Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Batman Begins (2005 Review, 7th review of 9)

      Throughout my recap on the history of Batman, we’ve seen the superhero go through many changes. He was based off a villain from the 1920’s horror film “The Bat”, then in the 1930’s there were two 15 part serials, then the campy live action 60’s T.V. show that launched the first theatrical Batman film, “Batman The Movie”. Then the hero made a huge leap with Tim Burton’s two darker films, “Batman” and “Batman Returns”, followed by the successful animated T.V. show that had its own theatrical film, “Batman Mask of the Phantasm”. Then finally in the late 1990’s Joel Schumacher nearly destroyed Batman with his campier and kid friendly films, “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin”. That particular film was such a disaster that they pulled the plug on anymore Batman movies. There was even a Batman movie ready for release, called “Batman Triumphant”. This was going to be the 5th installment in the series but after seeing how absurd the last film was, there was no hope for it. But there were still several other home video and T.V. adapted shows over the decade, so the hero didn’t die, he was just hanging up his cape and taking a nine year rest. Then in 2005, a brilliant writer/ director named “Christopher Nolan” discovered the plans for a film based off the comic “Batman year one”, this became the inspiration for his motion picture masterpiece that would be known as “Batman Begins”.

     It was like someone hit us with a nuclear bomb, no one saw it coming but it made a huge impact and things were never the same again. This film was wildly regarded as the best Batman movie of the time by far, which is kind of interesting because most current revival movies for successful franchises are panned by fans a critics alike. The best examples would be “Indiana Jones and the Kingdome of the Crystal Skull”, “X-Men Origins Wolverine”, "Man of Steel” and especially “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace”, but this film escaped that net and is regarded as a masterpiece. While I don't think this is the absolute greatest entry in the series, I definitely consider it to be one of the best entries in the Batman movie line up and certainly one of the greatest superhero movies to come from the early 2000's. This movie put no merchandising in popular villains, was sold on its story alone and that’s what makes it such a superior installment. The characters are all three dimensional, the dialogue and conversations are fantastic, the plot is very engaging, Batman is given full attention, and it’s exactly what a competent superhero movie should be. Batman Begins” was simply leaps and bounds above any other live action Batman film before it. Sure, “Batman Mask of the Phantasm” was the first really great film in the series but that was an animated movie and wasn't noticed by many people. “Batman Begins” on the other hand was made for a general audience and it introduced the hero to a new generation of fans. 

     Don’t let the title confuse you, this movie isn't a prequel to the first Tim Burton film, instead it’s a jump start to a brand new series. I never liked how misleading that title was, I went into this film thinking it was part of the original series, and it’s even more confusing that the sequel is called “The Dark Knight”, that sounds more like a remake. On top of that Batman Begins is the first in the "Dark Knight Trilogy", so it only makes me wonder why they didn't change that. Speaking of the title, one tradition in this trilogy that really annoys me is that none of them have title screens in the opening. This is a general pet peeve of mine for movies to begin without showing the title but all the previous Batman movies made there title openings so epic, this isn't a huge problem, it's just a personal annoyance. I was very pleased to see that Warner Bros was still the company distributing these films, “Batman: The Movie” is the only Batman movie to date that wasn’t distributed by WB (it was 20th century fox). Let’s hope it stays that way because Batman and Warner Bros go together like bread and butter, I don’t know why but I always love seeing the WB logo before every Batman flick. 

    As you'd expect from the title, this is an origin story about the birth of Batman and how he became the savior of Gotham city. There's lots of flashbacks to Batman’s past and the first half of the film shows him go through several great levels of character growth, beginning as a child, than as a vengeful teenager, then as an outcast, then as a worrier in training and finally as Batman. Some hard core Batman fans hated all the back-story in this film because the 1989 “Batman” and “Batman Forever” already showed us this. I personally thought the first half of the film was great, also there were lots of changes in the origins of this film. For example, in the original 1989 "Batman", the criminal who killed Batman’s parents would go on to become The Joker but in this film, it was just an ordinary criminal. This gives us a lot of incite on the person Bruce Wayne was before becoming a superhero, he was angry and vengeful, but he matured and learned the importance of being a true protector. In most superhero movies, the characters leap strait into being a hero, instead we see him as a tormented soul who thinks of nothing but revenge, we than see him as an outlaw, then he grows, matures and becomes the hero he was born to be, that to me was a fascinating concept.  

     Christian Bale is excellent in the role, minus his voice, but performance aside, I think this film really nailed the character. This was the first time I felt connected to the character because we go with him on his journey, we see him develop as an individual and as hero, which makes me cheer for him all the more when he goes into battle. Now the character dose loose the same mystic that thrilled me in the original classic, but that's a small lose for what this film succeeds in. Now as for the costume, well, I don’t hate it but it’s far from classic. I think the head piece is to balky, the ears aren't sharp enough and the bat symbol on his chest isn't as noticeable, well, at least we don’t have any bat-nipples this time. 

   The villains in this film are excellent, there less popular then many of the others but there parts in the story are far stronger than any of the previous Batman enemy's. The main villain is “Ra's Al Ghul”, he doesn’t ware any make-up or crazy costume but he definitely stands as one of the best villains from the Batman series. He’s played by Liam Neeson, who's awesome in the role, I honestly didn't think he could do a villain justice but he nails it here. He’s got an interesting motivation while still being an extreme threat to the city, and his relationship with Batman is very unique. Basically, he feels Gotham is a city that is beyond saving from crime and the best thing to do is destroy the city itself so it’s evil can never spread, and his plan is to poison the water and set lose a chemical that will make everyone go mad, now that's one heck of a plan! As for Batman, you don’t just feel the hatred between them but the raw emotion as well. In this film, Ra's Al Ghul trained him to be a warrior and he wants nothing more than to have Bruce on his side in his battle for what he views as justice. From Batman’s point of view, this was the man who helped him become a hero and he wants nothing more than for the two of them to be friends again. This makes for a riveting hero/ villain rivalry. One minor annoyance is that he goes by the name Henri Ducard throughout most of the film and there’s always a decoy on screen taking his real name, which can make it really confusing, especially for non-Comic book fans that don’t know the character.

    Next is the Scarecrow played by Cillian Murphy, who is very disturbing and creepy in the role, he’s always great playing creepy guys like in the movie “Red Eye”. It was a real treat to finally get a darker and scarier villain then all the cheesy bad guys of before. He wasn't loud or goofy, he didn't crack, instead he was calm, sinister and kept in the shadows. His best parts are when he sprays people with his fear inducing gas that makes people see their worst fears, the images are both original and kick ass. One small complaint is that he doesn't have much of a conflict with Batman, in fact the two don’t even fight at the end of the film, instead it’s the girl friend of all characters that takes him out. I actually like that, it‘s not often that we see girl friends in superhero movies take out one of the villains.

     I was really surprised by how much I loved the supporting characters, usually I just like the hero and the villains, but this film really dropped the ball with the supporting characters. Michael Caine is outstanding as Alfred, and makes him a far more active and loving person with some great motivational speeches. Morgan Freeman is perfect as Mr. Fox and I love how there’s a guy on the inside of Wane industries making all the new gadgets for him. My favorite of the new supporting characters is Commissioner Gordon, who's played very well by Gary Oldman. He’s an extremely talented actor and he makes everything feel natural and extreme. Having Gordon as a main character was a dream come true, it was great seeing him and batman working together and having Gordon do bigger things like drive the bat-mobile was a real treat.

    Then there's the new girl friend named Rachel Dawes, played by the very cute Katie Holmes. This character is a mixed blessing, on the one hand she's completely devoid of common clichés, she doesn’t run around in a hot dress and the romance between her and Bruce is very well constructed. Rachel even teaches the hero important morals like “it’s not who you are underneath but what you do that defines you.”, this makes her a great role model but the character is just average good. She's isn’t as interesting as Andrea Belmont from “Batman Mask of the Phantasm” and she doesn’t have the same cliché enjoyment as Vicky Vail from the 1989 “Batman” but she’s still very good for what she dose in the series. Her scenes with Bruce are nice but the actress just looks way to young for the part. I could see her getting together with Spider-man but compared to Batman, she looks like a high school student.  At least she can take care of herself, more so then most of Batman's girl friends, and as stated above, she’s was able to defeat on of the villains, that's quiet impresive.  

    The look of Gotham is great, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Gotham without being overly dark or overly colorful, it’s still massive with lots of technology but it looks far more like a normal city than before, in fact it was all shot in Chicago as opposed to the WB back lots. I must admit, I didn’t care for that new bat tank. I don’t hate it, it just seems very distant from what the bat-mobile should look like. This movie also does a great job following the tradition of bringing great music into a batman movie, Danny Elfman gave use the classic score in Tim Burtons two films, Shirley Walker gave us a beautifully, haunting score in “Batman Mask of the Phantasm” and “Seal” gave us a terrific romantic song in “Batman Forever” called “Kiss from a rose”. Now, composer Hans Zimmer, who also did the music for “Gladiator”, “The Lion King” and most of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, gives us an awesome new score and it is just thrilling. It doesn't have the same, gothic atmosphere but it gets you really pumped, and drawn into the action. The film also keeps with the tradition of focusing on dark morals, in the case of this film, it's all about concurring your fears before you can concur your enemy, which is conveyed very well here. 

     The action scenes in this film are nothing ground breaking and at times are a little sloppy but again like in “Batman Mask of the Phantasm” you get so wrapped up in the situation at hand, that it feels just as epic as any other action movie. The Climax feels especially larger than life as you really get caught up in what’s going on. The stakes are really high, the conflicts between the hero and villain are riveting and there's a lot of adrenalin. The film ends with a nice little indication that The Joker will be the villain of the next film, boy did that get me excited.

      If you remember in my review for “Batman Forever”, I stated that it was one of my favorites in the series, but you have to turn your brain off in order to enjoy it, “Batman Begins” is the exact opposite, this is a smart film, with great character structure, big dilemmas, on the edge of your seat excitement and it gives us a true superhero story revolving around Batman and it was just the film needed to revive the series. I give “Batman Begins” a solid 4 stars.

     This was such a great installment in the series that I never thought another Batman movie could top it but to my surprise the next film was superior and topped what made the first so great. So stay tuned for review number 8 of “The Dark Knight”, were almost through!

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