Film Hub Review: “Batman Begins”

 

Batman BeginsSeeing as how this is my first official review on my blog, I figured why not make it a Batman-related topic? I’m a huge Batman nerd and love the character and the psychological and philosophical themes that are attached to him. He is without question the the most complex comic book character ever, so why not make multiple films all about the one and only Batman?

Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s approach at Batman have been hit or miss. Tim Burton’s vision and gothic sense of imagery applied a dark canvas of Batman and what goes on in his mind, while Schumacher’s approach has been considerably less so. Schumacher’s only effort was putting plastic nipples on the Batsuit and delivering gay overtones to Batman’s character, which definitely upset alot of people. “Batman Forever” is a decent attempt at making Batman seem wacky and foolish, while “Batman & Robin” completely trashed the series and ran it into the mud, Batsuit nipples along with it (thankfully). That was back in 1997, and the time would soon come when Batman would get the inevitable reboot it so heavenly deserved after Schumacher’s major slip. And that’s when a man named Christopher Nolan stepped up to the plate.

Upon seeing “Batman Begins”, I had no prior knowledge to Nolan or his work, but seeing as how it was Batman I was super excited to see what Nolan did with the character. Would it best Burton’s dark approach? Would it rise above Schumacher’s previous failure and relaunch the series? Would it have nipples on the Batsuit again? All these question rolled around in my mind up until I actually saw it. Was the Dark Knight ready to return?

“Batman Begins” tells a very personal and affecting story of Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale), son of Thomas and Martha Wayne and heir to his fathers’ business. As the origin story began, Bruce falls into a pit behind his family’s home and is attacked by bats, which suddenly instills fear into Bruce and makes him dreadful of bats. Shortly after, when his parents are murdered by a killer in a back lot alleyway, he is left with the pain of enduring heartache. Alongside his parents’ deaths, his father’s business, Wayne Enterprises, waits in the midst of Gotham’s uproar in crime, led my mob bosses and criminals running amok in the city. Thanks to the high crime rates and deep levels of corruption, Gotham has become a hopeless and without proper law. As Bruce ages, he slowly dives into the criminal underworld, traveling around the world to understand the life of a criminal, as he doesn’t want his life back in Gotham. Thanks to his travels, he is captured by Bhutanese soldiers and transported to a prison to pay for his crimes, far away from home. But when a visit from a man named Henri Ducard frees him from prison, Bruce sets off on a trek to control his fear and anger and use it on those who would bring fear into the fearful, ultimately culminating in him becoming the Batman to save Gotham from an uprising that only he could see coming.

From what I just described, it’s easily apparent that “Batman Begins”‘s story is much more complex and put together this time around. The story was constructed so well that it lends alot towards making us believe Bruce Wayne could be a real person and Gotham City could very well be a real place. Thanks to the realistic approach Nolan took instead of Burton’s gothic tones and Schumacher’s goofy design, it makes “Batman Begins” so much more enjoyable when it follows the rules. The story goes into dark places for Bruce Wayne, showing us a more somber and dilated Bruce Wayne than ever before. His decisions actually have impact and his emotions are obviously twisted to their maximum extent when he’s met with a tough choice, such as his code for not killing. And his slow but ultimate transformation into Batman makes him that much more compounded, but he still must learn to respect the “symbol” rather than blatantly using it to make himself happy. This quandary is one the more stronger presences in this film because it conflicts with Bruce’s character, and we want to see him make the right decision and succeed at doing it. This particular Batman story is all about Bruce Wayne and the birth of Batman. And that’s exactly what we get.

Every other character in the film is also given a realistic tone and made believable. Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) is a beat cop surrounded by dirty cops and is one of the few remaining beacons of peace left in Gotham before Batman arrives. Bruce’s love interest, Rachel Dawes (played by Katie Holmes), is also believable in that she works as an assistant DA to help put Gotham’s criminals behind bars. She is an original creation for this film, which is a smart move by Nolan as it makes it much more believably that Batman can remain interesting without strictly using just characters from that universe. Alfred Pennyworth (played by Michael Caine) is portrayed excellently, while Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) does just as equal a job as everyone else, despite the minimal screen time. Even the choice villains used in “Batman Begins” are given a realistic shine, such as Scarecrow.

Gotham City in “Batman Begins” has been absolutely nailed. In Burton’s version, Gotham was displayed as a city run by business men more interested in accepting crime for what it was but not letting it stop their political campaigns. Schumacher’s was much more radical, almost appearing cartoonish and oddly lit and colorful, with bizarre and exotic architecture. Nolan’s vision of Gotham is precisely what Gotham should be: alive with business men, but run down by mobs, corruption, and poverty. It’s all the more noticeable when Chicago is used as a location for shooting most footage. Gotham really does look like the kind of place that one would fear to go thanks to its reputation. The city itself feels like an actual character rather than just a background setting. This is essential for storytelling, as its the object for Bruce Wayne to don the cape and cowl as Batman and have him defend the city and bring it back to its prime.

Being a re-imagining of Batman, his equipment and appearance must also be remade. No longer does he drive the customized V8 super-charger that was the original Batmobile, instead resorting to what is only known as the Tumbler. Once a military vehicle used for terrain purposes, Bruce’s intellect and inspiration has turned it into a giant black tank that would intimidate even the most excited of cops. His suit also receives an upgrade from the standard Batsuit nipples and rubbery costume to a Kevlar-based body armor that he customizes and eventually shapes into his own Batsuit. This level of ingenuity helps the realism, as a normal Bruce Wayne would have to buy his own parts and them assemble the suit and gadgets himself. It speaks out for his character and helps drill him further into reality.

The actors in “Batman Begins” do an admirable job at complimenting the characters they are portraying. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman does a remarkable job at grounding the character down and giving him emotions that properly fit the psychology of the character. Gary Oldman as Batman’s partner, Jim Gordon, is just as satisfying to watch. Michael Caine as Alfred is a real treat, for he gives a performance that puts any incarnation of Alfred before Caine to shame. And Morgan Freeman does what he does best: making the audience love him. Liam Neeson also has a big role in the film, and he stands his ground as a very convincing and settled character.

Seeing as how the spirit of the comic was fully implemented, I cannot go without leaving a simple complaint behind. The action is very rough; rough because it looks brutal and violent, yes, but also rough as in roughly shot and too up-close to tell just what the heck is happening. This is the case for most fight scenes in the film, the worst offender being the final fight.

I’m very pleased to announce the respect I have for Christopher Nolan for taking on a project of this magnitude. Nothing like this have ever been seen before in a Batman film. Nolan handled everything with deft hands and applied the right amount of realism to make us believe in Batman’s struggle. “Batman Begins” is such a marvelous attempt at restarting the Batman series and has all the right mechanics and cogs of a dark, somber tale within the mind of a troubled human being. By stripping Batman down to the important parts, Christopher Nolan rebuilds a new, better, superior vision of the titular character by placing him on stable ground and having him survive on his own. For me being a Batman nut, it’s the best Batman film yet (until 2008 came around the corner) and a true homage to the Dark Knight.

PROS:
– Amazing origin story that carries alot of emotional weight
– Hyper-realistic characters that seem every bit as real as the actors portraying them
– Exceptional acting and writing
– The choice of grounding it to reality = one of the smartest moves in filmmaking

CONS: – Fight scenes are shot too close and often hard to tell what’s happening
– Batman’s voice may appear awkward and exaggerated to some
– Ending scene is the worst kind of good tease.

OVERALL:       9.1 / 10

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