18 February 2009

Batman Begins, a Movie Review

Note: This review originally appeared on LuxeMont.com

Honesty alert. I never connected with the original Batman series from Warners. Sure they brought in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, but the moribund franchise also went off the rails long ago, almost committing seppuku in the process of exploiting itself.

It’s not that Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney
 did sub-par work; they were great as the Dark Knight. But, the overall vibe and feel of the Batman pictures were too otherworldly. A darker world that Tim Burton, et. al., delivered in their mildly disturbing comic book interpretations. They just sort of creeped me out. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia), Batman Begins is all about character development, creating a nuanced backstory, and of course, establishing a new vehicle from which a new and improved franchise can be launched. And Nolan succeeds like no other director before him in fleshing out a superhero on film. His Batman is a real man dealing with familial trauma, living in a real city. As soon as the 3rd reel ends, you want to stay in your seat and watch it again. I had no expectations – none -- about this film, and was blown away by the sets, story, and direction. Christian Bale (Little Women, American Psycho) is perfect as the billionaire playboy who by night attempts to keep the crime balance in Gotham.

The film of course has de rigueur explosions, unreal tumbles off of buildings and cliffs, and one-against-twenty fight sequences. But, here, you believe the action. Suspended disbelief works wonders, especially when you see the Batmobile, Batsuit, and Wayne Manor. It all works, and you ask yourself ala Jack Nicholson, “where does he get those wonderful toys!?”

Michael Caine is fantastic as Alfred the butler who provides Bruce Wayne with more of a father figure than simply a footman offering avuncular advice. Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Katie Holmes all deliver reeled-in performances, allowing their characters to meld in perfectly with the exposition. They execute the material in front of them, and we all benefit from their character performances. Nolan’s Batman is about fathers and how they shape the lives of their sons, even from the grave. The loss of his father impacts Bruce Wayne’s life in a profound way. We see young Bruce rescued by his father a couple of times, and in the tragic scene where his parents are murdered, his father tells Bruce “don’t be afraid.” This is one comfort that Bruce is able to hold on to, loving fatherly advice; his father’s protection even in the end.

Batman Begins is Nolan’s interpretation of how Bruce Wayne would attempt to rid himself of the survivor guilt that profoundly shapes him. As he matures, Bruce seeks the courage to avenge/face/heal from the loss of his parents, by embracing a wanderlust that takes him in to crime-infested prisons and criminal gangs where he can face his fears. Before he can become Batman, Bruce must be able to “not be afraid,” keeping the connection with his father very much alive in Bruce’s heart. It is Bruce’s attempt to understand the criminal mindset that leads him to a mentor to help him harness the fear, anxiety, and anger that have plagued him.

Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) offers Bruce what he lacks: peace of mind and self-control. Here we see the beginnings of the Dark Knight. Facing his fear of bats, death, and the unknown, Bruce even faces down the evil crime lord of the League of Shadows, setting up the showdown that always takes place at the end of every superhero movie. This is the birth of Batman. Bruce overcoming his fears, no longer being afraid, and finally embracing the Wayne legacy left him by his father.

1 comment:

Emm said...

I had that feeling too - of wanting to watch it again once it ended. Nice review!