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Don't Worry, BATMAN BEGINS Will Suceed
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Grant LaFleche

BATMAN BEGINS and heroes with soul: my reaction to Arsalan Ahmed's article.

The Arsalan Ahmed article is very good, but I disagree with him on a couple of points, particularly the notion that the previous, mostly less than serious, television and movie adaptations of Batman have coloured audience opinion. I simply do not believe your average movie goer wants to see a mostly over the top or campy Batman.

What we need to keep in mind that even the best bat films - BATMAN, and BATMAN FOREVER - the also-ran Batfilm - BATMAN RETURNS - and finally the "Movie that Cannot Be Named," existed in a vacuum. Prior to 1989's BATMAN, there literally were no good comic films aside from the first two SUPERMAN films. Given that Bats is a vastly different character, little could be drawn from Superman. So Burton was creating something that, basically, had never been done before: Telling a superhero story on the big screen was still a novelty at the time.

The film is good, but far from great. Keaton is good, but his character isn't given much depth. Nicholson's Joker made the film. And basically, I think, the fact that Batman wasn't an overweight man in blue and grey tights with a dorky partner who could hand him the "bat shark repellent" (although I still laugh like hell over that.) drew audiences to the movie. (Not only was B89 breaking new ground as a superhero film it was a Tim Burton film, meaning you had to expect all the weirdness that comes with a Burton movie.)

RETURNS had even less plot and more mood. FOREVER had a comparatively better plot, but the camp started to creep in on the edges. And I won't even comment on the "Movie That Cannot be Named" because I would rant for a week without taking time to sleep or eat.

Essentially, the movies worked at the start because there was nothing to compare them to. But by the time the "Movie That Cannot Be Named" was made, audiences had enough of plotless movies that relied on mood and atmosphere instead of character and plot. The fact that the "Movie That Cannot Be Named" was filled with puke inducing Batskates, Batnipples, Batbadacting and the like just hurried the inevitable demise of the Batfilms. Even without that blinding piece of movie garbage that only GIGLI can outdo, the Batfilms were already running out of gas.

Then came X-MEN. And SPIDER-MAN. And DAREDEVIL and HULK. Superhero movies with soul. True, Daredevil was too obscure a character to really light up the box office and HULK suffered from some less than spectacular CGI and less than super ending, both these movies had something all the Batfilms lacked - good writing and strong characters. (When I saw DAREDEVIL, a movie I really like, I saw many elements that should have been in the Batfilms.)

These movies were a radical departure from anything in either the Superman or Batmanfilms because of their soul, their mojo. SPIDER-MAN, with its flawed, geeky and angst ridden hero could have flopped. There was as much character building as their was action. X-MEN, with its heavy social commentary could also have bombed and seen as heavy handed by audiences who wanted 100 per cent escapism, not a lecture on the evils of bigotry. But they were huge, huge movies.

Now, what is my point? Why am I babbling on and on True Believers? Because those movies tell us something about what an audience in 2005 wants from a comic book movie. They want a hero with depth, good supporting characters and a solid story. In short, the same stuff that makes movies like MILLION DOLLAR BABY so damned good.

So will the previous incarnations of Batman on film (no pun intended) have a negative impact on BATMAN BEGINS? I doubt it. Firstly, the movie is going to be much closer to something like SPIDER-MAN 2 in its maturity and plot. (And really, SPIDEY 2 has set the benchmark for hero movies.) Nolan's movies have all been well received and Goyer knows the Bat far better than Burton and Schumacher ever did. Audiences watching a Batman with real character won't pine for Adam West or Michael Keaton. A Batman with character is exactly what they want.

The typical Bat-stuff will be there - the suit, the car, the batarangs and other toys. That will be enough to satisfy those who love the over-the-top elements to Batman. But it will introduce viewers to a complete Jim Gordon, not the fat dunce that has been with us since the 1960s. And above all it will do what X-MEN did for its heroes and the SPIDEY films did for Peter Parker - it will tell us WHY Batman is what he is and why he does what he does.

Basically, the average joe doesn't want cookie cutter heroes who fight evil because, well...just because. They want more and demand more. If BEGINS delivers on that front, the previous Bat films will have no impact on the film's bottom line, one way or the other.

Or so it seems to me.

Grant LaFleche is a reporter for the "ST. CATHERINE STANDARD."

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