Christian Bale as Batman in Batman Begins.
Being one of the only people I know who detested Tim Burton's version of Batman and all the pathetic follow-ups, I was eagerly looking forward to this the latest version of Batman. And I'm happy to say that despite a too long running time and a few missteps in the dialogue, Batman Begins is the first filmed version of the Dark Knight that gets his story right.
Batman's origin is so well known that until now no one ever bothered to give it much screen time. Burton had a few flashbacks to it in his version, but he spent much more time on the Joker than he ever did on Bruce Wayne. In this version the story of the billionaire playboy's transformation into the caped crusader is broken into two inter-cut parts. The first is his experiences with his parents, especially his father, up to and including witnessing their murders by a mugger. The second portion involves his training in the Himalayan Mountains by a group known as the League of Shadows where he learns to fight. Given that his origin is so well known and since the heartfelt dialogue with his parents is the movie's weakest point, this opening portion could have been drastically trimmed to save time.
The real plot of the story begins upon Bruce's return to Gotham city when he dons the bat costume. The city is in the midst of a crime wave with half the city's officials in Mob Boss Falcone's (Wilkinson) back pocket with only a few honest law enforcers like Sgt. Gordon (Oldman) and assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Holmes). Using some forgotten technical gadgets from Wayne enterprise's Applied Sciences division and the natural caves that run under Wayne Manor, Batman really begins. Only, is it really Falcone who's behind the latest string of crimes, or is it someone else in the shadows pulling the strings?
Without a doubt the biggest problems with the earlier versions of Batman was their tendency towards cartoon like behavior and their over-emphasis on the villains. Both of those problems are gone here. This is a movie that takes itself very seriously with a storyline grounded in reality that is at least plausible if not actually possible. And for once Batman is the star of his own film! From beginning to end there are only a handful of scenes that don't feature either Wayne or Batman.
Given that so many superhero movies these days are all about CGI and stunt work, it takes a strong actor to humanize a character, with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker a great example. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, a much darker character than Parker, is equally as strong. He manages to convey his tortured past without ever becoming too depressing, and while still getting the point across that he's enjoying himself as Batman.
The supporting cast, while filled with recognizable faces, adds little to the film. Liam Neeson has to be getting tired of playing the elder mentor who trains the hero how to fight and behave; first in The Phantom Menace, more recently in Kingdom of Heaven and now in this. Michael Caine does get a few of the movies funniest lines as Bruce's trusty butler, Alfred. Holmes is given little to do and almost seems to be there simply for the sake of having a female somewhere in the movie.
Visually, the movie is stunning with enough iconic moments of a cloaked Batman perched atop Gotham skyscrapers to please the most diehard fan. And Gotham itself seems to be a cross between New York of the 1940s and the City of the Future.
The movie ends with hints of a sequel. I only hope that when it inevitably comes out that the filmmakers can sustain the quality of this one.
Christian Bale and Michael Caine in Batman Begins.
First of all, I too have always hated Tim Burton's Batman movies. So I am very happy to have enjoyed this movie so well. There are a few jokes but they fit into the plot without ever being campy, such as when Alfred tells Bruce he can borrow the Rolls Royce.
Scott bemoans the first third of the movie as being needlessly long. He then compliments Bale's humanizing portrayal of Batman. Without the beginning of the movie we would not have fully understood the origin of Batman and, most importantly, the origin of Bruce's psyche.
The entire movie follows one consistent theme, overcoming fear. Bruce Wayne is scared of his stature in the community. He is scared of living up to his father. He is scared of falling in love with Rachel. Oh, and yes, he is petrified of bats. The bad guy is Scarecrow, who uses a gas that induces hallucinations of your worst fears. Bruce learns that once he turns his fears around, he can use them to his advantage and conquer them completely.
Christian Bale does a great job! Tobey Maguire sounds the same with or without the Spiderman costume. He even acts the same. Bale's Wayne is transformed whenever he puts on the suit. He becomes a dark sounding and acting being of the night. Compare the scene where he interrogates the crooked cop on the fire escape to when Bruce leaves the hotel with two hotties. He carries himself two completely different ways. Mary Jane would have had to be blind as well as deaf to not have figured out that Peter Parker was Spiderman. Bales performance is so convincing that it is understandable how Rachel could not figure the secret identity out.
Batman was always meant to be a dark character. Hence, he is not called Sunflower-man. Christopher Nolan understands this, and as such, Batman Begins is one of the greatest superhero movies ever!
Christian Bale as Batman in Batman Begins.
Like my brothers I really enjoyed this movie. Bale is very good in the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. As for the supporting cast I thought Michael Caine and Gary Oldman were both good but Tom Wilkinson really shows why he is the greatest character actor working today. Here he plays a tough mob boss, not a role I am used to seeing him in but one he pulls off with style.
Like Superman: The Movie, it takes nearly an hour of screen time before we see the famous superhero in costume. In both cases the build-up seems appropriate and I have to side with Eric on this one. It is called Batman Begins after all.
The visual style is nearly perfect and the seriousness with which the movie takes itself is essential for any superhero movie. (I'll join the anti-Burton chorus here) This is what ruined the previous franchise. Small doses of humor are fine but once Camp River overflows its banks you know you're in trouble.
I have just two minor complaints. The first is very superficial. Did anyone else notice how the bat mask made Christian Bale's cheeks look fat? The other is a familiar argument of mine. I hate modern film editing. The hand-to-hand fight scenes - scenes that are very important in a Batman movie - are shot in such a fast-paced annoying blur that all enjoyment is taken from them. I want to see well choreographed fisticuffs where you can actually see the human bodies in motion. Not just cut/edit/cut amid exaggerated sound effects. Call me old-fashioned, I don't care.
Still Batman Begins is a good example of how a talented director and cast can breath new life into an old, very familiar, story while remaining true to the original spirit.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. (2005)