It took more than 10 years, but I have a new best feature length Batman movie to replace my old one.
Among the new generation of Batman movies (by new I mean, post-Adam West) I caught the first one on video, saw the second twice in the movie theater, raised my eyebrow at the third once on the big screen, and saw the spectacular train wreck that was the fourth on TV, and even then I wasn’t too eager to watch it through to the end.
So I was very cautious approaching Batman Begins earlier today. And I left the theater more than 2 hours later very, very satisfied with Christopher Nolan’s final product.
Spoilers shall thrive beyond this point.
The movie deals with the origin of Batman. We not only see the formulaic parts of it, the parts of the Batman myth everyone knows.
An Epic Tale
I saw this movie as a series of encounters for Bruce Wayne, from child to adult. His encounters with men that shaped his mind, his soul and his outlook in life. His father Dr. Thomas Wayne, a solid foundation, who gave him idealism and perseverance. Joe Chill who took away his solid foundation and filled him with rage and need for vengeance. Carmine Falcone, who showed him the futility of his vengeance and idealism, and introduced him to despair. Ducard, who deconstructs Bruce’s perception of things, teaches him to shed his fear and gain focus, and ultimately sets him on his path to wearing the mantle of Batman though that path is beset with pain, half-truths and an impossible test.
And finally there right beside him, is the voice of reason. Never quite a father figure, never quite a servant, but always a friend: Alfred Pennyworth.
These characters are the people that molded Bruce Wayne through an epic journey that started from his accidental discovery of the cave under the grounds of Wayne Manor to his decision to fight crime with a unique methodology in Gotham City. When I say “epic” I really do mean epic. It’s not a villain of the day which causes Bruce to grapple with some forgotten ghost of his past.
A Fantastic Support
I never would have thought that Christian Bale could pull of being Bruce Wayne, who is a tortured soul, consumed by his need to punish wrong doers, yet somehow manage to put up a facade of a billionaire playboy. Surrounded and supported by fantastic actors like Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, and Gary Oldman, my money was on him being drowned out by the collective talents of these veterans. But thankfully, he not only held his own (thanks to a balanced script), but he also never once tear away the illusion that he was, in that movie, Bruce Wayne.
What About The Bat Itself?
It took an hour of screen time for Batman to actually appear. But you don’t feel bored in anticipation of him, as the story of Bruce Wayne is a gripping one. But when he does appear, do not expect a hero figure to strike a pose in the rain, for a comic splash page. He is the very embodiment of a demon, for those who aren’t innocent.
A three hundred thousand dollar kevlar armor? Memory plastic cape? Monofilament wire shooter? Finely machined batarangs? All these equipment are invisible to Batman’s enemies. All they see is a creature that moves and attacks in an inhumanly manner.
Study of Insanity
Batman has always been a study of insane characters, the best example among these is Grant Morrison’s dark tale Arkham Asylum. It’s been established that Batman walks the fine line between being a caped hero and a madman. His rogue’s gallery of villains is an even more disturbing collection of insane characters. This time the story focuses on fear, but this is where the movie is lacking.
The emergence of Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Johnathan Crane a.k.a. Scarecrow only served as a plot device to introduce a larger threat to Gotham and its citizens. His fear gas was only a showcase of CGI effects of how people’s fears manifest in visions to those who succumb to the gas. But a deeper study of what causes fear in general and in the main characters aren’t discussed, apart from earlier in the movie when Bruce’s fear is discussed between Ducard and himself.
That was something I would like to see explored more in a Batman movie.
The Look of Gotham
For the first time ever Gotham looks like it belongs in the real world, as opposed to the stylish, gothic look of the Tim Burton movies, or the flashy, fluorescent technocolor of the Joel Schumacher movies or the retro 30s look of the Batman The Animated Series. The buildings look real, and could exist in any city on the planet, except of course for the spectacular train system that Thomas Wayne built.
In fact every detail of Batman and his mythology seemed rooted in reality. Bruce learns the art of the ninja. Batarangs are more of a shuriken than a boomerang. Even the batcave is given a realistic feel to it. It looks like a wet, dirty, bat-infested (and guano-festering), cave with underground rivers and falls. We even see Bruce and Alfred order things from overseas companies, in bulk, for the Batcave, demystifying the cave, unlike other movies where everything has been built and every equipment revealed to the audience has been magically created and installed.
Ra’s Al Ghul is the movie’s secret trump card. I never saw that coming. And the less said about Ra’s al Ghul (Arabic for “The Demon’s Head”) the better to prevent too much of a spoilerage, except for one question in this comic geek’s mind: Where is Talia and the Lazarus Pit?
This is certainly the best Batman movie ever. Thumbs up to David S. Goyer for coming up with a great script which sheds all the ridiculous cartoony elements of previous movies for an actual working plot and character drama. Pleasantly surprised by the work and performance of the cast and crew of Batman Begins, I recommend it to anyone with even a slight interest in all things Batman, or at the very least would like to donate to me an armored and fully-armed “Bat-humvee” (or the “Bat-tumbler” if you please).
God knows I need one of them in Kuala Lumpur here.