Dark Knight over Gotham
I’m a fan of Tim Burton’s two Batman movies. They worked for me 15 years ago, and they still work for me. But they weren’t about Batman. They were about Nicholson’s Joker, and DeVito’s Penguin, and Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Batman was backdrop to big name stars taking their turns as
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is the first film to focus on Batman. The story, which does include some very effective villains, revolves around Bruce Wayne and his transformation into the Batman. Despite a terrific supporting cast, Christian Bale is the star here. It’s his movie. He’s central to everything. Three cheers to Nolan for relaunching this new Batman franchise into previously untested waters. And for his conviction that Batman is even more interesting than the bad guys he confronts.
Here are a few things I loved about Batman Begins:
- The relationship between Batman and (future police commissioner) Jim Gordon is obviously central to this new series, as it should be. One of the striking things about the comic book Batman (at least in the past two or more decades) has been his treatment as an honest-to-god vigilante, not an arm of the police force, and Gordon’s often uncomfortable alliance with the Dark Knight. Gary Oldman — for my money, the best film actor around today — plays Gordon perfectly. Every scene between him and Bale is spot-on.
- This Batman is scary. He treats criminals badly. You can understand why they fear him. Hell, what’s scarier than hanging off a building by your feet, 200 feet above the street, while some kook in a bat mask yells into your face? Granted, the movie’s Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy) is scary, too. But Batman is really wet-your-pants scary.
- This Batman is realistic. His “gadgets,” none of them too outrageous, were all developed by Wayne Enterprises for a
military too bureaucratic to know what to do with them. Nolan shows us a “bat cave” that makes sense. The “batmobile” is a friggin’ high-velocity tank; what better means of transportation when you’re negotiating through a U.S. that’s part Gotham City , part New York ? And sure, Batman is athletically fit and well trained, but he can’t scamper up walls without breaking a sweat. He grunts. He groans. When he slowly, achingly pulls himself up and over a ledge, you feel it. Beirut
- Nolan is allowed to fully tell his story. This is a longer-than-usual “superhero” movie, well over two hours. All the pieces seem to be there, and several distinct story threads all weave together beautifully by the movie’s end. I can’t imagine that too much was left in the cutting room, although I’m sure there are lots of deleted scenes left for the DVD this next Christmas.
OK, I’ve said enough. Everybody’s gonna be talking about Batman Begins this weekend, so I won’t ramble further. Let me end with this wonderful summation of the film from one of my fellow online critics: “Basically, this movie rounds up the last four Batman movies, chain-whips them, and then kicks their balls into a sissy-forest.”
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