Josh Wilding Reviews: BATMAN BEGINS
Ahead of the release of The Dark Knight Rises next week, I will be revisiting both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. So, without further ado, here is my take on Christopher Nolan's FIRST instalment in his epic trilogy.
After 1997's Batman & Robin, just about anything would have been an improvement (unless, you know, Joel Schumacher had returned to helm another instalment). It's a credit then to director Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins that it managed to succeed in bringing the Caped Crusader back to the big screen with an incredible origin story. In fact, Batman doesn't appear until well over an hour into the two hour and twenty minute runtime. Nolan instead spends a lot of time delving into Bruce Wayne as a character, and this really pays off. In this first hour, the character's motivations are firmly established and we see more than enough to be thoroughly convinced that this guy really could suit up as Batman and fight crime on the mean streets of Gotham City. There are a lot of memorable moments in these opening scenes, although some clunky and expositional dialogue (there only to set up events which take place later in the film) stick out like a sore thumb. Perhaps the most pivotal moment in Batman Begins - the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne - is handled extremely poorly. This scene is shot and edited together so rapidly that it loses an awful lot of the intended impact.
It's clear that in this film, Christopher Nolan envisions Batman as an elemental force, and this is perhaps demonstrated best by the way in which the fight scenes are shot. Fast-paced and pieced together so that we see little more than a blur, they're far from satisfying to watch. While this may work from a storytelling perspective, it considerably weakens these scenes in a similar fashion to how the death of Bruce's parents is handled. Batman Begins doesn't exactly begin to go downhill once he suits up, but the story is noticeably weaker. The way that the events in the latter half of the film are connected to Bruce's time with Ra's Al Ghul feel forced and never entirely convincing. Scarecrow meanwhile is a decent enough villain until Ra's returns, but his fear toxin never seems frightening enough to be...well...frightening! However, some stellar action sequences (Batman's escape from Arkham Asylum for example) more than make up for these flaws, as does the fantastic relationship Nolan builds between Bruce and characters like Alfred, Lucius and Gordon. Rachel? Not so much. There's a serious lack of chemistry there. The conclusion of the film is an exciting one, especially as the battle between Batman and Ra's is perhaps the most cohesive in the film. A final scene which sets up The Joker as The Dark Knight's main villain will send a shiver down any comic book fans spine and is easily a better tease than ANY of Marvel's brilliant after-credits scenes.
In terms of performances, Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman) really stands out. The actor adds a real amount of depth to the character, making him a believable and compelling lead. Liam Neeson (Henry Ducard/Ra's Al Ghul) is equally as good, both before and after he takes a villainous turn. When he does finally go full on bad guy, he quickly shows that he is a convincing threat to Batman and the rest of Gotham City. Speaking of which, Cillian Murphy (Dr. Crane/Scarecrow) is fantastically creepy and a treat to watch, although he could have done with being a little more fleshed out. Similar in many ways to Bruce Wayne, when we meet Jim Gordon (played perfectly by Gary Oldman) he's a haunted man burdened by being the only truly honest cop. As the film progresses, it's not heard to see the character develop as hope appears in the form of the Caped Crusader and this is down solely to Oldman's nuanced performance. Michael Caine (Alfred) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) are on fine form - the former is lucky enough to have some of THE best lines in the movie - although the same can't be said for Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes). There's nothing wrong with her perfomance as such; it just feels flat and uninteresting. However, throw in some quality supporting turns from the likes of Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone) and Rutger Hauer (Earle) and this is a solid ensemble.
Ultimately, Batman Begins is a very good movie, but far from perfect. The story and screenplay are far from Nolan's best (its not hard to imagine that this is down more to David S. Goyer than Nolan, especially when you compare their résumés) but as the director's first major blockbuster, this is a solid entry into the genre which deservedly finds itself in many top ten lists. The action doesn't always work, but scenes such as the one in which Batman interrogates crooked cop Flass (Mark Boone Junior) as he dangles him from a rooftop most certainly DO. Of course, the film is much different to the comic books as it puts a far more realistic spin on everything from the Bat-cave to the
Batmobile Tumbler. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's understandable why purists many not appreciate this very different interpretation of the characters. However, the only major casualty is Gotham, as the city (apart from the Narrows) lacks any real personality, with the skyline often looking far too clean and contemporary. This arguably results in the brooding silhouette of Batman looking VERY out of place. Hans Zimmer's top-notch score and some cracking special effects (mostly practical, making them all the more impressive) make Batman Begins one hell of a package.
Batman Begins is easily one of the best films featuring the DC superhero, but FAR from perfect, despite telling what may just end up being THE definitive big screen origin story.
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