Sunday, June 19, 2005

if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely

[june 17, 2005]

I don't think I've hit the theatres here since I got back from my India trip in January. And Batman Begins was a good way to break the habit. Nolan fans expecting something as intellectually and filmically rewarding as Following or Memento are likely to be disappointed. To be fair, this is different fare. And unfortunately (yes, unfortunately), it's also a genre that thrives on the graces of large studios. Which means that trade-offs are inevitable. That Nolan and Co. managed to get most of the mythology straight and into the film is the most creditable aspect of this movie. The other mechanics (editing, action, CGI) are done well (although a lot of people used to "sleek" were disappointed by the more realistic less fancy look of the Batmobile). It's a blessing to get most of the background on the Wayne killing correct (CAVEAT: AFAIR, the Waynes were returning from a Brando movie and not -- as in a film -- an opera (although "Mephistopheles" was a nice touch). I'm sure more knowledgeable fans of the comic books will have more differences to note. The point though is that there isn't any hamming (Nicholson was a good choice for the Joker but he played the part with more overt hamming than devilish menace). A fine array of good actors fill parts previously seen (Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Gordon) and unseen (Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox). And welcome back Rutger Hauer. And a tip of the hat to Tom Wilkinson. The Hans Zimmer-James Newton Howard collaboration presents an interesting soundtrack (the release has all tracks named for different species of bats!) that only occasionally seems to threaten to drown the hall.
alternative poster

Nolan's background affords the film a respect for its proceedings. There's always a leap of faith when adapting comics to the screen, because it seems to suffer from the need for some more closer-to-life semantics than the source had. In that regard, Nolan goes the Tim Burton way (less overtly though) by keeping things adequately bleak, claustrophobic and menacing. Christian Bale makes a good Bruce Wayne -- grappling with the fine line between justice and revenge (and there's some a lot of nice dialogue devoted to this issue). The weak link on the acting front is Katie Holmes. Nary a granularity of talent. And every smile is a smirk. Besides, her character is strictly for-the-movie and is responsible for some of the most hackneyed scenes in the film. While it's nice to see Ra's Al Ghul (sadly receiving bad treatment and premature dismissal -- what about The Lazarus Pit???), Cillian Murphy scores with his take on Dr Jonathan Crane (aided in no small measure by some nice SFX).

In summation, could things have been better? Yes (I wish I didn't have to say that, though). However, Nolan has done the franchise a big favour by giving it some much-wanted smarts and the promise of a better series of films dedicated to a super hero who is closest to being real (no super powers; no foreign planet; no radioactivity). And I wish him all the best (and fewer clichés) for the future. [see also: Bryan Singer]

A concise list of things we'd like to have: interactions between people (e.g. Batman/Gordon; Alfred/Lucius); treatment of the finer aspects of revenge, retribution and justice; fewer villains per movie with more back-story and grey areas; fewer for-the-masses action and clichés (this is NP-complete methinks); a detailed introduction for Robin (if and when he shows up) -- Dick Grayson first (and then perhaps provide incentive for a movie series dedicated to Nightwing), then Jason Todd, then Timothy Drake ...

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