Batman Begins (2005). At least in the comic scene, this was highly anticipated, with a mix part hope, part fear. And of course, it's been out a while, so if you're a fan of the franchise, you've already seen the movie. For everybody else, here come the basics (mostly because they go so well with the previous article).
It's called begins, so of course, we get the story of Batman's parents once more. That was one of the things I dreaded most, it's something I've seen and read a dozen times, maybe more. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to take it another time. It turned out it was rather nicely done though, and with an extra twist.
In the beginning, Bruce Wayne is trained in fighting and discipline on an Eastern mountain-top. While this also serves to introduce Ra's al Ghul, we've seen this in almost every last kung fu movie in the world, and the sequence utterly failed to grip me. Ra's as Mr Miaghi does not work.
The villains for this installment are the aforementioned Ra's al Ghul, the Scarecrow, and Carmine Falcone. Ra's is perhaps the most dangerous of the Batman's antagonists, alongside the Joker, if less well-known. Ra's is an eco-defender, essentially Poison Ivy without the looks, but with amazing resources in terms of staff, time, and money. The Scarecrow was passable. Ra's was amazingly well-picked, he looked the part to the T. Speaking of which, Ra's' daughter Talia made no appearance.
This nicely brings us to the cast. We already established Ra's looked perfect. So did James Gordon. (The DVD extras have a cross-fade from a shot in the movie to a panel of a Batman comic — from The long Halloween, I believe — which was plain amazing. But then, no surprise there, it was Gary Oldman who played him, and once more, he just became the character, as tired as that may sound.) Alfred worked out, so did Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Freeman's role was only so-so, but it was still a pleasure seeing him for the sheer charisma he brought to his scenes. That of course leaves us with the big question: How about the Batman, then? Well, what about him. A lot of actors would look OK in the suit, really. The suit worked. So did the Batmobile. They gave a nod of the head to some of the eternal questions — Where does he get his gear without anybody noticing? What about the Batcave, there's so much stuff in there in the old comics that he couldn't possibly have erected or brought there alone? OK, OK, how about Bruce Wayne, then? Well, what about him? Bruce Wayne's always been just a mask to the Batman. Essentially hollow, and that's how he came across. Bale worked as the Batman, and he worked as Bruce, but he was no revelation either. One may argue that after the animated series, my standards may be impossibly high, but I can't help thinking that after how good Batman: Dead End was, a full-blown production should be able to top that. (It won't be easy though, particularly with regard to the Joker — so far, the portrayal in Dead End seems the definitive one.)
No Talia. Ra's instead of Ivy. In fact, the only female character of any importance is a childhood friend of Bruce's, and contrary to the makers' claim, she comes across as a damsel in distress half of the time. (She does have a hilarious scene with Scarecrow though, where he stars as a Rider of the Apocalypse.) So as a woman, I felt excluded from the story, an observer rather than a participant, with noone to identify with.
This time, they get the look & feel right. Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you. After the previous franchise (Batman … returns … forever … and Robin), I had very little trust.
All in all, the look and feel were extremely good. The cast was excellent, with the possible exception of the title role.
The first half was badly paced, however, with the low point being the almost boring "monastery" scene; the second half was OK, but rather standard fare. The lack of major female characters made it hard for me to connect with the story.
As a film version of the Batman mythos, begins succeeds; it takes some liberties here and there, but it stays true to the essence of both the mythos and its characters. With the possible exception of the re-imagined Batmobile, it brings nothing new to the table, but in this context, that might be a Good Thing. Or it may be a problem inasmuch it gives the actual story-telling only so much breathing space: As an illustration of the beginnings of Batman, a live-action version of the comic, it succeeds brilliantly. As entertainment, it ultimately falls short — it's solid, but hardly outstanding. But yeah, I'll be back for the next round.
I keep up on the comics. I play in the BatVerse regularly. My expectations are high, and of course, an introductory movie can only reiterate what I've seen time and time before. (And then, the final fight with Ra's just wasn't very gripping.) And then of course, my expectations were shaped by the animated series, which is pretty much definitive.
So let me put it this way instead. If we look at other movies (re-) launching a franchise, say, X-Men (and possibly Spiderman, too), Begins did better if looking at it not as an Introduction but stand-alone entertainment.
Good Joker. Good movie. Bit long though.
But hey, an enjoyable Batman movie at last (after "Begins" just re-iterated the origin for the 100th time *yawn*, and the set of movies before that was plain ridiculous/annoying).
Of the named characters, they kill THE WOMAN.
Much better handled in "Mask of the Phantasm" where instead she just leaves and we see her alone on a cruise ship, her hair blowing in the wind, and a guy comes up to flirt, then gets uncertain, asks: "Would you rather be alone?", and she replies. "I /am/." Classic line, perfect execution.
To add insult to injury, if it weren't for the loveable Lucius Fox, we'd be down to, "Out of the named characters, they kill THE WOMAN and THE BLACK GUY (the commissioner)."
The bit with the ferries didn't add much, we were already running late (sorry, 2-1/2 hours are too long), and it seemed grossly unrealistic.
On the plus side, most great cast, including the guy I liked in "Thank you for smoking" as Harvey Dent (aka Twoface, the inventor of the Twoface-Commit).