On Batman Begins

Careful readers will know that I wound up missing work and the staff screening of Batman Begins a few weeks back. Yesterday, I finally got to see it.

Since this was a long-anticipated event, we decided to make a big deal out of it. Deb, Robbie and I schlepped across the Tappan Zee Bridge to the nearest IMAX screen to see the movie in all its glory. But first, we hooked up with Bob & Jeanne Wayne and had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. Rob has been hearing about this chain from Kate, who has dessert there every week or so after dancing in Washington. Well, Robbie is a cheesecake fiend so this sounded like heaven to him. And enjoyed his meal but savored the 25th anniversary Godiva Cheesecake so we consider this a success.

Seeing the movie on the bigger screen was an interesting experience but Deb and I remain uncertain if it was worth the extra few bucks. Certainly it should be for the larger than life events such as this but we wonder if even Batman was a little too mundane for the full IMAX experience.

So, the movie.

Had Bob Kane and Bill Finger sat down and created Batman in 1939, the same way we create characters today, they might have come up with many of the same psychological underpinnings that have been added to the mythos over the years. Instead, Bob took a little from here and a little from there, absorbing elements of 30s pop culture and coming up with something unique, just plausible enough to propel a monthly series of stories. Since then, writers such as Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller have plumbed those depths to add to the strength of the character.

This entire movie is really an examination of those depths, a delightful mélange of bits lifted from one retelling of the origin after another. Being the long time reader that I am, I could pinpoint bits from Frank’s Year One or Denny’s “The Man who Falls” version of the origin. To Robbie, he didn’t have the same framework and was enchanted.

The one new character added by director Christopher Nolan as was the requisite love interest, Rachel Dawes, and even though she was a means to an end, was at last instrumental in keeping Bruce Wayne focused on the job at hand. She was also sadly a damsel in distress and yet another in a long line of love interests to learn Bruce’s secret, which has become the cliché (easily avoided here).

The rest of the characters from Commissioner Loeb to Carmine Falcone all come from the comics, well integrated into the current retelling of the origin myth. The Batman/Gordon relationship was a highlight as was the reimagining of Lucius Fox. How he built the cave, used the equipment and spread his legend was all well told.

Using Ra’s al Ghul as the antagonist was a terrific choice and here I think his melding into the story didn’t work as effectively. The League of Shadows is said to be millennia old and there to restore balance to the corrupt nation-states of the world. Following that logic, Gotham, a city, should be too small to merit their attention, especially in a world with corrupt regimes on almost every continent. Here, shoe-horning Ra’s and the League into the corruption of Gotham, and more intimately, the legacy of Thomas Wayne, was less effective. Ken Watanabe had some real screen presence and I’m sorry he wasn’t used more.

Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard was an interesting teacher/mentor to Bruce. However, I have no idea why they lifted this one-time character when he resembles the comic version in no way. You could have named him Qui Gon or something and he would have worked fine. He underplayed the part nicely where others would have chewed the scenery.

Nolan is a novice at action pictures, though, and it suffers because of it. The modern thinking is that fight scenes need to be shot quickly and edited in thin slices to be effective. Someone should go back and screen the best swashbuckler movies of the 30s and 40s to see how it could also work. It was difficult at many times to figure out who was doing what to whom. Also, the entire Batmobile chase was unnecessarily long especially if he could shift to stealth mode earlier and vanished from sight.

None of the above quibbles, though, took away from the pleasant impact of seeing one of DC’s premier icons handled well, with respect and appreciation. Now that we’re past the origin/introduction and we all better understand what makes Bruce Wayne tick we’re ready for the sequel. The set up at the end of this feature is a lovely tease and I’m already feeling the anticipation of what is to come…a terrific sign for a franchise.

7 comments

  • One of my employees has a second job at the IMAX theatre here in Raleigh. When I heard that Batman Begins had a simultaneous IMAX release I became overly excited.

    I asked him at work when they were showing Batman.

    “We’re not getting it,” he said, glum.

    This was a huge release. I said as much.

    It turns out that the IMAX theatre chain he works for has a seating quota. They have to put so many bodies in the seats each month. Because they didn’t make their quota, they don’t get Batman. “Rewarding failure,” Jonathan said.

    Color me disappointed.

  • I loved the movie. I was surprised at how they managed to make everything *almost* plausible; I didn’t feel as though I was suspending nearly as much disbelief as when I normally watch/read Batman.

    I agree with your thoughts on the fight scene editing, but I’ve heard a theory that it was done this way to disguise the fact that Christian Bale couldn’t move very quickly at all in the heavy Batsuit.

    And I especially agree with your last thoughts – I am more than excited about the sequel. I do wonder if they’ll ever do Robin in this series, though.

  • darrik

    My main problem was (well, other than the phone call) that there was so much war technology just sitting in a warehouse that the army could be using in the war.

    Just wondering, was Commisioner Loeb named after the comic book author?

  • Two comments.

    1) This was, so far, and by far, the best movie adaptation of a comic book. None of your quibbles would disturb the casual BATMAN fan, and would disturb not at all the casual moviegoer — the very person that Warner needs to go to see the movie to drive it into really big revenue levels. Yeah, I didn’t quite get the League of Shadows stuff, but it was enough of an excuse to set up Ra’s Al Ghul. I was even more surprised by the appearance of Scarecrow, who was exceptionally well played and well created for the screen. I do agree with you about the girl character, but what are you going to do? At least they didn’t kill her.

    2) Cheesecake Factory is a chain, so while its cheesecake is decent, it can’t compare with something you can buy every day — just buy yourself a slice at Junior’s, which has an outpost at Grand Central Station, which you use every day. WAY better than Cheesecake Factory.

    M

  • tom

    my 14 year old son, well versed in comics and sci fi/action movies (being raised by a confessed comic geek dad) summed “Batman Begins” up by saying “you’re not going to buy THAT on dvd, are you?”

  • David S.

    Thank you, Mr. Greenberger!

    I thought I was the only one who noticed the “Haven’t they done this before?” problem regarding the character played by the-soon-to-be-Mrs. Tom Cruise! Ironic that the EX-Mrs. Tom Cruise was an EARLIER version of this stereotypical role!

    If they could incorporate Ra’s Al Ghul into the cinematic version of the Batman Mythos, why not Talia? Did the suits consider her “too Catwoman-ish” for the casual movie-goer to accept as nothing more than a re-tread of that BOMB starring a sadly-misused Halle Barry? A pity if true.

    Overall, my call would be “good but it could have been better.”

    Maybe the sequels….

  • Finally got to see the movie. I tend to fall into the majority crowd in that I loved it and the nits to pick were few and far between. Nice review! I concur. On another note, as a fellow former DC Final Frontiersman (trying to tack down another), do you have a email contact to share for Michael Jan Friedman?