Monday, November 27, 2006

Batman Begins


Return of The Dark Knight

It’s been eight years since we’ve seen the Caped Crusader on the silver screen. After four films, the franchise was all but killed with Joel Shumacher’s cheesefest Batman & Robin back in 1997. Can the series be revived with this “prequel”? Warner Bros. is banking on it with a star known for dark roles, a director known for dark films, and a tone that is (you guessed it) much darker than any of the previous films. The Dark Knight is indeed back, and closer to his comic book roots than ever.

After the murder of his parents by a street thug, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) spirals into despair followed by a life of anger. When denied the revenge he feels is rightly his, he sets out on a personal quest of discovery to purge fear from himself and evil from his corrupt home, Gotham City. Eventually he ends up in an icy fortress where he is trained as an assassin by the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson). It is here he learns all he needs to become Gotham’s avenging angel: The Batman. Will he be able to stop a plot to destroy the city from within, or is it already too late?

The first thing this movie does right is cast Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Machinist) in the lead role. Bale easily bests all of his predecessors by filling the role with charm, torment, and physical prowess (this guy is ripped!)--completely fleshing out a very complex character. He is totally believable and sympathetic as Bruce, and equally menacing and powerful in the cowl and cape.

Fine character actors surround Bale, and all are excellent. Michael Caine is fitting as butler Alfred, but we also get Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, and the aforementioned Liam Neeson (who is making quite a career out of playing mentors). A mention should also go to Cillian Murphy who makes Scarecrow a slimy villain you love to hate. Katie Holmes is okay as the love interest, but looks way too young (despite her age) to be a district attorney.

Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) does a good job of creating a dark mood. Gotham City is a black, steamy, wet, noir-ish cesspool, filled with shadows and darkness. I also liked the shots that were obviously inspired by frames right from the comic book. The silhouette of our cloaked hero high on a ledge overlooking the city (among others) is a classic graphic novel image, well recreated here.

I also liked the origin of Batman’s gear. It turns out Wayne Enterprises has an R&D wing that develops super-expensive gadgets that only a millionaire could afford! The Batmobile is also very cool and tank-like, which is what you’d have to have considering what it takes to get in and out of the Batcave!

While this Batman is the darkest interpretation we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t go far enough. This may sound morose, but not enough people die in this movie. When Bruce’s parents are killed, it feels pretty harsh (even though you know it’s coming). That sets the dramatic bar that the movie struggles to re-attain. It’s still dramatic, but you never feel that urgency or power that scene has.

All in all, this is the best Batman movie to date (Tim Burton’s original comes in second, although it’s an “apples and oranges” comparison), but I was hoping for more. Despite this, let’s hope this Batman returns. I’d love to see some of the classic Batman villains and stories through Bale’s cape and Nolan’s unique lens.

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