Posted by Mark at 10:05 PM
Mark at the Movies: Batman Begins (again?)
My movie reviewing friends are going to kill me, but tonight I went out and watched Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. My sister and I hadn't spent any time together recently, as she has been going to honors camps and such, and I have been busy at the new homestead and with the work. Well, we got together and went to see the film. I must say I was most impressed with the story, the acting, and the faithfulness to the comic which inspired the film.
Of course, everyone and their mother knows the story of Batman. Rich boy Wayne watches as his doctor/philantropist father Dr. Wayne and his mother are murdered by Joe Chill in an act of mugging gone bad. This inspires Wayne to begin his quest for justice. We have seen it retold in Burton's Batman, with the character of the Joker being responsible for the murders.
In this telling, the murders do not immediately lead to action. Young Bruce grows up to feel like a vagabond, wanting to lash out but also not wanting to take up his father's mantle to help Gotham. He travels the world, learning the criminal mind by performing some heists, and meets Ducard (played by Liam Neeson--yes, Qui Gonn is also Bruce Wayne's mentor). Ducard shows him how to fight even more so, giving him the training and tools for his quest. He is invited to join the order of Shadows, run by Ra's al Ghool, but turns it down, finding their justice to be a bit on the unbalanced side.
Returning to Gotham, Bruce sets out to prove that there is hope in Gotham, that it can be saved. He seeks to become a symbol that will strike fear into the criminals, and bring hope to the masses. Much as the comic book Batman used Zorro as his inspiration (in the comic, the Mask of Zorro was the movie the Waynes went to see when the murders took place, but not in this film--it was some dopey opera with bats), Bruce seeks to right wrongs and bring the street criminals and the corrupt to justice. He enlists the aid of his Butler Alfred, played by Michael Caine; and Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman. He comes to find there is a good cop in the corrupt town of Gotham, Sgt. Jim Gordon, played by Gary Oldman (yes, Dracula would one day become commissioner Gordon).
Without giving too much more away, this film is excellent. Christian Bale (of Reign of Fire and American Psycho fame) surprisingly fit in quite well as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Coming into this film, I was unsure of his portrayal. I felt, and to this point still feel, that Michael Keaton defined the modern role. However, I feel Bale could be the next great Batman. His rendering brought forth both the anguish of Wayne and the thirst for justice tempered with reason. His facial expressions and mannerisms played well in creating a character with dual lives, a character who has something to hide, but for all the right reasons.
Neeson's character was in the beginning, the typical mentor type he seems consigned to playing since Star Wars Episode I. However, there is more to Mr. Ducard than meets the eye. But, Neeson misses the mark with the duality of his character. Seeing the turn in Mr. Ducard, I do not think Liam was the right choice, but he did pull it off as well as he could. He was a gamer, but I just did not see anything but Qui Gonn in this film. I will leave it to the viewer to decide on the rendering, but Neeson did not appear to be well cast for his total role in this film.
Bale is excellent, as is Michael Caine as the butler Alfred. He combines the classic Caine humor with some sparkling moments of parental sincerity. He comes across as the stately butler with a heart of gold for his master Wayne.
The plot? Well, it is one comic fans will be familiar with. If you would like a primer on Batman Begins, you can basically read the story in the classic story by Frank Miller-- Batman Year One, an endeavor Miller undertook in the 1980s to modernize Batman's origin. While weaving in some new characters and nuance, this script is basically an homage to Miller's classic work of redefining the Batman mythos for the modern age. The director and the screenwriters remained true to the essence of the story, from the uneasy friendship between Sgt. James Gordon and Batman, to the struggles of Bruce Wayne to pretend to be a fop while being the Dark Knight of justice. It is a well conceived plot, and I was a bit miffed that Miller wasn't paid some respect for it, as this story was basically his story with some minor changes. I know there are some other story elements from other comic epics about the Batman, like the freeing of the Arkham inmates, the ride of the Scarecrow....but I don't remember the references. If someone in the comments would give me a refresher, I would appreciate it.
Some more character observations. Morgan Freeman did great work as Lucius Fox, Bruce's confidant inside Wayne Enterprises, and a character to watch for in any future Batman movies. Katie Holmes as Rachel, Bruce's childhood sweetie, was just too cutesy in my book for a tough DA. Couldn't we get someone who looks like they would not be carded in a bar? Very yummy to look at, but puh-lease! At times I wanted to arrest Batman for robbing the cradle! Gary Oldman did a great job as Jim Gordon, the future commissioner Gordon. The Scarecrow actor, Cillian Murphy, must have been told to look and act like Johnny Depp. I was not impressed with the character or the acting. It seemed like I was watching Edward Scissorhands meets psychology today....However, overall, the casting was great in the roles that mattered, even if Liam Neeson was not fully up to his "dual" role.
If this is the restart of a franchise, I must say I am looking forward to future cinematic adventures of the Dark Knight. Bale was delightfully surprising, and the story, while well known, was told in a very modern yet faithful way, which led to the great overall feeling I have about the film. I highly recommend this film, especially to those, like me, who grew up reading Batman and Detective Comics in the 1980s and loved the character, and who hated to see it destroyed by the likes of George Clooney and Val Kilmer, not to mention Joel Schumacher directing. The franchise became even more campy than the classic 1960s show, but that is the past.
With a new face in the suit (which I must say, Bale has a great look for Batman with those chiseled facial features, so angular and eyes full of emotion), and a director and creative team that seems to want to portray the character in a faithful rendering, this franchise is on good footing. Especially the ending which leaves you wondering, is this the last we will see of the Dark Knight on film? I, for one, hope not. And I hope it is Christian Bale who brings Batman to life on the screen for the foreseeable future.
I give this film my highest recommendation and encourage all to go see it. It reminds me of the classic Superman film of the 1970s, in that like the Chris Reeve film, there was no hurry to see Batman. We developed the character and the supporting players did their part to create a world where we see Bruce Wayne go from angry but somewhat cowardly person to the Dark Knight. It breaks the detritus of the Burton/Schumacher camp away and brings the character back to his pulp/comic book roots. It is a must see, for while it is a redefinition of the movie character, it is essential Batman!
I have got to get one of those Batmobiles!
And guys, at least I haven't seen it in IMAX yet....so let's go see it, huh? Whuddya say?