Serioussam Begins

Every time someone disses a movie I like, I try to defend it, but mostly give up. It's a testament to my slacker virtues that movies like Ocean's Twelve( hates it, and with good reason), The Mummy (everyone loves to hate it), and Crouching Tiger(well this one actually is kinda overrated, but you get the picture) go undefended.
I try to abstain from actually starting flame wars on what are just 2 hours of pulp entertainment. Plus everyone deserves their own opinions. Therein, of course, lies the dilemma. You can come up to me and say, hey Sam, I am of the opinion that duck billed platypuses pee from their mouth, are devil's rejected children, and the eggs they lay are actually made of solid gold.
Sure you have that opinion, but that doesn't mean you're not wrong. Anyone can tell you they hate Pulp Fiction cause, hey, that's their opinion. But you know, you KNOW, that they're wrong.

So yeah, let's talk about the new Bat movie.

*evil grin*

I've always thought that remaining absolutely, steadfastly, honest to a source material is not necessary for a movie adapting a book or a comic. I understand that there are a lot of decisions that need to be made to adapt a work of literature into cinematic form, and some changes may have to be made. I can live with that. It all depends on how successful you are in pulling it off. I have never cried over the exclusion of Tom Bombadil or the inclusion of organic web shooters, nor do I ever intend to.

If you want to look at the most honest adaptation of a comic book superhero, Daredevil's director's cut is the closest, and we all know how well it did. Begins comes close as hell. So close it is to some aspects of Year One that I was surprised not to find a special thanks to Frank Miller somewhere in the credits.

Of course, there is no “definitive Batman”. In his long, long, time in the club of most recognized superheroes the world over, he has gone through so many re-imaginings, creative visions, makeovers and whatnot that he may mean a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. This movie does not attempt to give you a definitive Batman, but it does borrow a lot from some specific comic book issues. If those issues constitute a definitive Batman for you, you are going to come back pretty happy. If your idea is maybe a bit different, say the Adam West series, you might want to sleep on your decision to go watch it.

The last few years have seen superheroes being taken seriously, especially the movies they star in. They might have met with varying degrees of financial and/or critical success, but all of them have tried to take themselves as serious movies, not frivolous, psychedelic, camp movies (Bat 3 and 4, I point my fingers at you). Movies like Spider-man and Hulk have delved deeper into the psyche of the men behind the mask (or as the case may be, big green body). Begins takes this further.

Batman, along with Superman, has the best known origin stories of all the superheroes in the world. Why then, the need to retell it? Maybe Nolan wanted to take the franchise in a direction where he only could do so by starting at the beginning. I was a bit skeptical about it, but it blew me away. That is the best stuff in the movie.

Batman Begins is divided sharply in half is a serious drama, the story of a young man who leaves his home and fortunes to find himself and his place in the world. He is taken under the wing of a mysterious man called Ducard who provides him with a father figure to look up to. Ducard becomes his anchor in a world he is trying to understand, and Bruce flourishes under his training. Under Nolan's skill, this complex and dark story acquires a whole new resonance. It becomes fresh.

The second half of the movie deals with Wayne returning home after finding out that the League of Shadows wants nothing less than the destruction of Gotham. Bruce starts collecting his gadgets and items, slowly reaching a defined figure that will become a symbol to save his city, a symbol that he will operate under – the symbol of a Bat. Christopher Nolan understands the tumult inside Bruce Wayne, and all of it is subtext. When the subtext becomes the theme, he starts losing the thread.

Nolan understands Bruce as a man on a quest, and he has some fantastic actors at his disposal to make that work. The film starts as a film about people, the decisions they make, and the effects those decision have. As it moves into the second half, Batman becomes someone who reacts only. It becomes about the big action pieces and car chases. It may be because of a fantastic first half that we want more grit and drama, but the second half does feel a bit out of place with the first half.

The second half, and especially the third act puts Batman directly in the seat of an outsider. Things keep on happening, and he reacts to them, punches a few people, blows holes in walls, and..whatever, I don't care. It may be my idea of a definitive Batman speaking, but I think the detective deserves a better treatment than to play second fiddle to Lucius Fox's problem solving skills.

Don't get me wrong, though, there is something very very right about the movie. The actors. Christian Bale plays Bruce so well, that he ends up being the most fully drawn out Bruce Wayne in cinema. His Batman is a little rough, however. He can't decide on a pitch of voice, and the mask makes him look fat in the face. The movie, is bay and large about Bruce Wayne, the title notwithstanding, and Bale nails that.

Michael Caine is fantastic as Alfred. Alfred has always been the heart of Batman, the soul behind the machine, and Caine gets that. He plays his role magnificently, and keeps it understated enough so as not to appear a Father Figure to Bruce.

Gary Oldman has a thankless job, that of depicting a pretty straight character, with not much to do in the first movie of what is quite possibly the second beginning of a franchise. So, it's almost heartening to see him play Jim Gordon as a weary yet good policeman in a city corrupt and festering with crime.

Liam Neeson is Ducard, Bruce Wayne's mentor. The role is quite simple, and he's done that already in Star Wars, but Neeson keeps his character grounded. The character is very underplayed, and the chemistry with Bale hits the bulls eye.

Tom Wilkinson is Carmine Falcone, played with aplomb, and a little twinkle in his eye – I loved him. Cillian Murphy can't control his accent in the movie, and his Crane comes across as a creepy doctor, with a nothing villain in a mask as his alter ego. I don't wanna talk about Katie Holmes.

The again, maybe I do. Comparisons of this movie with the first Spider-man is inevitable, however futile it may be. One thing they both have in common is badly realized leading ladies with facial deformities. (the droopy eyelid for Dunst and the retarded lopsided grin for Holmes) While someone may say that Holmes is worse that Dunst, I have to point out that Dunst is Mary Jane, while Holmes is another addition in a long list of unnecessary bat-girlfriends. They have to get the former right, no matter what, and I will not except a whiny, weird chick in substitute. I don't care for Katie's character. At all.

The third act of the movie is something that I have very harsh words for. Explosions and blasts are used as closure, and things just keep on spiraling out of control for the director. It turns it's back to the excellent(and may I also add relatively CGI less) character drama that preceded it. The finale tries to make up for it to quite an extent, and as always, Oldman is dependable.

Never pre-judge a movie – the golden rule that every serious movie fan should follow. I always try to steer clear of the influence being exerted by all the hype and posters and trailers. I like to walk in, and let the first ten-twenty minutes of the movie grab me. Which they did, in this case. This is probably why I found the third act disappointing. It has no relationship to the first and the second acts of the movie.

The finale however, is something that is just sprung on you. The cheers in the auditorium drowned my emphatic screams of, “Year One, Year One”. Yeah, it's that cool. All in all, a great movie that is sorely let down by it's loose third act, but a good movie nevertheless.

Hell, but that is just my opinion. :P

posted by sam | 6/26/2005 12:41:00 PM

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