No 81 - Batman Begins
Director - Christopher Nolan
Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BATMAN. No.... banish all thought of the campy 60's television show. Banish all thoughts of the even camper Batman and Robin. We are not going into the world of rubber nipples here.... we're in darker territory. Here be monsters!
Movies have been trying to bring a sense realism to the strange world of superheroes, often with the superhero filmed being tagged as 'darker' (mainly the films that end in 2... Xmen 2 and Spiderman 2) - However it is Nolan's superb vision of Gotham that truly brings gritty realism to the cinema's superheroes.
This film is a true origin story (I know, the clue is in the title) explaining every aspect of how Bruce Wayne formed his alter ego. Even explaining all the small things such as how he creates his helmet, why he has a cape as well as the more standard elements like how he becomes the Batman.
In fact, his origin only has one massive flaw that I can think of. The motivation behind the Batman comes from the death of his parents. An entirely avoidable event. During Bruce Wayne's training, Liam Neeson turns to him and tells him that his parent's death was the fault of his father. I would have to agree....
You see, if your son has a crippling fear of bats.... would you take them to see Die Fledermaus?The show is about a bat! Of course it will terrify your son.... Of course you will have to leave... and whilst leaving doesn't necessarily mean being shot at and parental death, it would have all been avoided if you'd stayed in Wayne Manor playing kerplunk with Alfred.
Now, I have mentioned a few names in the above paragraphs so let me talk about some of the veteran actors which appear in this film. Starting with Liam Neeson....
Liam Neeson is a tough threatening menace of a man... like an angry, smarter, ninja Qui Gon Jinn. And yet, despite this, I can't take him seriously in films such as Taken where he is supposed to be utterly badass.... He seems more at home in Love, Actually. Which is what makes him more threatening here.
The other actors that I wish to talk about are two legends of cinema. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.
Michael Caine plays Alfred the butler, and he is a massive change from the original stalwart of Batman Butlering, Michael Gough. Caine is a much more casual butler and seeing how many people assumed Wayne to be dead, he is also the owner of Wayne manor. He makes a superb team with Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, who provides the gadgets and gizmos and science which are so important to Batman's armory.
Both of these characters bring warmth and a likable nature to the film. Because Bruce Wayne is not that agreeable or likable a man. Wayne is a complex man in that he is multi faceted, but none of the facets are the nice. Let us examine:
Pre Batman Wayne - Seems to be very 'Jack from Lost' petulant, stubborn and determined to have his own way.
Bruce Wayne (alter ego to Batman) - Arrogant, posing, preening buffoon. Which kind of works for what he is trying to do (hide the fact he is Batman by being as much of a billionaire playboy as possible) - however he just makes me think of Patrick Bateman in those scenes.
It is a brave move to have a main character that isn't that likable. Batman's determination and his rigid view on right and wrong means that he isn't a character you would root for, he is quite cold, aloof and emotionless. He is not the charismatic hero. This Batman isn't George Clooney. However it is necessary for the world Nolan has created. It is a dark world, and Batman has to be a dark and desperate figure. Christopher Nolan's Gotham is equally dark and sordid and suffering from mob rule (which is far more believable than hundreds of costumed goons) and the film takes great effort to make sure that this is reflected in all aspects. Which is why the casting of Katie Holmes is so strange...
Back in the day, when I was a wee nipper of a lad, I had a bit of a crush on Katie Holmes. Mainly because she had the sweet 'girl next door' look. However this look doesn't work in Batman. Rachel Dawes should be more world weary and have more attitude than Katie Holmes is able to convey... She is just the wrong casting for the role.
Another questionable casting choice is Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow. I like Cillian Murphy a lot, I think he is a great actor and is particularly good at portraying the worryingly unhinged and threatening. The film (and apparently the comic canon, but I'm not well versed on these matters) helps to realistically convey someone like Murphy as a realistic threat - the drugs that he uses manipulating fear and hallucinations. But Cillian Murphy looks too young, too much like a little indie boy in glasses to be truly convincing. He does make an excellent cowering mad man however.
My final criticism with the 'Batman' world is the strange contraption that he has to summon bats. I understand that bats communicate using sonar, so a sonar device could contact bats? But would it cause millions of them to flock to you and swoop round baddies? No.... probably not. It is that one moment where the film returns to its cartoon roots, and the film suffers slightly for it.
What is interesting is that although Nolan had never originally planned a sequel, he left a cliffhanger so enticing that he was essentially forced to make a follow up film....
And we are all glad that he did, for he brought as an amazing character.