Batman Begins

June 28 2005, 0 Comments

DC Comics was in desperate need of a hit movie to revive its Batman franchise. Movies from the Marvel Comics stable, in particular Spider-man and its sequel, have done exceptionally well at the box office, leaving the DC superheroes lagging behind. On top of that, Joel Schumacher’s stint at the helm of the previous two instalments (Batman Forever and Batman and Robin) had transformed Batman from a comic to a joke.
It appears that with Batman Begins, they’ve finally got the formula right.

It was a brilliant decision to take the story back to the beginning. All superheroes have a ‘backstory’: how and why they became super. Spider-man got bitten by a genetically altered arachnid; the Hulk was exposed to gamma rays. Superman was just born that way on another planet… But Batman’s backstory has always been the most enigmatic of them all. He chose to become a superhero. Why did he make that choice? And more intriguingly, how does a regular person go about turning themselves into a hero?

We’ve always known that Bruce Wayne’s parents had been slain in front of him, and it was his need for revenge that persuaded him to become a crime fighter. But most people who’ve lost loved ones to crime don’t become superheroes: there is far more to Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis than that one incident. This movie takes us down the path that led to Batman. Finally, the complex character and motivations of the Batman persona are fully realised in a story.

Christian Bale is an able Batman. He imbues an aloofness that is a crucial part of Batman’s personality. Bruce Wayne was an only child and an orphan. He was never a person that integrated well into society. Perhaps it is Bale’s English-ness that creates this detached quality. The result is a hero with far more conviction than the misguided brashness of George Clooney’s caped crusader in the earlier movies.

The distinction between Bruce Wayne and Batman is also convincingly portrayed by Bale. For the first time in a movie, the adjective ‘imposing’ can be used to describe Batman. This Batman commands respect from his adversaries. He talks like a comic book warrior, not simply a cartoon character. There are none of the cheesy one-liners that Schumacher’s movies were littered with and even the cynical witticisms characteristic of the first two movies – when Michael Keaton was a sardonic Batman – are kept to a minimum. The dialogue in Batman Begins fits the more serious tone of this film.

Overall, the movie is darker than most other comic book films. The more earnest tone is clearly a reflection on the creative talent behind the movie. Director Christopher Nolan was responsible for the mind-warping Memento, and co-writer David Goyer turned The Crow and Blade into movies. But the sombre feel to the movie may also be symptomatic of Hollywood in general these days: even the Harry Potter franchise has grown darker. And our post 9/11 sensibility won’t fail to miss the fact that the villains in the story come from Asia and use biological weapons of mass destruction…

However, the movie is also sprinkled with humour, mainly derived from situations that arise when ordinary folk are confronted by a superhero for the first time. Like the police officer who tries to radio out a description of the Batmobile: “The suspect is driving a black, er…”

The Batmobile is one of the things that are really cool in this picture. Its origins, and those of all Batman’s trademark weaponry are revealed in the story. One of the things that Spider-man 2 really did well was developing Spider-man as a real person; giving him problems to deal with that even regular people face, like dry-cleaning. This same attention to detail has been followed in Batman Begins. There is a great deal of pleasure derived from watching Batman developing the tools of his trade – the same pleasure one got from watching Tobey Maguire sewing up the Spidey suit for the first time. Oh, and thankfully the art directors decided not to put rubber nipples on the Batsuit!

The supporting cast reads like an honour-roll of great character actors: Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine have already won Oscars for their work as supporting actors.
Choosing Caine to play Alfred, the butler, was a master-stroke of casting. He turns a character that had previously only been a flat caricature into a meaningful part of the story that adds depth and complexity to the myth of Batman’s creation.

Katie Holmes is a surprisingly good heroine. Unlike previous Batman-girls, she never comes across as someone who is in the story merely for Bruce Wayne to seduce and for Batman to rescue. You can tell early on that she is probably going to be one of the few women who get to see behind Batman’s mask.

Not everyone will like this movie. Some might find the style too gothic and the tale too dark, and others may find it too ponderous in its telling. But make no mistake: this is the Batman movie that all Batman fans have been waiting for. Despite its disturbance of the chronological order of the Batman series, it fits neatly into all the Batman mythology that has come before it.
Batman Begins – just as its title suggests – is a rebirth for the series. Batman is finally portrayed as a hero to be reckoned with. One of the heavyweights. As he should be.

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