. They should be credited with creating Nippleman, and that's not really something for which to be proud. Michael Keaton took one look at the script to Batman Forever and justifiably ran away. In a Charlie Rose interview, Mr. Keaton implied that he is proud of his two Batman films and in another interview, he said that he was aware that he will always be considered Batman. That's how it should be.

So how does a Batman fan who believes Michael Keaton to be the best live action Batman of all approach a movie replacing him? The same way one would approach a new James Bond film or a new Doctor Who era: with some trepidation and the hope that the new guy doesn't suck. On occasion, you find something better than you believed possible. Pierce Brosnan is my James Bond. Paul McGann is my Doctor. Michael Keaton is my Batman, but Christian Bale doesn't suck.

Batman Begins plays fast and loose with the mythology that has created Batman, and this may upset fans even more so than the absence of Michael Keaton in the title role. Again, you have to approach a film based on something else as an imaginary story, an elseworlds, or a distinctive continuity separate from the source material. The Joker kills Batman's parents in the first Burton/Keaton film, but so what? The method of execution is identical to that seen in comic books. He carries out this execution before he's transformed by Axis chemicals, and it does give the first movie an extra layer of depth. If you want absolute adherence to the origin story, you're still not going to find it in Batman Begins, but the spirit is there along with some titbits from other eras of the Dark Knight's history.

The film begins with the formative years in which Batman learns what he needs to become the creature of the second part. Now, this I thought would grow boring, but the writer and director do something interesting with these years. It's not just Bruce being Luke learning from Obi Wan Kenobi. The beginning of the film informs the ending of the film.

The script is smart. The dialogue always interests, and Batman is not a humorless figure. He is however angry, and Batman's anger ultimately creates the overall mood. I'm still not quite sure whether or not that this is a good thing. Sometimes it works. Other times it does not quite work. At least he is not totally consumed by anger even when in uniform. One nice scene involves Batman being human toward a young Gothamite. 

The way in which Batman is presented as a creature of the dark, likewise sometimes works and other times does not work. One has to understand though that Nolan and company are trying to distinguish themselves, and on that front they succeed. Nolan films Batman's initial introduction to the criminal underworld as he would a horror film--with some unknown thing picking them off one by one. That works. A lot. Furthermore, it provides fun and laughable moments for the audience. You laugh with Batman because you cannot once identify with the criminals--his victims. You're in on the joke. You know that Batman is trying to create this image of a terrible demon from hell coming to wreak unholy vengeance on evil men. 

When Batman stands still in certain scenes, the costume works against him. The problem lies in the ears and the cape. The original and second Batman outfits were both magnificent creations. The head-piece complete with long ears was dead-on. The new costume doesn't quite fit the bill unless you can't see all of it. The ears look decent in profile. From most angles, they work, but if you're looking at Batman head on, your last thought before being beaten senseless is that he should probably sue his fashion designer. The ears really should be longer. At least, it doesn't appear, as sometimes depicted in comic books, that he's just wearing a helmet. The cape works when you see Batman use it as a make-shift parachute, but it doesn't fuse with the mask or create the illusion of fusion, and this may be a personal bias, but seeing Batman standing still in that cape just makes me shake my head.

Christian Bale's fighting technique is violent and effective, but there's no distinctiveness to it. An identifiable style which would have been welcome. Michael Keaton's Batman did have a specific style to his fighting. Andersen Gabrych in the last two good issues of Detective Comics spoke through the Tarantula to describe Batman's fighting style as a form of mathematics. This fit perfectly. Marshall Rogers gave Batman a unique fighting style, and Jim Aparo also made the Batman's style of fighting singular.

The motivation of Batman sometimes become lost in the film. At one point, he refuses to kill and explains that the accused deserves to be tried, but Batman's later actions still lead to the man's death along with the deaths of many others. Make no mistake Batman behaves heroically in Batman Begins. You do not as you do while reading the comics question this Batman's validity. Maybe the scenes in which the "innocent" escapes were left on the cutting room floor for time and will appear on the DVD, but if they were cut, I feel the director did a disservice to his project. Seeing the man escape was very important.

Batman's interaction with various characters is a delightful change from the loathsome figure now flitting about in the comic books. His double-acts with Alfred portrayed stylishly by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox all display splendid repartee and chemistry that helps forge the illusions created by film. That said while I appreciate Lucius Fox having more interesting things to do, his character does take away some of Batman's brainpower. The animated Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman were both scientists and fully capable of analyzing the components of the Joker's Smile-X for instance. They were also detectives, and Batman in Batman Begins does not get a lot of detective work to do in this story. This is yet the beginning of a new era. Perhaps in the second film, more will be done to make Batman as much of a ratiocinator and scientist as he is an action hero and strategist. No, he is not an "urban commando." Put that our of your minds. This Batman deserves the respect of Batman fans. 

Batman succeeds like his counterparts in animation and in the previous era of Batman film in exhibiting multidimensional characterization. As implied in the review, there are different sides to Batman. Sometimes the script works against his want to be whole. His love interest Rachel portrayed extremely well by Katie Holmes is sadly almost perfunctory in Batman's life. The character is fairly generic, but Ms. Holmes makes her special. The chemistry between Bale and Holmes is believable, but reasons behind Rachel's actions are not. This part of the film is the most predictable and the least satisfying, but given how well the lion's share has been crafted, that's not a bad average.

Batman Begins ushers in a new era in which Batman once again prowls Gotham City to make it safe. The filmmakers have not forgotten the basics of the formula, and in fact you're better off spending five to eight dollars on this movie than you are spending half as much to buy a Batman comic book. Dark Detective being the exception. As a lifelong fan of Batman and somebody who believes himself to be an expert in all things Batman, I can say without a shadow of doubt that yes, Batman Begins is indeed Batman.

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