Friday, July 22, 2005

Movie Review: Batman Begins

*** (out of 5) stars.

Yeah, I know, this review is coming in a little late, since the movie has been out for over a month already, but I just finally got to see it this week, so bear with me here....
First off, let me say that, in addition to me being a video game junkie, and a board game junkie, and a movie junkie, I have always been a comic book junkie. True, as I got older, my comic book habit waned somewhat, but the comics I STILL have buried up in my attic have a street value that could keep a small South American country solvent for a few years, so you’ll have to take it as fact that in the case of comic books (and movies based on them), I think can qualify as an expert.

Batman is a great superhero. Even people who don’t buy Batman books seem to like him. Maybe it’s the fact that he is creepy and dark that appeals to young adolescents. Maybe it’s the fact that he is viewed as much as a vigilante as he is a hero. Maybe it’s the fact that, at least in the books, Batman is as messed up as the rest of us, and not some cookie cutter piece of perfection like Superman.

When the original Batman film was released in 1989, made by the ever-annoying Tim Burton (does this guy have to put his girlfriend, Helena Bonham Carter, in every damn movie he makes? That’s SO aggravating! But I digress....), the time was ripe for a superhero movie with attitude. And Batman filled that need. The film did monumentally well (and spawned many sequels, each worse than the last), but without question, the gem of that first film was Jack Nicholson as the Joker, the psychopathic killer out to destroy Gotham through laughter. Besides Jack, however, what made that film work was the dark attitude and style. Batman is not a nice, friendly character. On the contrary, he is an unhinged vigilante tormented with personal angst and grief. The original Batman movie came close to this aspect of the character, and that (and Nicholson’s performance), is why it worked.

The successive sequels all got away from this approach, each one moving farther along back to the campy, cutsie feel of the 1960’s Batman TV show until the final Batman movie of the 90’s, Batman and Robin, was an utter piece of claptrap. It was so bad, in fact, that it single-handedly put the movie franchise on hold for 8 years.

Which brings us to Batman Begins, the 2005 resurrection of the Batman films.

The Good

Batman Begins does many things right. It retells the back-story of Bruce Wayne in a way that’s close enough to the comic book version to make it ring true with fans. Christian Bale does Batman proud, getting down his noble side, while at the same time portraying enough of his quirky neuroses to make him creepy. In short, Christian LOOKS the part, and plays him well enough to make him believable (something most of the other Batmen just couldn’t pull off). Although relegated to a small role, Michael Caine proves that he doesn’t need to have a major part in a movie to steal a scene. Likewise for Morgan Freeman.

The story is a good one (if a bit convoluted), but it does a fine job of giving us the entire back-story of Bruce Wayne/Batman. We see Bruce as a young child, and how he came to be traumatized by bats. We see him again as a young man, learning the hard knocks of life. We see him as he slowly conceptualizes the idea of Batman, and finally, in the later parts of the film, we finally get to really see the caped crusader in action. And all of it, very well done.

The Bad

The choice of villains – As I said, I was a fan of the comics, and even I never much cared for Ra's Al Ghul. There are a number of reasons I can give for why he was never an A-list villain, but what it comes down to is… he just isn’t FLASHY enough to keep my interest. The Joker, he isn’t. Liam Neeson plays him well enough, but then again, I’ve never been a super-fan of Neeson’s anyway, so maybe I’m a bit biased. I have always liked the other villain in the movie, Scarecrow, but here again, I feel that the character was totally underutilized. The Scarecrow was always a very eerie villain, and here he was played down so much as to be almost a trivial part of the movie. Again, this character could have been utilized much better.

The Story – As I said, Batman Begins has a good story. The problem is that there is simply too damn much of it. Between Batman’s youth, his adolescence, his time in prison, and his learning to be Batman, it is about an 1 hour and 15 minutes into the movie before Bruce even BECOMES Batman! Then of course we get to see the main thrust of the story, that being Batman fighting and foiling the evil plans of our 2 villains. The problem is that there is just too much story here. With all that happens in this film, I felt like I was getting 6 hours of movie crammed down my eye-sockets in 2 hours 10 minutes. In short, the movie felt rushed.

Katie Holmes – Maybe I’m just soured on the poor girl now since her extraterrestrial love affair with Wacky Mr. Cruise, but she just did nothing for me in this film. Nothing. She had all the emotional punch of a wet paper towel, and her lines could have been delivered just as competently by any young starlet in Tinsel town.

The Ugly

Not much I can say here, except that I found the fight scenes to be HORRIBLY choreographed and shot. There were entire fight scenes where I literally could not tell what was happening. I would see a quick shot of a foot kicking something. Then a hand punching something else. Then a fast-moving blurry shot of someone flying across a room. Who’s hand was that? Whose foot? Who fell down? Damned if I know, and you wont either. In a movie where the fight scenes are SOO important to a movie, I just don’t get why they were shot in such a confusing manner.

The Verdict

I can’t hate this version of Batman. On the contrary, in spite of its overly ambitious nature and odd character/actor choices, I rather liked it. I could have just done with a little less story and a little better cinematography, but if you are a fan of the comics, like me, then this is a comic book movie that you should NOT miss.

No comments: