Sunday, January 23, 2011

Batman Begins

Its been awhile since I sat and watched Batman Begins from beginning to end so it was nice to return to it post-The Dark Knight. At the time, it was a phenomenal re-interpretation of the Batman universe and now it looks even better as the foundation of one the best movies I’ve ever seen. Damn near every single choice was on the money and paid off.

After Adam West, Tim Burton, and Joel Schumacher, I was unsure if the version of Batman I wanted to see would ever appear on the screen. I’ve always leaned to the darker more serious side of cinema and Batman is perfect for that type of storytelling. Yet everything prior to Batman Begins was jokey and cartoony. I’m not saying everything before sucked but it wasn’t what I was looking for when it comes to Batman. Christopher Nolan rolls into town and decides to make the most realistic version of Batman that he could get away with. He made the idea of a tortured orphaned billionaire training himself to fight crime in a bat costume from his hidden cave not seem all that ridiculous. It helps that Robin and the crazier of costumed villains were conveniently ignored to keep things serious. Well … he did choose Scarecrow but he wasn’t actually dressed like a scarecrow so its all good. And they even took a stab at making Ra’s Al Ghul’s resurrections make sense in our world. Throw in explaining all of Batman’s toys and you can almost believe that this could happen. Almost.

So once again, Bruce Wayne needs to be casted for the big screen. After Val Kilmer and George Clooney, it wasn’t surprising that they didn’t go for the A-list this time around. I’d like to think that Christian Bale was choosen because of his work in Shaft and Reign of Fire not because of American Psycho and The Machinist. Bale dove right in and was a solid Bruce Wayne and looked good in the suit … then there is the voice. Yeah, I got nothing. The beauty of Nolan’s Batman universe is the quality he has surrounding Bale. Taking the lead in Batman Begins is Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. Aww good guy Gary Oldman. The world is upside down. It doesn’t matter because its Gary Oldman. How do you follow up Gary Oldman? You put Morgan Freeman in the role of Lucius Fox and Michael Caine in the role of Alfred. It doesn’t matter that they only get minutes of screentime, they are both perfect in their roles. And that is just the good guy part of the cast. The villains may be even more impressive with Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, and Ken Watanabe. There is even a little bit of Rutger Hauer thrown in. In a slight bit of surprise, Murphy stole the show as Dr. Jonathan Crane. It takes a lot of talent to overcome the ridiculousness of Scarecrow. What’s that? Katie Holmes? I have no idea what you are talking about...

You would think leaving out Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and every other top-line Batman villain would have been a mistake. Instead, Batman Begins was not about the bad guy. This was an origin story through and through. All of the stages of Bruce Wayne’s journey from privileged kid all the way costume vigilante are the guts of the story. Nolan found some crazy-ass locations so that all of Bruce's training by Ducard looked amazing. Then we get a Gotham City that actually looks like a human city instead of the neon-Gothic garbage of the 90s. I also appreciate the time spent and the detail Nolan went to to explain the costume, the gadgets, and the Batmobile. Nothing in Batman Begins felt random or unbelievable, everything served a purpose.

Batman Begins arrived to cap off the run started by X2 and Spider-Man 2 that cemented comic book movies as staples of the summer, for better or for worse. It also cleansed the taste that the Batman franchise left in the 1990s. Thankfully Nolan viewed a franchise of this level as a challenge and not something that was beneath him.

10 out of 10

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