Richard reviews Batman Begins

BatmanInternationalPoster.jpgIt may be late, but for me this is an important review, especially picking up on the problems of the movie, and indeed many action movies coming from Hollywood just now, so better late than never.

There are two important lessons to be learned from this movie. One is that this is the yardstick, the meter on which to measure every comic book or graphic novel adaptation. Forget Sin City with its style over substance, this is the way it should be done.

Paul W.S. Anderson, put down the lens, step away from the camera. Read Batman: Year One, and then watch this movie. Then think about it for a while before going back to the camera.

Okay, so Spiderman is another fine example, but for me here’s the difference between Spiderman and Batman, between comics and graphic novels, between Stan Lee and Frank Miller. One is entertaining, exciting and CGI, while the other is dark, gritty and real. They’re both great examples of how to do each, but for me Batman Begins is the perfect example of bringing a character to the big screen and being faithful to the original material.

If you’ve read Batman: Year One and you’ve seen this movie you’ll see so much that has been transferred successfully. The plot has been changed, but they’ve used key scenes as well as characters and their development. Christopher Nolan has done a wonderful job of bringing the Batman movie franchise back to life.

The second lesson is, unfortunately, a negative one, and one that is hitting most action movies pouring out of Hollywood and film makers are doing it more and more, increasing with each release. What am I talking about? It’s action sequences. Hollywood is destroying the action sequence and in this movie it’s more apparent than ever. I first picked up on how bad it was getting in The Bourne Supremacy, but the action in Batman Begins was unwatchable. Both my girlfriend and I had no idea what was going on during the action sequences unitl they ended.

Let me say something to Directors here, and here lieth the second lesson, extreme close-ups and fast cuts do not make an action sequence. In fact they destroy it. In key fighting moments through the movie something was trying to be conveyed to the audience, the balance of power between Batman and his villain, when he battles Ducard and finally manages to beat him it’s hard to see when the balance tips until the final moment. When he battles him again you see nothing but fast moving blurs and the odd grimaced face shot, the tension built by the rest of the sequence is totally lost.

It’s not just something that remains with the fighting sequences though, throughout the movie there are moments when the fast cuts and extreme close ups take over from letting the audience understand what’s happening. It’s a lot easier for a Director and Editor to watch on smaller screens and catch the action, it’s easier for the eye to assimilate on a smaller screen, but on that big canvas screen the eye is only catching a small area, and the faster cuts mean you don’t have time to take in the whole screen. Extreme close ups on a huge screen mean that your eye can only take in a part of it, especially combined with that fast cut.

It’s hard for me to fault this film when the whole of Hollywood is doing the same thing, although it’s clearly a problem and Nolan should have had the guts to break away from this annoying trend. At this point of writing I’m still not sure if I’m going to give it a four or a five because of this, but the movie in its entirety makes up for these problems. So, to the movie itself.

I have to say from the first announcement of the casting of Christian Bale I was impressed, he was perfect. From that moment the fans were sure that they were going to be treated to a Batman in the vein of the original portrayed by Michael Keaton, and they weren’t wrong, but no one realised how good the whole movie was going to be.

The rest of the casting is superb. Michael Caine plays an emotional and strong Alfred wonderfully, Liam Neesom and Ken Watanabe make for superb villains, as does Cilliam Murphy who comes across as quite a psychotic.

Rutger Hauer and Morgan Freeman make strong business advisories, pouring charm and smarm through the screen.

Finally, I was amazed to see how well the great Gary Oldman portrayed Gordon, having not long ago read Batman: Year One I just couldn’t believe how well he fitted.

I think it’s fair to say the casting was perfect throughout, apart from one. I found it really hard to forget who Katie Holmes was for so long, although I have to say she did an exceptionally good job of taking us away from those memories and showing is a new character. There were still moments when you caught the trademarks of her old character, but it they were fewer than I expected and it was easier to concentrate on the movie and her character.

Back to Christopher Bale. He’s immense. If you can get over the mouth hanging open in his constant aghast look as Wayne, he does an amazing job as a dark and driven man. His presence in and out of the suit is strong, and does certainly remind me of the strength and madness stored in Keaton’s Batman. Although where Keaton showed controlled madness, Bale shows a seething and almost an all consuming anger, brimming over the edges.

Nolan has done a fantastic job of bringing the Batman back to the big screen, concentrating on the reality and grounding of Gotham and the character, before slowly building the believeability into the fantastic world of the Bat and his villains. The early parts of the movie do a great job of showing how the reality of a boy’s life is taken to that of the superhero. Without taking too huge a leap, it shows the devastating effect of the murder of his parents on his mind, and how that consumes him in search of vengeance, taking each small step to the training that shows him what he really needs to become the lone Dark Knight.

I think that’s a huge part of this movies success, it doesn’t present a fantastical world or superhuman man, and this is the huge attraction of Batman in all his guises, he’s human, nothing more than you or I trained to the peak of human endurance and capability, as well as supplied with expensive gadgets of course! The movie does a great job of taking us on that journey of what makes a man drive him to build himself to that level, and then the steps that bring him to that.

The villains are also well crafted, and once again grounded very securely in reality as well as being built from the better side of the human psyche. Growing alongside the character of Batman. Scarecrow is particularly good, and not portrayed as too “masky”, you know what I mean he’s not an over camped villain who’s just totally insane, he’s cold and calculating and like the Batman, uses his mask for a purpose.

Nolan and David Goyer have done an excellent job with the screenplay, keeping it concentrated on the characters and keeping it true to the whole ethos of Batman, as well as recognising one of the definitive works of influence and paying homage to it.

The relationship between Gordon and Batman is built early on, and Wayne’s involvement with the Wayne Corporation is built as a nice side story. What I am surprised about is that so many people end up knowing the identity of Batman, in my mind there were only supposed to be two characters with that knowledge. However, it’s not something that did affect the enjoyment, considering they’ve done such a good job for the entire movie, the slips aren’t big enough to harm it.

Some of the strongest scenes are those of the main characters together. Those of Gordon and Batman, Wayne and Ducord and Wayne and Alfred, the latter being the strongest scenes in the movie. The moments where Alfred comforts the young Wayne at the death of his father are stronger than I would expect from this genre, but they are extremely effective in building the character. The final moments of Gordon and Batman make seal the partnership and bring the beginning to the perfect end. Superbly written and crafted.

The film is dark and claustrophobic, and effects and CGI are used as additions to the live action rather than as main sequences, no more is this apparent than in the car chase sequence with Batman’s vehicle (I dread to call it the Batmobile), and with larger shots of the city. It’s hard to notice where CGI has been used, which is how it should be.

As I said, my only concern with the movie are the poorly filmed action sequences. It really does hurt the movie and that needs to be revisited with the next movie, and in fact every movie coming out of Hollywood. Other than that this is the perfect Batman movie and indeed the best superhero movie, in my mind clearly surpassing the previous leader of Spiderman.

Now please sort out the action sequences, and keep doing what you’re doing with the rest of the movie and take these things to the next in the series. This way we can forget the horrors of the previous destruction of the Batman franchise and see who he really is, the Dark Knight.

Overall the story is fantastically written and wonderfully brought to the big screen. Despite the very poorly filmed action sequences the movie shows an excellent return for the Batman and turning to the true Dark Knight for its inspiration. This does for the movie series what Batman: Year One has done to the graphic novels, told the definitive story of the birth of Batman and the characters around him.

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