Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Batman Begins

Originally Written and Posted at on 6/15/05 w/ Additional Edits.

For many comic book fans, there's been loads of superheroes whether it's Superman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. One of the darkest superheroes to come out of the DC Comics franchise has been Batman from comic book writer Bob Kane. A dark vigilante to who preys on villains for justice at night while at day, he's a millionaire named Bruce Wayne. Batman has been one of the most popular comic book franchises that in the 60s, a popular, campy TV show was made that starred Adam West as the Caped Crusader. Then in the late 1980s, Warner Brothers wanted to create a film franchise on the Batman series when finally, they succeeded with the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton in the title role that also starred Jack Nicholson as the Joker.

The success of the first Batman film that was directed by Tim Burton in 1989 returned with a successful 1992 sequel in Batman Returns that starred Keaton, Danny DeVito as the Penguin, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Many say the reason both films were successful because of Tim Burton's quirky yet dark vision since both films came out with very little color. Fans loved Burton's vision but when Burton chose to step down for more personal projects, he remained as an executive producer for the next part as Warner Brothers chose Joel Schumacher to helm the series. 1995's Batman Forever that starred Val Kilmer in the title role along with Chris O'Donnell as Robin, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unfortunately, Schumacher's campy approach for a more entertaining Batman didn't fare well with some fans and critics. Despite some fine over-the-top performances from Carrey and Jones, fans felt Kilmer played Batman in a very dull way. George Clooney then replaced Kilmer for the fourth film, Batman & Robin that starred Clooney as the Caped Crusader. With O’Donnell returning as Robin along with Michael Gough as Alfred the Butler and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, the new cast also included then "It" girl Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, and Arnold Schwarzennegger as Mr. Freeze. The result was a disaster that fans of the series were disillusioned as plans for a fifth Batman film were scrapped as Schumacher was officially out of the fold.

After the fallout of Batman & Robin that left Warner Brothers in a mess, the company took some years off before deciding that it's time to restart the franchise. Instead of moving forward to the story, some insiders decided to tell the story of how Bruce Wayne became Batman. Fans were excited about Warner Brother restarting the franchise but the development wasn't easy. Rumors were abound on who was to play Batman as some casting people wanted then-hot actors like Freddie Prinze Jr. Fans were disgusted but were relieved that it was a rumor. Producers then approached indie film director Darren Aronofsky of Pi/Requiem for a Dream fame to direct ther series but never got off the ground. After years of searching and creating the right script, Warner Brothers finally found a new director and a new actor for the new Batman movie.

For their director, they chose Christopher Nolan who has only made three features yet 2000's Memento and 2002's remake of Insomnia proved that he was an edgy director with a dark sensibility. Nolan took the job as long as he wanted to remain true to the series and with fans. For the role of Batman, that proved to be harder to find with many actors wanting the role. Everyone from Joshua Jackson, John Cusack, Ashton Kutcher, Hugh Dancy, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Billy Crudup wanted the role.

Two British actors also wanted the role of Batman including Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later and Girl with a Pearl Earring as Nolan chose to put him in the film but not as Batman. Instead, he chose Christian Bale for the role not because of his physique but also his diverse range of roles from films like Empire of the Sun, Metroland, Laurel Canyon, Velvet Goldmine, and his breakthrough 2000 role in American Psycho. In early 2004, Bale starred in Brad Anderson's dark, indie sci-fi thriller The Machinist in which Bale lost more than 68 pounds for the role where he nearly lost his life but the performance got him great reviews as did a 2002 cult film called Equilibrium as fans felt, he is Batman.

Screenplay by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins is a chronicle of Bruce Wayne's transformation from a tortured, troubled young man traumatized by the murder of his parents to an heir who takes over his father's business by day and by night, fights crime in Gotham City. Darker than Tim Burton's version and more intense in terms of action, the film is really more of a character study piece that relies on drama with the intensity of the action ready to build up. With an all-star cast that includes Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, and Katie Holmes. Batman Begins is the Batman movie every fan has been waiting to see.

For the young Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis), he's lived a carefree life with his parents in Wayne Manor with his caretaker Alfred (Michael Caine). His father Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache) uses his wealth of Wayne Enterprises to be a doctor and help people along with Bruce's mother Martha (Sara Stewart). Then one day when playing with his childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Emma Lockhart), Bruce falls into a well in a greenhouse where he finds himself inside a cave full of bats. The experience left him in fear of bats and after a night on the opera has scared him, the night only got worse when a criminal named Joe Chill (Richard Brake) gunned down Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of young Bruce. While the criminal is captured by a cop named James Gordon (Gary Oldman), Bruce remained emotionally scarred.

Feeling responsible for the death of his parents, life never got easier for Bruce (Christian Bale) as he returned from college to see the trial of Joe Chill. With Rachel (Katie Holmes) now becoming a law student, they oversee the trial as Bruce's plan for revenge is shattered when Joe is killed after being exonerated. Learning that Chill was killed because of a payoff by Gotham's big crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), Bruce confronts him only to be bullied his way out. Feeling that no justice is done, Bruce walks away from Gotham and everyone around him. For the next seven years, he would travel alone to the world where finally, he gets arrested and sent into a Chinese prison is where his story begins. After fighting several men in the prison he is locked up to meet with a man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who asks Bruce to join his vigilante group, the League of Shadows.

After walking through the mountains, Bruce meets Ducard and the group's leader Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) as they train him to become part of their group. Ducard tells Bruce that the death of his parents wasn't his fault but the fault of his own father because he doesn't understand the nature of criminals. Bruce is forced to confront his own fears, anger, and guilt until finally, he is about to become part of the League of Shadows. Then when Bruce learns their idea of justice, he chooses to be on his own as he decides to return to Gotham with Alfred at his side. Knowing that Gotham is a town full of corruption, deceit, and no real hope, Bruce decides it's time that someone should go out there and make a difference.

Knowing only sharing his ideals are Jim Gordon and Rachel, who is now an assistant district attorney, Bruce learns that he needs more. After returning to Wayne Enterprises to the shock of its CEO William Earle (Rutger Hauer), Bruce turns to an old adversary of his father in Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Fox now works in the basement as an inventor where Bruce notices the armor and gadgets he’s built. Bruce also decides to confront his fears for good as he enters the bat cave and he chooses to make peace with the bats as they use the cave as a new place for his great plan. After meeting with Jim Gordon in disguise, he learns that Gordon is the only cop that is honest and not paid. With Fox showing him new ideas including a hybrid Lambourgini/Hummer called a Tumbler, Bruce's plan nears completion as he receives word that Falcone is going to be at a drug shipment.

With the help of a corrupt cop named Flass (Mark Boone Junior), Falcone and his goons think everything is in the works but they meet the Caped Crusader in Batman. Falcone and his goons are captured only upsetting the plans Falcone has with a controversial doctor in Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy). Rachel suspects Crane of lying on testimony about the behaviors of criminals but what she doesn't know is that Crane had been working on experimental gas that drives people to see their fears as he lives through his alter-ego known as the Scarecrow. With many of the cops in Gotham suspecting Batman to be a villain, only Gordon knows that he's on the side of good as Batman chooses him to be his secret partner. Batman confronts Flass about upcoming plans about Falcone as he goes to meet the Scarecrow only to learn more about the gas he's been using. With the help of Alfred and Fox, he investigates the use of the gas while as Bruce Wayne, he lives the life of a playboy to the disturbance of Earle and to Rachel's disappointment.

When Rachel learns about Falcone being put in Arkham asylum, she learns more about Crane's plans to poison the city's water supply for his experimental gas. Bruce learns to as he puts on his Batman costume to learn more of Crane's plans. He learns that the gas that he's been familiar with as Crane and Falcone had been working with Ra's Al Ghul. It would only get worse as with Gotham in danger, he must battle the Scarecrow and the League of Shadows with very few allies.

Since Batman Begins is an origin story of the creation of Batman, the credit of the film's structure, approach to storytelling, and its intention really goes not just the film's screen story writer David S. Goyer but also co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan. Relying on their research of comic book stories of Batman, the duo crafted one of the smartest scripts ever put into a blockbuster that exceeds the one Alvin Sargent wrote for Spider-Man 2. The first act is non-linear since part of it is told in flashbacks of how Bruce Wayne feared bats and his training with the League of Shadows. The second is Wayne reentering the world and creating Batman with the third act showing Wayne in accepting his role as Bruce Wayne and Batman while leaving fans with the idea of what's to come. The story builds the momentum while there's a bit of action in the first act but once the second and third act moves, there's plenty of action and fighting with a mix of drama and humor that keeps everyone attentive.

The script is told in a smart way with a lot of dark elements including character study of how a man can become a superhero without any kind of powers or coming from another planet. The reason people identified with Batman because he is human yet with the right training, the access to gadgets, and the heart and determination, anyone can be Batman. This is something Goyer and Nolan understood right from the beginning while they know that if they're going to make a movie about Batman, it doesn't just have to be smart but entertaining as well. On the entertainment side, only 1/3 of that is there but it's enough since the film has a bit of humor and some great one-liners from every major character so each one is filled with depth and can be memorable.

Then there's Nolan in the directing front and going away from the Gothic look of Tim Burton and the campy mess of Joel Schmacher, Nolan takes the Batman story to darker levels including its look and location with Chicago playing the role of Gotham City. Using wonderful crane shots, steadicams, and loads of intense camera angles, Nolan uses his independent director's vision to create a unique feel for Batman. Mixing a bit of humor with drama and action, there Nolan finds the balance without sacrificing too much to the point that it leans towards a campiness that would ruin the story and the idea of Batman himself. Sure, there's not much humor in the Caped Crusader but there's no need since he's all about doing the right thing for the people of Gotham.

With Nolan bringing in a great vision to the film, credit also goes to his dedicated crew. Wally Pfister does a great job in the cinematography department by using a bit of dark, sepia colors for many of the sequences of Gotham with very little color while the Chinese sequences are used with great natural lighting in some of the best cinematography work done in a blockbuster film. Production designer Nathan Crowley along with a team of art directors and visual effects designer give Batman that dark, intense look that is need in great detail. From the dreary world of China to the early, clean look of Gotham and the look of Wayne Manor to the dreariness of modern day Gotham. Crowley also deserves credit for the new look of the Batmobile and in the words of Jim Gordon, "I gotta get me one of those".

Costume designer Lindy Hemming does a great job with the contemporary look of Gotham from its posh lifestyle to the working class of Gotham but in the Batsuit, it is a vast improvement and thank God there are no, no, no, nipples in the Batsuit. The film in its 140 minute time running doesn't miss a beat thanks to editor Lee Smith who gives the film a nicely paced feel and some non-linear style of editing in the film’s first act. The sound work and everything is just loud enough to keep up with the film's intensity. Even the score work of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard helps up with the film's intensity and dramatic tones with vast arrangements in its orchestra and thunderous rhythms that keeps everything going.

Then, there's the cast and you have to give credit to Nolan and his casting directors for choosing not just the right actors but a cast that is to die for. With some nice small performances from Mark Boone Junior, Sara Stewart, Richard Brake, Emma Lockhart, Linus Roache, and Rade Serbedzija as a homeless man along with Gus Lewis bringing an excellent performance as the young Bruce Wayne. Tom Wilkinson might seem like a strange choice to play a mob boss with a Brooklyn accent but Wilkinson gives a cunning and expertly played performance with intimidation and swagger that is needed for someone as evil as Falcone. Rutger Hauer is also excellent as the sly, power-hungry Earle who has great scenes with Bale and Freeman as he tries to maintain power while holding on with Bruce Wayne now re-appearing to the world as Hauer remains one of our most gifted character actors. Ken Watanabe brings a mysterious complexity as the Ra's Al Ghul character with a sense of strange wisdom and intelligence to the point where at first, we're not sure what kind of man he's playing only to see his idealism as Watanabe does fine work in that character.

Katie Holmes is pretty good as Rachel Dawes with her good-hearted idealism for a safe, good world while having great moments with Bale, even in a scene as she confronts him about his behavior. Holmes makes sure she doesn't make her character as some damsel in distress but a woman who gives Bruce Wayne a reason to be Batman. It's not a great role but Holmes makes her character likeable and memorable enough. Gary Oldman plays against type in the role of a honest cop who wants to do right and when Batman arrives, the character finds hope as Oldman plays the character with a weariness turn usefulness as Oldman makes the Jim Gordon character one of the centerpieces in the Batman story.

Cillian Murphy brings a wonderful charm and intensity to his role as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow with his sly intelligence and maddening faces where he gives the Scarecrow a wonderfully memorable villain that makes everyone forget about Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and all of those other lame villains. Liam Neeson is also excellent in his mentor-like role as Henri Ducard with an intensity and strictness that is punishing to watch since he is tough as Neeson proves himself to be one of the most memorable characters with his role of teacher and vigilante.

When it comes to great actors, there's a list of those elite who deserve to be on top of the mountain like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, Gene Hackman, and Clint Eastwood. In this film, we have two. First is the always eloquent Morgan Freeman who uses his sly charm and intellect as inventor Lucius Fox who delivers some great one-liners and a performance that is only to be described as expertly handled. With Morgan Freeman, you can never get a bad performance. The same goes for Michael Caine who brings a fraternal/mentor role of Alfred as he comes up with some funny one-liners and a lot of heart as he is the man to remind Bruce Wayne of his family's legacy and is more of a butler as the man who guides Bruce into doing the right thing.

Finally, there's Christian Bale in the dual role of Bruce Wayne and Batman and if your names are Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney. Go away, Bale is Batman. Bale brings a mix of wit, torment, determination, and morality into the role of Bruce Wayne. This is a star-making performance for Bale since he has some great one-liners and a lot of charm while he seems to have a good time being the playboy. When he's Batman, you better watch out because he brings an intimidation and excitement to a superhero that you can only dream of. He makes Batman more real to an audience since he's someone that feels pain and has fear only to find ways to use that fear for the heart of good. If this doesn't make Bale a full-fledge star, then I don't know what film will do but he deserves every amount of credit for all the hard work from all the film work he's done to actually giving fans a Batman that lives up to the character.

Batman Begins is a magnificent film and one of the rarest of blockbusters that is smart and entertaining thanks in large part to Christopher Nolan, co-writer David S. Goyer, a dedicated film crews, and a great cast led by Christian Bale. Finally, this is Batman film to see. Thank Nolan for not bringing in anything stupid like nipples, Robin, or anything campy. Not even using stupid corporate sponsorship like Batnuggets or a lame Batman credit card. This is by far one of the best films of 2005 and it's really the only blockbuster film to see that is entertaining and filled with great intelligence while remaining true to the comic book fans.

© thevoid99 2011

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