Fans of the comic Batman
like their adventure served up dark. Let's face it, we are far
from the Technicolor glitz of the campy 60s TV series. In the comics,
the character has become more and more somber over the years, with the
graphic novel The Dark Knight becoming the high-water mark to this
new sensitive Bat-characterization.
By the last series of movies
helmed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton (starting with the 1989
film) the character had totally turned its back on any of the fun of the
originals. Instead, it was a brooding, noir portrayal of the man in
Black. While the camp slipped back into the series when Joel
Schumacher took over the directing reigns from Burton, the popularity
slipped away. This may have been because of the lack of consistency
with the main character (who went from being played by Keaton to Val Kilmer
to George Clooney) or the increasingly strained stunt casting with the bad
guys (Arnold Schwarzenegger? Jim Carrey?) Either way, the series seemed to
plummet off a cliff, seemingly never to be seen again.
Well, you can't keep a good
bat down. The good news is that Batman Begins is the best
Batman movie yet. The bad news is, it still isn't all that great.
is a truly pitch black film. Even Burton's Batman films,
which were known for their dim world view, seem like Pollyanna
compared to this imagining. If you talk to hardcore fans of the
franchise, this was the direction that they wanted the new chapter to take.
Sadly, this darkness is both
Batman Begins' greatest strength and its ultimate fatal flaw.
The world of Gotham City and even Bruce Wayne are so dank and depressing
that you can't help but question whether it deserves saving. Everyone
is so serious, so humourless and so unhappy in their miserable existence
that it becomes oppressive.
of the few characters who seems to actually enjoy and have a passion for life is the
only one who will acknowledge openly that he is evil — a mob boss named Falcone
played by Tom Wilkinson. The other two characters with a pulse are a
servant (Michael Caine as Alfred the Butler) and a middle-management
executive (Morgan Freeman) who are also the only two people in the film who
do not let the general rottenness of the city run their lives.
The supposed good guys, on
the other hand, are tortured (Batman/Wayne as played by Christian Bale
— if you can refer to anything so somber as "play"), strident (Katie
Holmes is D.A. Rachel Dawes as a grim do-gooder and asexual love
interest) or ineffectual (an almost unrecognizably subtle Gary Oldman as
Sgt. Gordon, portrayed as a cuckolded and defeated lawman).
The first hour or so of the
film shows us the genesis of Batman. We see Bruce Wayne as a young boy
falling in love with the servant's daughter (who would grow up to be Katie
Holmes) and witnessing his parents' murder. Due to his great anger over
the injustice of their death, Wayne (for reasons that are not completely
believable) abandons his family fortune and becomes a petty thief in Asia.
He claims that he is living
with criminals to understand them and find a way to destroy wickedness.
While in solitary in a muddy jail, he is approached by a mysterious man
(Liam Neeson) who promises to teach him to vanquish evil. Wayne is
taught the ways of the ninja, how to resist fear and to become a shadow in
the world so that he can turn the horror that criminals use as their
stock-in-trade back upon them.
Bale does a fine job of
playing the character as written; living up to the promise that he has shown
since American Psycho (and he looks incredibly fit so soon after
playing the emaciated antihero of The Machinist.)
Batman Begins also
made a conscious choice to make the hero the center of attention; in past
incarnations it has been correctly pointed out the Batman sometimes seems
like the straight man for more intriguing, over-the-top villains such as The
Joker or Catwoman. Unfortunately, the bad guys in Begins are so
non-descript and uninteresting (with the exception of Falcone) that they
never seem a real threat. For example, the costumed bad-guy here is the
rightfully obscure criminal The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), whose entire
outfit is a burlap sack with eye holes and whose only power is spraying
people with a madness gas that makes it look like he has maggots on his
The ninja assassins in the
film are unfortunately by definition inscrutable and ephemeral. In
fact, this sense of constant invisibility extends to Batman and makes the
fight scenes a bit hard to keep track of. Everyone is in deep shadows
and appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye, so how can the
audience keep track of who is doing what to whom?
Also, am I the only one that
noticed that in the climactic scene at the end, Batman and Gordon proclaim a
happy ending when they have only ended one part of a much larger
catastrophe? They may have stopped the bad guys from finishing their
evil plan, but Gotham was still being ripped apart by a bunch of crazed
criminals. Nonetheless, our heroes decided it was Miller Time.
In the long run, Batman
Begins is a fascinating, frustrating film. It does succeed in
creating a truly unique, atmospheric world. The visuals are often
stunning. However, too much of the storyline just doesn't quite make
And, it really should
lighten up, just a bit. It's called a comic book for a reason, you
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: June 27, 2005.