Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Batman Begins: My need to urinate proves its greatness

No, the Burn has not died out. My long break from the blog was due mainly to a very stressful apartment move, computer problems, and some medical issues. I regret I wasn’t active enough to report the Comic Book Galaxy relaunch, but, well, it relaunched. You probably already know that. There’s a very goofy pic of me on the new staff page. Enjoy.

Without further a-diddly-do, I’ll celebrate my return to the blog with look at the film probably everyone else on the blogosphere has already tackled: Batman Begins.

(For the few who haven’t yet seen the film, spoilers follow, in particular a mighty big whopper of a spoiler shows up in the following paragraph)

I’m not sure if I agree with Logan Polk that Watanabe was wasted. On one hand I sympathize as I was looking forward to his performance, having only witnessed his talent in The Last Samurai (and his performance was wonderful, while the film not-so-much - it’s not bad, but if you’ve seen Dances With Wolves and Braveheart, there’s really no reason to see it).On the other, the fact that he was used as nothing more than a decoy is indicative I think of how committed the director was to the film. In other words, while it’s frustrating that an Oscar-nominated talent was recruited simply as a decoy, I love the fact that they actually hired Oscar-nominated actor just to play a DECOY! I don’t know how Nolan managed to assemble such an A-List cast, especially considering what a massive failure the last Batman film was.

When I first heard about the cast, my only concern was Cillian Murphy simply because I’d never seen him in anything, but ultimately I thought he played a wonderfully officious and chilling Scarecrow. Gary Oldman was perfect as Gordon, though like ADD I had hoped, as was the case in Batman: Year One, we’d see more of his life and more of a parallel between his situation and that of Wayne’s. Bale was gave us a much more frightening Batman than we’ve ever seen on film and utterly believable in his double role as fake airhead playboy/shrewd, cunning businessman. I was particularly hopeful for the film when I heard that the director of a Batman franchise film finally realized that a guy who leaps from rooftops and has kung-fu ballets every night should LESS THAN FUCKING FORTY YEARS OLD (after doing some quick research at IMDB: Kilmer and Clooney were both 36 when they made their respective Batman films, while Keaton was 38, and Bale is 31, apparently the Dark Knight lives backward). Unlike a lot of folks, I have no problem with Bale’s disingenuously deep Batman voice, simply because I see no difference between it and any of the silly voices past actors have given him. Perhaps my only complaint as far as the casting is concerned was Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone. I’ve just seen too many movies featuring Wilkinson as a noble Englishman that I couldn’t buy his crimelord accent.

I can’t completely disagree with Peter David’s comment that “the fight sequences seemed to have been edited by putting the film into a blender, leaving the top off the blender, and starting it up,” and at first the style works. Batman should move too fast for the human eye, or the camera lens. You shouldn’t see every kick and punch. As much as I love both of Burton’s films, the Batman of Begins had something Keaton’s rendition (and certainly Kilmer’s and Clooney’s) lacked: he was SCARY, and he should be scary. And the confusion of the various melee scenes helps to show the audience exactly why criminals could be frightened of a guy in tights, and why an entire city would eventually deify him.

Unfortunately, the result is that when things finally do slow down and we’re able to get a clear view of Batman, he looks that much more ridiculous. In part, this is compounded by how far Nolan goes to inject realism into the story. The extended origin story is there to convince us that a young boy really could evolve into a guy who dresses like a bat and beats people up, and it works. He convinces us that yes, there IS a way a guy in Wayne’s situation could maintain his secret, that he could get all those nifty gadgets without sending off any alarms at the Department of Homeland Security. But he injects almost too much realism. He tries so hard to not make it comic booky, that once the more blatant comic book elements arrive, it’s that much more difficult to swallow them. Burton solved the problem by giving us the more cartoony elements up front. We met Batman before we met Bruce Wayne, and in fact he never even bothered to explain what we already knew - that they were one in the same. Getting the guy in tights up front made it that much easier to swallow the psychotic clown and the penguin man and everything else.

Overall though, I enjoyed the film. I think Nolan did a wonderful job at depicting Batman as a dark, legendary character who would live in the hearts and minds of Gotham as more Boogeyman than Superman. Among other minor things, I was happy that that Joe Chill, not the Joker, killed Wayne’s parents. Not because it makes it more comic-book-accurate, but because it decisively severs these films from the Burton/Schumacher continuity. I’m also glad that, unlike too many superhero flicks, Nolan felt no need to kill off all the villains. Even Ghul’s death was not necessarily carved in stone (if you don’t see a body...though I said the same thing about Sabretooth and Toad after X-Men). When they kill off the villains, it feels like they’re trying to claim this is the absolute, defining conflict between the characters, and besides we all know this wouldn’t have been made if there weren’t sequels in mind. Why not keep a little suspense alive with the possibility that villains could return?

Perhaps the best compliment I can give the film is what I said to my girlfriend right after leaving the theater: “God. I haven’t had to pee that bad since Return of The King.

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