Batman Begins

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Batman Begins
Review (9/10)
(By Blair Barbesin)

Usually when a franchise goes bad, like Superman (c'mon, Superman 4 Quest for Peace was really bad!) the owners of the franchise stick their head in the sand and don't come out until a generation or so has passed and then do they try to re-launch their character. It was 1987 when we last saw the Man of Steel. Finally in 2006 he is going to make a return. That's a whopping 19 years later. Why is this relevant? This is a Batman review right? Well, someone over at DC comics must have lost their slide rule, because it's only been a paltry 8 years since the last time the caped crusader was on film.

Batman, however, has always seemed to be at an arms-reach of his fans. He had an excellent run on TV with The Animated Series, popped up again in Batman Beyond and is a regular on Justice League and Ultimate Justice League, and again is on his own show in The Batman. I won't even mention the animated moves. So this begs the question "WHY do we need a new Batman movie???"

Well, the answer is obvious... We don't. Not unless it's going to be done right. Not unless it is going to honor the fans that have spent decades reading his stories. Not unless they are going to treat it seriously. Not unless they are going to make it dark, gritty and real. Guess what? They did.

Maybe they were inspired by Sandy Collera whose Dead End had fans scrambling and wetting their pants over what a Batman movie could be. Finally they thought, maybe someone is taking this seriously. I think DC and Warner Bros. eventually listened. They didn't hire Collera, but they did hire Christopher Nolan of Memento fame to direct. They hired an excellent writer in David Goyer of the Blade movies to write and then, then they went out and did the unthinkable. They hired the perfect cast. No, wait. They hired THE cast. Every so often a new name would leak out. Michael Cane? NO! Oldman? WOW! Neeson? STOP! Freeman!!! OMG! Hauer. Watanabe. Wilkenson. My God, our heads were spinning. But it was the name BALE that had every fan thinking that they nailed it. This is perfect.

The movie is really, really good. Goyer, obviously is a fan of Frank Miller and seeing as how well his Sin City movie is doing, well it only stands to reason that the Miller Batman makes its way into this movie. This movie is essentially Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. There are many of the same themes and story lines involved. If you have read the comic you know what to expect. Some of the stuff is straight out of the comics. The bat flying into Wayne Manor, the device in Batman's heel to summon a flock of bats. Falling as a boy into the eventual bat cave. I don't want mention all of them, but it's a nice touch to see them pay homage to the source material.

Christian Bale was a great choice for Batman, but just as important he was also a great choice for Bruce Wayne. We saw in American Psycho that he had the yuppie flair. And in Equilibrium and Reign of Fire he had action know how as well. Bale and Nolan made this Batman real. He is scary to those who should be scared of him. The scene on the fire escape where he interrogates the corrupt cop Flass is priceless. The anger emitting from Bale is so intense it's perfect. We only see a close up of Bale with the cowl on, but he still manages to convey this ferocity and scare the crap out of Flass to get the info he wants. Then we see him in his playboy mode, carefree and aloof and it comes just as natural to him. Forget Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney. Bale is Batman.

The movie is more than just about Batman, this is actually the story of Bruce Wayne. We get the obligatory flashback scenes, but they tell us more than what everyone already knows about his parents being shot. They give us a character study, from a boy to a man. The flashbacks tell us what kind of person Bruce is, who the important influences in his life are and were, and what kind of person he is - not a perfect person, but a flawed one. We go on an existential journey with Bruce Wayne. We see him as a boy at his best in the loving care of his family, we see him at his worst when they die, but we also get to see him choose his path and go to the furthest reaches and pits of society and the Earth to learn and become more than he is. Everything he learns and is going through prepares him for becoming The Batman.

To be honest, this is a big cast with big stars. Each of them had to seriously check their egos to be in this movie. Their screen time, save for Bale was minimal, but ever so good. There are some gripes. Oldman and Watanabe weren't used nearly enough and didn't get to really make an impact as characters. Katie Holmes was supposed to be the weak link, and honestly she was used just right. Not too much to hate her but just right so she can have a positive impact in the movie. The rest of the supporting cast used every second they were on screen to create an impression - a great one.

I could go on and on for each character, but I won't. I'll try to keep this short. Morgan Freeman is an acting God. I was surprised he took on the role of Fox although I didn't like that he became Bruce Wayne's "Q". But, their relationship/partnership worked. Their chemistry was great, plus it gave us a believable way to see how Bruce Wayne collects all his gizmos to use as the Batman. Between keeping up his appearance as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and nights as Batman - who has time to invent and build what he needs? He can't just go to WalMart to get his "toys". It may be with a nod and a wink that Fox gives him his equipment, but they don't insult us either by trying to explain it all away.

The decision to have the Scarecrow as the first villain for Batman is a good one, not because Ra's Al Ghul is in the background, but because he hadn't been done before and he's the perfect tier two villain for the Batman to warm up against. Ra's is a great criminal mastermind and warrior and he always gave Batman/Bruce Wayne a run for his money although I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see the Lazarus Pit. He was a very welcomed addition to this movie. The set up for the next villain in the next movie will have most fans very happy.

Are there gripes? Yes, of course nothing is perfect. I'm not crazy about the bat suit. I would have preferred the grey spandex and then see him explain why he needed the body amour instead. The batmobile is what Miller envisioned, but I still like the sleek and fast car of the comics.

The thing that makes this movie great is that it works regardless of it being a Batman movie. It could have been anyone in the main role and the movie would still have been interesting.

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