06/26/2005: Batman Begins: Or Fails.... (a dialogue of sorts)
Karen: ...Depending on how ya look at it.
Hokay, I saw Batman Begins and I did really want to like and enjoy it. However – it just failed to pull it off in the end.
Now Jon Rowe [who did a review here] who is much more of a Comics afficionado than I will Ever Be, may know whether this re-telling of the origins of the Bruce Wayne/Batman tale in any way matches the actual written comic by DC or not.
But just as a story, it has fallen far from the "comics" style and characters than any of the previous film (or the comic-book-look and visuals of "Dick Tracy" for instance). It falls into the general realm of action thriller fantasy a la James Bond or Vin Diesel XXX movies. Moreover, it rips off many other tid-bits from so many films -like Bruce Lee Movies, T3, Crouching Tiger - Hidden Dragon, James Bond - that's hard to even put it in the same grouping as either the TeeVee series or any of the Batman Movies (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever or Batman & Robin).
Len: Ok. Compared to the earlier offerings in the Batman "franchise" we've got a significantly more "action-oriented" flick in the Bondian mode. From what I can see though, that's been something that's gradually affected the live-action comic book genre for a number of years now. That didn't bother me quite as much.
What interested me is that this "reboot" of the Batman franchise takes a much, much deeper look at the origin of the Batman than we've ever seen before in any media I'm familiar with. (Warning: I'm not really a true comic book geek or fanboy; I know a bit more about comics characters and history than the average American of my age, but that's not saying much. So it's possible that recent issues of Batman, Detective Comics, or other "Batman family" comics may have established much of the origin story we see here.) The origin story has some definitely "non-canonical" aspects, as we'll see later. But I don't see that as necessarily something to criticize, as long as they make the story work. And to a degree, they do.
For a further review click the "more" button to read below the fold. [WARNING: There may be SPOILERS below the fold. You Have Been Warned.]
Karen: The opening was a conglomerate of time lines (flashbacks?) and plot telling techniques that it was hard to determine if I was watching a tale told from a far future point looking backward through dreams, or a narrative being told sequentially from boyhood to…somewhere in the future – tho' one absent of Gotham City or Batman at all. Part of it takes place in what looks like Nepalese Mt. Everest Base Camp 1 and the Khumbu Ice falls – Yikes, shades of "Into Thin Air" without the crampons. (But the credits say it was filmed in the Netherlands.)
Len: Hey, you've not heard of the famous Netherlands Alps? ;-)
Karen: And when they got to the premise of the "League of Shadows" wanting to destroy the "Sodom and Gomorrah" of Gotham City and all the people – I almost imagined I heard the line: "and that's why we chose YOU, Grasshopper…" [LOL] I just cringed. But the worst disconnect is that while I liked his refusal to "become an executioner" and allow for Gotham to be destroyed at their command…then he doesn't merely escape this do-or-die-situation, but chooses and proceeds to "execute" everyone from the "League of Shadows" instead?!? HELLO – complete intrinsic plot disconnect of epic proportions here!!!
Len: Well, I wasn't quite sure that was a big disconnect for me. The thing is that Wayne is refusing to be an executioner, but I'm sure he acknowledges the right of self defense, even with the use of deadly force, when necessary. By refusing to execute the prisoner, and to become a major player in the League's plans to destroy Gotham, he'd become a traitor to the League, and needed to be destroyed. With the League attempting to kill him, Wayne's gotten the right to protect himself. And besides, note that he did indeed save Ducard.
The main issue I had with this opening, and the explanation of how Wayne became the master of unarmed (and armed, apparently) combat he is, is that it was (from my perspective, untainted by the latest respinnings of the Batman continuity) completely un-canonical. Then again, since the Batman canon didn't really get into the details of Batman's early training, there was quite a big, blank slate to draw on there, so that's not a really legitimate criticism.
One aspect which I think this film, and its extended origin story, gets wrong, is the de-emphasis of one of the most important aspects of the comic book Batman. In the comics, Batman is known as "the Dark Night Detective", and his comic book origins are in Detective Comics. The comic book Batman isn't just a two fisted, technologically equipped action hero. He's also a brilliant detective (at his best, a detective in the Sherlock Holmes mode, though those episodes seemed few and far between). This latest incarnation (well, the latest incarnations; this isn't the sole failing of the current movie) downplays this aspect of the Batman character to the point of invisibility.
Karen: Then, about 35 minutes into this narrative (and feeling I was in remake of some of the worst Asian fight flicks I've ever seen) then the story begins to assimilate and make sense. About the first "good moment" is when College-aged Bruce meets the crime Boss Falcone and decides to act to save Gotham from grips of the underworld of crime perpetrated by this evil-but-average-villain.
The mid-part is very well done with the scenes of the creation of the character of Batman. They had some creative ideas about the choosing of the symbolism of the "Bat" and making up the cool gadgetry and the Bat-Cave. But kinda rips off the James Bond flicks with "Q" as the crazy inventor in the person of Morgan Freeman. Michael Caine is good as Albert but not quite the dry but humorous Michael Gough. Katie Holmes, while fetchingly cutsie, evokes a bit of Joey, her Dawson Creek character, or Winnie Cooper (The Wonder Years) - kind of "tooo cute" to be a true Femme Fatale. And she ain't NO Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer or even Uma Thurman.
Len: Well, this is probably the place to mention the casting choices. Morgan Freeman did a good job as Lucius Fox; the main way in which he stood out, though, was as part of the passion of this movie to induge in providing "non-canonical" explanations for various aspects of the Batman mythos. Like (to steal the line from Jack Nicholson's Joker), "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" Caine's Alfred bothered me, frankly. It seemed to me that his accent was all wrong; my vision of a true English "gentleman's gentleman" doesn't include the hint of Cockney that seemed to be peeking out of his enunciation. Cillian Murphy's Dr. Crane seemed too young and just a bit dainty for my taste (what was the problem? Was David Hyde Pierce not available for this one?). Gary Oldman, playing against type as a good guy, seems the incarnation of Jim Gordon from more recent comic drawings I've seen, and did a great job with his role. Liam Neeson struck the right note of ambiguous menace as Ducard (and is he Ra's a Ghul or not? Hmmmmmm....). Frankly, Katie Holmes sucked as the romantic interest; I don't think that Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes showed as much romantic chemistry and sexual interest as Anikin Skywalker and Padme Amadala did in Revenge of the Sith.
Karen: But the KOOL chase was the Batmobile [flying tank] scrambling over the rooftops of Gotham City to avoid capture.
Len: This version of the Batmobile left me a little cold, frankly. Basically, we have Batman driving a Hummer™ on steroids. *Yawn* I prefer the more distinctive "bat-like" Batmobiles of the classic comics and the earlier movies in this franchise.
Karen: There seems to be a plot that begins to be told in this mid section, pulling threads of the disjointed opening together. I almost thought they were gonna pull it off and forgave the earlier misgivings of the story line. But, just when it could have become "something" - then entire plot falls into this dopey story line not even worthy of a movie comic book. It literally Jumps the Shark by creating a bit of a rip off on the Escape From NY (1981) futuristic movie type situation [of yet more stupid plot contortions by evacuating the citizens and leaving the island overrun by "rapists and murders" (and yes, they actually say that- "we've got every escaped rapist and murderer let loose on the city"] – Pulh-lease!! And except for knowing that it had to be Chicago's bridge system they were filming for the scenes of this "Island of Downtown Gotham" - this plot gambit is awful.
It was followed by a Ho-Hum-race-the-run-away-train-carrying-the-water-vaporizing-secret-weapon and fight the villain scene ala Spiderman. As if ya don't know or can't guess that GEE Batman will stop that train, some how….again, Pulh-lease!! And yet another rip off of the T3 destructo scene with the construction crane and Ahhnold being swept around dangling from the end of a wire...except you can tolerate the effects in T3 cause after-all this IS the Terminator (Human Cyborg) we are talking about…but in Batman it just almost made me laugh.
Len: Well, y'know, that's kinda what one should expect from a summer blockbuster. Lots and lots of mindless action. Basically, in this situation a plot is merely a clothesline from which the action sequences are strung. And given that (admittedly low) bar, the plot of Batman Begins is adequate. Sure, there's a bit of willing suspension of disbelief involved, but if one is into the live action comic book genre anyway, one is used to it.
However, I'm surprised you didn't catch the most glaring plot hole... The League of Shadows steals Wayne Enterprises' "microwave emitter", which was designed to "vaporize the enemy's water supply", and which supposedly could vaporize the entire Gotham City water supply if they'd gotten it to the central water station under Wayne Tower. If it was capable of vaporizing a city water supply (or enemy's water supply) from a distance, why didn't it vaporize the fluids in all those people standing near it? After all, isn't the human body mostly water?
I found the use of recognizable Chicago landmarks a bit disconcerting; having just visited within the last three weeks my concentration on the movie would be distracted as I played "place the bridge". But that's a personal problem.
Karen: Summer Blockbuster it "may" be, but that is not an excuse for a terrible and disjointed plot - which as you point out, has problems in just the concept of a "water vaporizer" near 99% water filled humans. But what bothered me more was that there was no plausible idea of why this vaporizer is used on only part of the Island Gotham, and hoakie that the "Main Water Supply" is (of course) located at the center of Wayne Enterprises. And the thing about the antidote taking weeks to manufacture - yet the murderers and rapists appear to be not affected by the vaporized drugs in the atmosphere (and Katie Holmes - cause she was innoculated) is silly - among other things.
It also offers a few of the worst movie lines EVER. (A few were bearable – like the "I like your coat" from Batman to the homeless man in honor of the "traded" article of apparel. But the "Nice ride" from the street person about the Batmobile, and the "Can you drive stick" are both too stupid for words. Then Katie's BIG Moment: "Wait…you could die tonight…at least tell me your name…" is the movie killer bomb of a line…Bleh!! And his response is even worse…Bleh times 2!!!
Len: You were expecting Shakespeare?
On the other hand, Batman's response to the "tell me your name" line didn't bother me; it was obviously "his way" of revealing his identity to Rachel (feeding back to her a line she'd spoken to him). In fact, you could consider it an homage to Batman Returns, where similar exchanges occur between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in both their civilian and hero/villian guises.
I caught at least one more such homage. When Batman gets Falcone, he pulls him up out of the sun roof of his limo. Falcone asks "Who are you?", and the reply is "I'm Batman." I think this is an homage to the original, Tim Burton Batman, where the same exchange occurs in the very beginning of the movie between Batman and a thug he's caught.
Karen: It did have enough fisticuffs and brawling fight scenes throughout to qualify it as a "Guy Flick" (as opposed to those mushy romances called "Chick Flicks") and would satisfy most of the Testosterone crowd. Howver, the finale with Katie and Christian was equally lack luster in emotions and force. Sheesh…couldn't one of those two writers learn how to craft a romantic moment? At least as well as they crash a bazillion police cars? Guess not.
I wasn't moved or affected by either the deaths the romance, the loss, the evil, none of it rose to level of "involvement", and most of the laughter it created was at the stupidity of it -- rarely with it - that was why it failed.
So that puts it somewhere between Batman returns and Batman and Robin -with Batman and Batman Forever ahead in that series – but WAY behind in even comparison with Spiderman or Spiderman 2.
Overall Rating: B for the opening, and A for the mid part and a C minus for the end; call it a B minus overall
Len: Overall, I don't disagree with you much in that assessment. In the Batman franchise, I'd rate it about even with or slightly below Batman/Batman Returns, but in comparison with the superhero genre as a whole I definitely prefer Spider-man and Spider-man 2. For that matter, based on casting and acting as a whole I prefer X-men and X2: X-men United.
Overall rating: A-minus
Len on 06.26.05 @ 09:15 AM CST