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(Hollywood remake or sequel, or film based on a comic book, book, play or video game # 29, since January 1st, 2005. Click for full list of Hollywood's lack of original ideas.)
Review written by: Alex Sandell
It coulda been a contender (okay, maybe it is) ...
Batman Begins could have been classic. That's probably what's most frustrating about the movie -- how a great film keeps being suffocated by horrid one-liners, questionable editing, and that stupid tumbler/Batmobile thing. How the movie opts to shove The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) into a cameo role and replace him with a predictable Scooby-Doo level mystery reveal and cheesy "surprise" bad guy. All this combined with a weak character in Katie Holmes' Rachel, some shaky dialogue that would do Lucas proud, and a setup that's about 15 minutes too long add up to a film that is stuck being good, when it could have been great. But I'm getting ahead of myself -- let me begin at the beginning of Batman Begins.
Batman begins ...
With Bruce Wayne as a child (convincingly played by Gus Lewis), playfully stealing an arrowhead from his friend, Rachel (Emma Lockhart). Wayne falls down a well and is attacked by bats. His fear of bats causes him to get freaked out at an opera, where he then convinces his father and mother to leave early, only to watch both get shot down in a hold-up. Not knowing how to properly avenge himself, an adult Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gets himself thrown in jail, where he can get into choppily edited fights with criminals. After fighting 6 or 7 criminals at once (although you wouldn't know it, being that Nolan films his fight scenes in that irritating Bourne Supremacy style, where everything's edited fast and shot close-up, so the audience essentially sees nothing but a blur) Wayne meets Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and is told to find a blue flower on a mountain and to bring it to the League of Shadows' headquarters, where he will be properly trained to take out evildoers. After his training, Wayne heads back to clean up Gotham City. It is there that he first puts on the batsuit and turns into the Batman. Of course this all unfolds in a non-linear manner, so Christopher Nolan can keep his street-cred as a hip director who plays by nobody's rules -- not even Father Time's.
Batman drags ...
The training sequences with Ducard and Wayne are painfully slow and filled with embarrassingly corny dialogue. Ducard swings his sword while spitting pieces of advice that appear to have been lifted off of numerous fortune cookies ("you must conquer fear to become fear" is a prime example). Screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer's mantra on the film was to "keep it real, keep it real, keep it real." The movie is shot matter-of-factly, rather than with the swooping over-the-top style seen in most superhero flicks. This could have been excellent, but Goyer isn't screenwriter enough (see Blade: Trinity) to keep his dialogue grounded in reality. With the realistic environments and feel of the film, dialogue that sounds like it was borrowed from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze sticks out like a sore-thumb. The lines aren't any worse than those found in the Star Wars prequels or most other superhero movies, but the Star Wars prequels and past comic book films placed their characters and their crappy dialogue in a cartoon world, where it almost seemed to belong.
Where did they get that wonderful cast?
The film's casting is nearly flawless. If anyone could deliver cheesy lines in a way that makes them easier for the audience to swallow, it would be Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Christian Bale, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, and Morgan Freeman. For the most part, these actors are every bit as impressive as you would expect them to be. The only weak link is Katie Holmes as Rachel -- Bruce Wayne's childhood friend. First of all, the casting is wrong in that Holmes is too young to play someone that's supposed to be around the same age as Bale. Second, her character is weak and she's given some of the most cringe-worthy dialogue in the film. Like Natalie Portman trying to convincingly deliver George Lucas's lines in the Star Wars prequels, the otherwise talented Holmes is in over her head. This is another example of Batman Begins getting something wrong for every single thing that it gets right. Realistic world, unrealistic dialogue. Near perfect cast, miscast leading lady.
What did the film get right?
There is so much to like in this movie, I bumped this section up a spot.
Bale is perfect as Bruce Wayne. While he's not as menacing as he should be as Batman, partially due to an odd looking face that the batmask accentuates, he's no worse than Michael Keaton. Where Bale really gets it right, when in the batsuit, is when he dangles a corrupt cop up by grappling wire for questioning. Batman doesn't ask questions. He screams them. In that moment, Batman is more intimidating than he's been in any Batman film. In that moment, you can see why he strikes fear into the hearts of criminals. And, in that moment, you can see how, if you give him another film or two, Christian Bale could create the perfect Batman, to go along with his already perfect Bruce Wayne.
Freeman's character of Lucius is essentially a glorified version of "Q" from the James Bond films. After Thomas Wayne's murder and Bruce Wayne's disappearance, Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer) takes over Wayne Enterprises and shoves Lucius into a no where job in the corporate headquarters' dismal basement. It is there that Bruce Wayne discovers him. And it is Lucius that introduces Wayne to the gadgets that will turn him from a man into a Batman.
I still don't like the look, which isn't all that different from the suit we first saw Keaton wearing in '89's Batman. What I do like is the suit's origins. The "keeping it real" stuff really comes into play with the suit and the rest of the gadgets. They seem like they could exist in the real world. And Morgan Freeman does such an incredible job at selling them to the audience, you buy into his descriptions of the various items and how they work, without a second thought.
Batman on the pier
Nolan directs the scene as though he's auditioning to take the helm of the next Alien film. The criminals are the victims and Batman is the alien. He creeps in and out of shadows. Appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye. He picks off his victims, one by one.
Batman goes "deepthroat"
Batman goes "deepthroat" (Felt, not Lovelace) with Gordon, appearing in the shadows to give him quick bits of information and then vanishing. It's a nice touch that really felt like it was ripped right out of the comic books.
Batman's relationship with Detective (future Commissioner) Gordon
This is the best it's ever been handled. The two develop a genuine affection for each other, throughout the film. When they talk at the end, you know this is the start of a beautiful friendship. Gordon (Gary Oldman) was underused in the other Batman films. He plays a pivotal part in Batman Begins (unfortunately, he also has a scene with that moronic excuse for a "batmobile" during the movie's ridiculous third act).
Bruce Wayne's relationship with Alfred
Michael Caine's Alfred is stricter than Michael Gough's. He's just the father figure a young Bruce Wayne needs to help decide what Batman should become -- hero or anti-hero. I don't like Caine's Alfred better than Gough's, but, to my surprise, I like him just as much. Caine brings even more humor to the character. The funniest scenes in the film (this movie doesn't have much comedy, and the majority of the comedy it does have doesn't work) are between Alfred and Bruce. Wait for the scene with the newspaper article at the end. It's -- as they would say in the 1950's -- a doozy.
The Scarecrow/Dr. Jonathan Crane
Cillian Murphy does an effectively creepy Dr. Crane. The guy makes your skin crawl and you actually worry for Rachel when she threatens to expose him for getting criminals off on insanity pleas. This is before he becomes the Scarecrow. Also, the fear-toxin effect is pretty damn freaky, especially when you see Batman turn into some demony-ass thing through the eyes of Crane, once he's sprayed with his own toxin. If only the actual Scarecrow had more than 5 or 6 minutes of screen time. This leads us to ...
Things that are wrong with Batman Begins ...
For everything that's right about the movie, there's something else that's wrong. Because I liked the movie more than I disliked it, I'll try to keep this section brief.
The editing ...
The fight scenes were hard to put up with. You see bad guys facing down Batman. You then see a bunch of quick flashes that mean nothing and then a pile of unconscious bad guys. Ooh, thrilling.
Katie Holmes ...
Her character sucked and Katie didn't do a very good job with her bad dialogue, either. This seemed like a pathetic attempt at recreating the Mary Jane/Peter Parker romance that has worked so well with audiences in the Spider-Man films (right down to the pair knowing each other since childhood).
The Tumbler/Batmobile ...
The car is exceedingly stupid looking and the scene where Batman is being pursued through Gotham, driving over roofs, barricades and whatever else, belongs in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie like Gone in 60 Seconds. It doesn't work in a Batman film. Motorheads, young teen males and rednecks will probably get a kick out of it, though. Sadly, I think that's the point. Batman Begins seems to want to please adult crowds, but can't help pandering to the teen market with its noisy vehicles and obnoxious one-liners. The "does it come in black?" line featured in all of the ads is probably the best of the many jokes made about the car. Things from, "I gotta get me one of those" to "nice ride" are inserted whenever that damn vehicle makes an appearance.
The Scooby-Doo "mystery" ...
The movie goes from excellent to embarrassing in less than 60 seconds, when you realize the main baddies are a certain group of people determined to destroy Gotham (I'd like to expound on this group of goons, but it would give away too many spoilers). It's played up like some grand mystery, when almost anyone could figure it out in a matter of seconds. Then there's this convoluted new weapon system thing that Wayne Enterprises had been inventing under the guidance of the greedy Richard Earle. It vaporizes water and is used to release fear toxin all over Gotham. It seems that Goyer and Nolan threw their, "keep it real!" mantra out the window for the last 30 minutes of the film. They had the Scarecrow -- one of the best bad guys there is in the Batman series -- and instead chose to use a bunch of nerdy crusaders. But the film isn't as open and shut as the first four Batman movies. And that brings us to the last section of this review.
Why Batman Begins is worth seeing ...
This is the closest anyone's come to bringing the Batman of the comic books to the big screen. Sure, it's bogged down left and right by various poor creative decisions and bad dialogue, but it makes up for it with just as many cool scenes and quality performances. I don't like it quite as much as Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, but it's better than Batman Returns and it puts Batman Forever and Batman and Robin to shame. This feels like the beginning of an epic story, not a stand-alone movie. When we hear talk of criminal escalation at the end, and see the calling card of the most famous Batman villain of them all, you can see that you're just watching a small part of a sweeping comic book saga. It's too bad that MTV editing and an awful plot turn make Batman Begins an entertaining diversion, rather than a classic adventure.
Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Comments? Email this critic at email@example.com
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