REVIEW: BATMAN BEGINS
Author: Paul J. Wares, Saturday, July 9, 2005:
Warning! Self-indulgent review ahead. Turn back now if you prefer your reviews to be generic and devoid of emotion. Youíve been warned.
Still here? I guess you donít mind reviews that speak from the heart and have a sense of passion for itís subject. In which case, let us BEGIN!!
First of all an apology, this review should have been written 2 weeks ago, but after the first and even second viewing of the film, I felt like there was so much to say about the movie that I could write it all down. Finally on seeing the film a third time I was able to articulate what I wanted to say.
I have over the past few years grown more and more despondent with the crop of summer blockbusters that head into our local multiplexes each year. As I get older they seem to get more and more soulless. This year has been no exception. I felt absolutely no connection to "Star Wars: ROTS," a film that I had been whole-heartedly looking forward to. It fell flat with me, I recognised that the script, directing, dialogue and acting was better the previous prequels, but through the ridiculous over-crowded CGI, I felt absolutely no empathy for the characters. If you donít care for the characters, there is no feeling of jeopardy. No feeling of jeopardy, there is no tension, and around and round we go.
Even the previous years "Spider-man 2" failed to strike a cord. I enjoyed it on a very basic level and it was certainly better than the first movie, but "greatest comic book movie of all time?" Uh...no. Not with all the sickly sweet, greeting card sentimentality that blew through the entire movie, not by a bloody long shot. It simply doesnít hold up on repeat viewings. I guess I have grown very cynical in my older years, but many summer movies now seem to simply be 2-hour commercials for toys and fast-food tie-ins.
Where is the soul, the passion, and the love for the material in these movies? The original "Star Wars" movies had it and more recently the "Lord of the Rings" movies had it. Well, now you can add "Batman Begins" to the list. And yes, in this reviewer's opinion, it is the best comic-book film of all time; or at least an even tie with "Superman: The Movie." But more than that, itís one of the best genre movies of the last 3 decades, albeit with a few caveats.
I wonít surmise the plot, that has been done countless times in other reviews and if youíve been following them you really already know this so instead, Iíll try and break the film down into itís most important aspects.
The Director Ė Chris Nolan has produced an incredibly layered and psychologically rich movie that truly explores the abstract concepts of vengeance and justice. He treats all the characters that exist in the film with a great deal of respect as if these people really existed. Nolan seems more comfortable with Bruce Wayne than Batman and for this reason, it is the first half of the movie that truly shines, it is near perfect except for some repetitive dialogue. The non-linear approach that Nolan has taken to tell this part of the story is incredibly effective and engaging. I truly felt for all the characters involved and felt a tug on my heartstrings more than once in this first hour - particularly any scene with Thomas Wayne and his relationship with young Bruce. The other scenes that gave me that swell of emotion was the scene where Alfred comforts young Bruce and the scene where Rachel slaps Bruce, telling him his father would be ashamed of him. Very powerful stuff.
Surprisingly, the only times where I felt Nolan dropped the ball within this first hour, was giving Bruceís Mother almost no interaction with young Bruce and thus making it seem that their relationship was almost non-existent. The murder of the Wayneís was also a bit of a letdown. The murder itself was quite well done, in that it was confusing, muddled and pretty realistic, but the aftermath where Thomas Wayne told his son not to be afraid and Gus Lewisís reaction to that was very contrived and diluted what should have been one of the movies most powerful scenes.
The second half of the movie - whilst still very good and still a cut above most similar films of this genre - suffered a little from what appeared to be the directorís lack of confidence with the subject matter. Instead of allowing a lot of the action scenes to be played out very organically as he did in the first half of the film, Nolan instead opted for face-paced, MTV style editing which just left me wanting and not in a good way.
I understand completely the reason Nolan chose to shoot and edit the fight scenes the way he did and I agree with it up to a point. The audience for the most part should see Batman how his prey sees him - as a monster, the bogeyman. However, by the time Batman is facing the final threat of the film, including fighting trained warriors, I felt that Nolan needed to pull back from the action more so that the audience could actually see what was going on. Iíve seen the film four times now and there are some parts of the film that I still canít tell whatís happening on screen. In the final act, Batman is no longer just taking out the criminal element of Gotham, he is fighting for the cityís very survival, it would have been nice to see that battle in itís full glory.
All in all, Nolan has done a remarkable job and I canít think of a man thatís better for the suited to direct Batmanís further quest for justice in the sequel. Please come back Mr. Nolan. 8/10
The Acting Ė This quite frankly one of the finest performed genre movies ever and it certainly boasts the best acting in any superhero movie bar none. Everyone is on top form here and itís largely thanks to Chris Nolanís direction that everyone has done such a stellar job.
Katie Holmes is the only person that I felt was miscast in the film. Thatís not to say she is bad, far from it. I think itís the best performance sheís thus far given on screen, she is simply miscast. Following the logic of the film Rachel Dawes must be at least two to three years older than Bruce Wayne and therein lays the problem. Katie Holmes just doesnít look or sound as mature as she needed to be in order to carry off the role to itís full potential. There are times when she reels off a speech to Bruce where it just doesnít appear believable due to her very young looks and stature. The role needed someone more convincibly mature - someone like Jennifer Connelly or Hilary Swank. 7/10
As always Gary Oldmanís performance is outstanding, he disappears into the role completely and has a lot of fun with the part, perhaps a bit too much fun. Oldmanís performance is solid and dependable and is only let down by some missteps in the writing and direction. I personally found it far too convenient the speed in which Gordon trusts Batman. One minute heís chasing him across a rooftop, the next heís having a cosy chat on his balcony. A cosy chat with a man dressed as a Bat!!? There was no surprise on Oldmanís face to Batmanís sudden appearance. I know this cop would have seen some strange things in his time, but to have little to no reaction to this "man-bat" was unconvincing. Other than that my only complaint is that we didnít see enough of Oldman, something I hope will be rectified in the sequel. 9/10
Liam Neeson is superb. His fine performance leant so much weight to the character whose dialogue may have been considered cheesy had it been delivered by a lesser actor. Neeson was the perfect foil to Baleís Batman. 9/10
I was slightly worried about Michael Caine being cast as Alfred. Not because heís a bad actor, far from it. No, my concern came from the fact that Michael Caine is something of a British screen icon and I was worried that I wouldnít see Alfred when Caine acted - I would just see Michael Caine. I neednít have worried. Caine is absolutely fantastic. Charming, witty and caring. Everything an Alfred should be. My only complaints with Alfred are again down to script and direction. The Alfred in this tale accepts and aids his masterís mission in this film far too readily. Later in the film he does show resistance to Bruceís quest, but early on it feels rushed and forced. This has nothing to do with Caineís performance though, which has to get a solid 9/10.
Cillian Murphy is a wonderful discovery for me in this movie. I havenít seen any of his previous work and Iím glad as it made his impact as Crane/The Scarecrow even more dramatic. Murphy plays Crane absolutely perfectly, at once intelligent and scary. He truly is a gifted actor and I have to say, it would have been very interesting to have seen him as Batman. Iíd really love for him to return for the sequel, if only briefly. 9/10.
Christian Bale Ė Wow! Wow, wow, wow, wow and er wow!!! Bale absolutely exceeded my expectations of him and those were pretty high. I really believe this was some of his finest work to date. Bale is an absolute marvel; he explores Bruceís psychological torment logically and realistically. I can see why Bale had such a blast playing this character as the Bruce Wayne in this movie really has a journey, a massive character arc that seems to change every 20 minutes or so, until we end up with the Batman we know and love at the end of the movie. I canít wait to see what Bale comes up with in the sequel after this filmís rookie Batman, I long to see Bale show us a Batman in his prime. 10/10
The rest of the cast, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkenson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanbe and in particular Linus Roache as Thomas Wayne are all solid in their roles. The only disappointment with all the actors concerned is that their performances are so good I was left with the feeling that I hadnít gotten enough of them. 8/10
Production Design Ė Wonderful. I have longed for a Gotham City that was semi-realistic since the first time I saw the movie "Se7en." That movie, in which the events take place in an unnamed city, always screamed Gotham City to me. I was happy then that the Gotham in "Begins" was very similar. However, I would like to see Gotham get a little weirder in the sequel as the emergence of the "freaks" and Batman begins to assert itself on the city. Iíd love to see the visual aspects of The Narrows start to infect other parts of the city.
This realistic element very nearly backfires on the movie though. In "Batman 1989," Tim Burton gave us a fantastical Gotham City in which weird things happened and a creature of the night such as Batman didnít seem out of place there. In "Begins," Batman is set against a very realistic world, one that we find very familiar. This had a strange affect on me as the movie was very serious and itís backdrop very realistic that the appearance of Batman was almost Ė odd and very nearly out of place. Of course this is what Nolan and Production Designer, Nathan Crowley were shooting for. 8/10
Hatís off to Hans Zimmer and Mr. Newton-Howard. I reviewed the soundtrack for Begins a few weeks ago and for the most part I still stand by what I wrote. However, having now heard the music in the context of the film, it is in a word, perfect. Still not as iconic as Elfmanís theme, but as haunting, emotional and as well suited to the film as it could be. 8/10
Editing Ė This is the only major thing that lets the film down in terms of quality in my opinion and weíre not just talking about the fight scenes, which as I mentioned before work 80% of the time. The film is so skilfully edited in the first half of the movie that I find it so disappointing that it seems so "music video" in the action scenes of the second half. There are points where some shots must only be 4 frames long, thatís 1/6th of a second, barely enough time to even register whatís happening on screen. If that wasnít bad enough there are parts of the film that seem to have chunks missing. Just exactly what was Rachel hallucinating in the car? Why did we not see Batman from her perspective (something I know was shot)? Why was there no reaction from Gordon to being grabbed from above and hoisted aloft in Arkham? His reaction to Rachelís condition too seemed far to quick and I felt that something had been cut.
These missing moments really weighed on Holmes performance in the Batmobile scenes, instead of seeming like she was about to lose her mind through fear, she just looked as though she was a little worried about Batmanís driving and scared of some shiny buildings. Now maybe these shots of her fears were cut in order to receive the rating it needed, but that certainly doesnít excuse the rest of the film being edited in such a generic and frustrating manner. This is something that desperately needs improving in the sequel and would even benefit the DVD release of the film. 7/10
Screenplay Ė David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan have crafted a very good script, but it is not without itís flaws. Having read the first draft screenplay written by Goyer and Nolan I have to say that all the changes that Nolan has made to it in subsequent drafts have been welcome, but it is still the final act of the film, which is weaker than the rest in terms of writing. There were certain points that Iím still not clear on. Exactly how did Batman know the exact drop off point for the rabbits in The Narrows? Why did Crane insist on destroying them instead of collecting them? Why is it that if the toxin has been in the water system for weeks, that no one has been affected by boiling water and exactly how does the microwave transmitter not turn the water in the human body to steam? There seems to be much needed exposition lacking in some scenes and too much in others. How many times do we need to have explained to us that the water system is ďgonna blowĒ? We got it already!!! However, the scripts emphasis on the psychological aspects of the character work incredibly well and overall the plot is fantastic, but again particularly in the first half of the film. 7/10
Everything else from Wally Pfisterís cinematography to Lindy Hemmingís costume design and everything in between is simply beautiful and is of a spectacular high quality. I canít wait for the DVD so that Iím able to pour over the movie frame by frame. 9/10
As an overall grade I would have to give "Batman Begins" a 9/10. The film is near perfect, which makes the silly mistakes all the more frustrating to witness. The main things that would need to improve in order to make the sequel the best comic book movie ever made, bar none, would be a better script, improved editing, a little more daring and imagination in the Production Design and more confidence from Mr. Nolan regarding the action scenes. If these things are improved "Batman Begins" will have not only the honour of being one of the best genre movies of itís time, but it will have the honour of being the prologue to the ultimate Batman movie, because unfortunately for this reviewer, it narrowly falls short of that title itself. That is not to say that I didnít love the film, most of the flaws I mention are very minor and thankfully didnít detract from my enjoyment of this excellent adaptation and I am truly psyched up for a sequel. Thank you Mr. Nolan et al, for a tremendous film, a movie that is truly a modern classic that will stand the test of time.