Batman Begins

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fear gets mentioned quite a few times in Batman Begins. In fact, it gets mentioned about a hundred times. 'I seek the means to fight injustice. To turn fear on those who prey on the fearful.' 'Now you must journey inwards, to what you really fear.' 'There is nothing to fear but fear itself.' Etc. Etc. And then the whole of Gotham gets The Fear and tries to rip itself apart. It's almost as if the filmmakers are trying to say something. Is it a comment on paranoia in the Bush era? Or is it an insight into how ordinary people are running scared from real and imagined criminality? Or then again, is it just a bunch of cool stuff in a big Hollywood blockbuster? It's probably a combination of all three, although, as you'd expect, the cool stuff takes precedence.

And it’s certainly cool to see Batman back on the big screen after he was gang raped into a coma by Joel Schumacher and everyone else who was involved in the last two pieces of shit. You can’t keep a good money-spinning cash cow down for long.

But you have to wait a while for Batman to make an appearance – unlike Burton’s film where his presence is immediate. Therefore you have to endure the dreaded back story, which is quite often the death of many a comic book film. I mean, the origin story is often like the first couple of hundred pages of a biography. Yeah, I don’t give a shit that Barry Big Bollocks was born into poverty and that he had to take coal sandwiches to school. I want to read the bit where he makes it big and fucks some slut with a mud shark. And so with a comic book character you often just want to see them in action.

But the build-up in Batman Begins is well handled, even though the ninja training is a tad dull. Yeah I know we have to see how Bruce Wayne gets his skills, but still, it’s rather ho-hum. Neeson’s mentor comes across as a bland, slightly malevolent Apollo Creed or a less interesting variation of the old git out of The Karate Kid. Thrilling cinema it isn’t.

However, other stuff in the build-up is superb, especially the scenes dealing with Bruce’s childhood. They have real heart and feeling, which reminds you that this isn’t some bland product churned out by some easily intimidated hack, but a film made by someone who genuinely cares about the characters.

At the same time, though, you have to marvel at how gosh darn great Bruce’s dad is. Like a superhero he saves Bruce when he falls down a hole. Then he carries Bruce to his bedroom and takes care of him. Then he provides Gotham City with a cheap public transport system. What a wonderful guy. No wonder, then, that his death would fuck Bruce up to such an extent that he dresses up like a giant bat.

The appearance of Batman himself is wonderful. Some hoods are conducting a drug deal down at the docks and then suddenly they begin getting picked off one by one. It’s like something out of a horror film. And then our first full glimpse of the Bat Man sees him dangling upside down behind a criminal. It’s a joy to finally see Batman trying to scare thugs rather than give them hard-ons by flashing bat butts and bat nipples.

And Bale has the perfect voice to intimidate people with. His Batman growls and screams. There’s no messing around. In particular I like the scene where he drags a bent cop up by his ankles and then interrogates him. One second you’re having a nice snack and the next you’re upside down being screamed at by a giant bat. I think anyone would be well within their rights to shit themselves.

And it’s also pleasing that the film is quite scary for a mainstream blockbuster. A large part of the story revolves around a hallucinogenic drug that makes people freak out. Cue then lots of cool visuals of people seeing scary stuff. My favourite is probably the satanic Batman that people see flying over the city. But the demon Batman that Dr Crane/Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) sees is really cool as well. Oh, and I also like the Scarecrow’s horse – it has glowing red eyes and breathes fire.

As far as the villains go, Dr Crane is easily the best. Excellently played by Cillian Murphy, he has a cold, slimy, sleazy vibe to him. He might not be physically threatening, but his eyes are as cold as ice. Therefore it’s a huge disappointment that he plays second fiddle to Liam Neeson’s colourless Ra’s Al Ghul. Honestly, when he returns, you kind of sigh. You just want to give him a drink to loosen him up. Maybe if he had a laugh he wouldn’t feel so compelled to destroy society and be such a pompous downer. At least you felt Crane enjoyed being evil. He even makes a Roger Moore-style quip when he sets Batman on fire: ‘You need to lighten up.’ Excellent.

And the whole League of Shadows thing is silly as hell. Apparently they’re a group of vigilantes that keep the world in check by destroying societies when they become too corrupt. According to them, they sacked Rome and burnt London to the ground. What the hell is this, The Da Vinci Code? Are they the Priory of Sion or something? For a film that tries to drag Batman back into a sense of reality, this stands out as pure silliness.

Something else that doesn’t really work is the casting of Katie Holmes. She doesn’t embarrass herself and she’s not annoying in a Vicki Vale type of way (although at least Kim Basigner and her acres of hair gave me confusing trouser rumblings as an innocent youth), but she’s ridiculously out of place as a DA. She has no authority. She has no screen presence. She’s amorphous.

Thank fuck then that the rest of the cast, Liam Neeson aside, is superb. Michael Caine is excellent as Alfred, Morgan Freeman does a good job as Q (er, I mean, Lucius Fox), Tom Wilkinson shines in the short amount of time he has and Gary Oldman does a decent job with the thankless role of Gordon – although for some reason the way he says ‘Kevlar’ at the end makes me laugh; just listen to the way he says it. And of course Christian Bale is excellent as Batman. He might not look as deranged as Michael Keaton, but he's far more convincing.

But Bale actually isn’t the best thing in the film. The best thing is the Tumbler. The car chase here is magnificent. The Batmobile flies over roofs, crashes through walls and blows shit up, yet it feels completely authentic. Quite a feat if you ask me. And it’s certainly one of the best action scenes in recent years. And it makes up for the rather bland fight scenes that pepper the film. They try and ape the ones in the Bourne movies but they’re even more blurry and hard to watch.

But even though I have reservations about certain things, the film isa massive success. The serious treatment of the characters has to be applauded and the film itself is engrossing and exciting. Here’s hoping the next one is even better.

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