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Monday, July 16, 2012

Batman Begins (2005) Retro-Review

Batman is back!  No, this is not a corny, bat-nippled, neon-colored, villain-fighting, pun spewing, joke of a rendition of Batman as played on screen by George Clooney - this is a REAL Batman.  Christopher Nolan (director of Memento – a MUST SEE film) takes Batman back to his dark roots that were completely abandoned during the Schumacher years (Batman Forever, Batman and Robin.)  The variation we find here is a darker, much more troubled version than has ever been portrayed on screen before.  The overall tone of this film is closer to that of the Tim Burton directed films (Batman & Batman Returns) but even that is not all that accurate.  This film re-creates Batman, essentially beginning the rejuvenation of a what seemed to be a dead franchise. The damage done with “Batman and Robin” looked irreversible, but with the fine work of Nolan and company it looks like the Bat truly is back.  Instead of another lazy sequel they give us a re-imagining of the hero the villains and Gotham itself.

The story revolves around a billionaire’s son, Bruce Wayne, who blames himself and his fear for the death of his parents. The guilt eats away at him forcing him to go on a quest to find a way to overcome his fear and anger, turning it into a weapon against today’s evils. When the tortured soul returns he is not only Bruce Wayne he is Batman an masked man that hides in the shadows to hunt down those who do wrong.  Batman go up against all the different faces of evil in order to save Gotham - not just from your typical super villain but also from the corruption that has sunken deep into its core to rot the once great city.

The magic of the film is seeing what really makes Bruce Wayne, Batman.  The version of Bruce Wayne/Batman is a much deeper, more fleshed out version than we have seen in the past.  We learn his motivation for fighting crime, why he chooses to be a bat-man, how he learned to fight and much more.  Best of all his the origin of his amazing gadgetry is explained and done so in a way that, like the rest of the film, feels like something that is based closer to reality and than out of a comic book or science fiction movie.  That level of realism helps to deliver a much more accessible super hero. The first half of the film is spent fleshing out the nuances of a character that were often brushed over or ignored in full. Some of the back story reveals are a true delight to learn. Batman becomes more of a person and less of a caricature.

Christian Bale’s Batman is right up there with Michael Keaton. From an acting standpoint, Bale may be a better actor, but Keaton’s Batman was more likable. The rest of the cast does quite a nice job too. Gary Oldman is his standard great self.  Michael Caine is a better Alfred than expected.  Morgan Freeman delivers a typical Morgan Freeman character.  Katie Holmes looks good and does not detract from the efforts of others (a rave review for her.)  Liam Neison plays a great mentor to Batman - in a nasty Qui-Gon fashion.  Cillian Murphy is a nicely understated villain as the Scarecrow.  A nice ensemble cast without a weak link.

The movie is not perfect, few are. One is the qualities that helps re-create this universe also constrain it - the realism.  The style of the Burton-esque Gotham is gone.  The new Gotham looks more like a run down future version of New York or Chicago than the highly stylized visions found in the Burton flicks.  The buildings are not massive Gothic skyscrapers; instead they are structures that could fit in a modern day city.   I loved the look and feel of the Burton Gotham this new one is nothing special.  I understand the reasons behind the decision, but I would have liked to see it a little bit more stylized version. Where the old Gotham made you want to see more of it, this version feels like a place you have seen many times before, just dirtier. 

This lean toward realism is not only found in the design of  the city itself, but also throughout the characters and plot elements. Even the villains are more realistic. Taking a page out of the Spider-man movies’ book, the villains in this film are people that use technology and science to wreck terror, not creatures or freaks as seen in previous Batman films.  I guess I will just have to live with the choices and take it for what it is.... not bad in the least, just not what I was anticipating.

My main complaint was the score. Where’s the Danny Elfman Batman theme?   The new score is not nearly as strong.  Quite disappointing.  I am sure it will grow on me, but there only be one Batman theme for me.  The final issue with the movie is that the action sequences are also cut to fast and are tough to make out at time. This seems to be a pattern with films lately.  It may be used to cover the size of the lead actors or to make the scene more exciting, but it is not working. Slow down the editing a bit and let me enjoy.

As the story progressed the new traits of this new Batman grew on me.  Sure, it was an extremely new approach than the previous entries we have seen but the creative differences allowed to provide a thrilling film that remained true to the Batman legacy.  Nolan not only kept the franchise's heart beating, he performed a transplant - a new, healthier heart that should beat strong for films to come.  By the end of the film you'll find that same excitement you felt may have experienced while leaving the theater after the original 1988 Batman film.  Any fear I had that I would not embrace the new Batman had subsided, especially after the creative final scene that sets up the inevitable ‘Batman Continues” (hopefully it will have a better title) with one of the best teasers in the history of film.

8 out of 10

Originally posted on June 19th 2005

Check out the other Batman reviews:
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises 

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