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.