“An early contender for best film of the year and the best Batman movie ever” – Clint Morris
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer
Film reviewers are taught never to make their mind up about a movie – yes, even an unappetizing carton of curdling custard from Duff or Pauly – until we’ve seen the film. But yank down my trousers, fetch the wooden spoon and spank me three times silly, because I was already convinced “Batman Begins” was the real deal before I’d even sunk in my seat.
Why? For a number of reasons: They’ve hired a face – not a name to play the Caped Crusader, they’ve hired someone to helm the film that’s not on the payroll of the toy company, they’ve spent years actually writing a script, and predominantly, come up with a screenplay that rocked harder than a heavy metal festival hosted by Rob Zombie. In short, with so many fine, fine, elements in place even before the film had started rolling – the failure to success ratio was always going to weight to the right. Like a planned night-out to your favourite watering hole with your friends – you just know this is going to rattle your rump.
Considering there’s now been five “Batman” movies, and only a couple of those – not excluding the one we’re discussing – have had some sizzle, it’s quite a revelation for a Batman movie to make the grade.
I still remember going to see the first live-action “Batman” movie – No, not that telemovie starring Adam West and Burt Ward, that they released in some territories to theatres – and I still remember the mark left on my head from all the scratching I did on the noggin’ during the film. In short, though a spectacular-looking picture, Tim Burton’s “Batman”, based on a superior script by Sam Hamm, was about as much a Superhero movie as a tin of Pringles is a constituent of the five good groups.
1989. A teenage Clint Morris, eager to see how filmmakers have handled Bob Kane’s iconic superhero’s first theatrical outing, takes his seat at a special preview screening of Tim Burton’s “Batman”. With Prince’s Soundtrack LP tucked under his arm – It was given to those who had won tickets to the event – and a trio of over-enthusiastic radio announcers screaming, shouting and throwing out out-of-date lollies to the audience before the show, it was pretty easy for a 14-year-old to get excited. But the film itself? Dark, gothic, anomalous, a little slow, but well, colourful and creative. Michael Keaton made for an unusual, but effective Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Jack Nicholson made for a great Joker – but the source material was perceptibly forgotten on the dashboard of someone’s RV, because it wasn’t to be found anywhere on the screen.
Was Burton’s “Batman” as near as exciting as simply being at the screening itself though? No – no way. And the next day at school, when sir Morris was asked what he thought of the film, he was a little unsure how to respond. An unsure “Yeah….good” was no doubt uttered, with any indication of discontent shadowed by the mere thought of having seen the film before your school friends.
If heading into work after “Batman Begins” I’m asked the same ‘Any Good’? Question, I’ll at least be able to offer a terser, affirmative, sure response, this time.
First things first, forget that the first four “Batman” movies – I know, it’s hard, many people still blame their Insomnia on Schwarzenegger’s bothersome Mr Freeze from the hour and a half toy commercial that was “Batman and Robin” – ever existed. We’ve got a clean slate now – it’s out with Prince, it’s out with the middle-aged actor wearing a nippled-rubber suit, it’s out with a Gothic-looking backdrop, and it’s back to pure storyline: Bob Kane style.
David Goyer’s script is the most important element here – because it tells a story. The effects, the adventure, the identifiable cast, and iniquitous villains work around that. First and foremost, this is a tale of a man…. turned Bat. A bewildered, troubled soul – the subject of his own psychological thriller.
Eternally-affected by the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), skips his home place of Gotham City for the East where he seeks guidance from the dodgy but honourable Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and his mysterious accomplice, a ninja cult leader known as Ra’s Al-Ghul. Eventually returning home, he returns to a city overrun by crime and crooks, and a company he inherited being cunningly pulled from his tenure. Needing an out to fuel his anger and convinced the city needs cleaning up, Wayne invents himself a new alter-ego: Batman, a hero in black – someone strong-enough, determined-enough and scary-enough to strike fear into the wrongdoers of Gotham.
If you’re looking for merely a big fat cartoon, you’ve come to the wrong movie. Writer Goyer has basically written a solid, absorbing movie with crooks, conspiracies and psychologically tattered characters and plonked Batman in the midst of it. In other words, this is the most grounded, most realistic Batman movie to date.
Gotham looks like a real city (not some purple-coloured gothic township of the 1930’s), the characters – even the villains – are realistic and never over the top, and even the character of the Caped Crusader is much easier to relate to – believe it or not – than he has been in the past. This is no more than a mixed up guy whose actually created a suit, a persona and a set of gadgets from somewhere – not just out of cinematic thin air, as we’ve been led to believe in the previous films. Batman isn’t a superhero with powers, he’s a guy, like you and me, that’s built himself an armour, done up a car for himself and got his hands on some cool toys. That we can swallow – besides the guy running around in a bat bit.
Christian Bale is the best screen Batman to date. As Bruce Wayne, he’s hugely likeable and has the charming, slightly cocky billionaire playboy thing down to a tee. Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a fully rounded character with a compelling psychological impetus and place in something resembling the real world. As Batman, the British actor doesn’t have as much to do but slowly utter big words through a space in his mask –but he still looks (the muscles on the guy are huge) and acts the part. Best of all, he’s not overshadowed by the villains, which he has been in the previous movies.
The all-star support cast do a good job too. Michael Caine is good as the loveable and even faintly witty Alfred the Butler, Cillian Murphy is appreciably baleful as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow, the cinematic chameleon Gary Oldman plays against type as the sympathetic all-round good guy Jim Gordon and does a fine job, and though he seems to be channelling his “Star Wars” character Qui-Gonn Jinn for most of his screen-time (or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s playing the same sort of mentor character), Liam Neeson fills the part of the perplexing Ducard quite well too – even though someone a little less recognizable might have been more appropriate in this case, if only to separate the two blockbuster franchises. In fact, the only wreak point in the film is Katie Holmes, in the fictional love interest slot. Rachel Dawes is one of the blandest characters in the film, and it’s very hard to swallow young Katie Holmes as a ballsy assistant district attorney. As for the chemistry between her and Bale? As non-existent as nipples on the bat suit. Could have really have done without her.
There’s not a lot of movies that are worth shelling out the green for these days – cinema admission prices seem to be getting dearer by the minute – but “Batman Begins”, at two and a half hours in length, is a film you definitely get your value from. It doesn’t let up. It’s got characters you care about, action sequences to die for, a script that takes precedence over the smoke machine, and best of all, it’s an adult experience. Yes, adult experience.
I truly believe kids are still going to enjoy the previous “Batman” movies more. This one’s too dark for them, and they’ll be getting restless waiting for the guy in the suit to turn up. Where the caped crusader turns up pretty much instantly in the previous films, he doesn’t enter the picture here until fifty minutes in. But hey, adults make up a huge sector of the Batman fan club, so why shouldn’t they be treated to a solid, dark depiction of the complex character? And the kids will learn to appreciate it post-braces, graduation and puberty.
If you’ve read the script, you’ll know that the end of the film sets up a sequel – and boy, is it going to be a doozie – well, that’s to be determined post-screening, but it’s promising. Looking forward to see how this new Batman ‘Continues’…
Considering I nodded off half-way through the last “Batman” film, it seems unimaginable to be saying this but “Batman Begins” is an early contender for best film of the year and the best Batman movie ever. Hopefully the refurbished franchise has wings.
Reviewer : Clint Morris