When Batman Begins the Beguine
by Mike Baron
The world has been waiting for my commentary because, let's face it, hardly anyone is discussing this movie. Not! The world needs more Batman Begins commentary like it needs more global warming. Nevertheless. The announcement a year ago that Batman Begins would star Christian Bale signaled its intent. Christian Bale was an inspired choice: serious and sensual. Batman Begins becomes the best Batman movie by default simply because it treats the story with respect and never winks at the audience. Michael Keaton was a very good Batman, but he was surrounded by the usual Tim Burton high camp carnival. It was fun, but it was wrong. Subsequent Bat films descended into mush. Val Kilmer's and George Clooney's Batmen aren't even memorable. And that dreadful hack Joel Schumacher continues to garner assignments.
© 2005 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.
Batman Begins is more than memorable. Wayne Manor looks like we always thought it should, although it appears inexplicably on the edge of vast farmland with no city in sight. It should have been sighted on overgrown, craggy bluffs. We first meet Wayne in a Chinese slave labor camp where he's gaining knowledge of the criminal mind. That's the kind of tough-minded story-telling initiated by Denny O'Neil and followed by a host of excellent writers. There's only one problem, but it's enormous. Christopher Nolan is clueless when it comes to staging action sequences. What should have been revelatory fights with the clarity and logic of a Bruce Lee or Steven Seagal become incoherent mish-mashes of interchangeable limbs and extreme close-ups.
The film needed a fight choreographer and a director who understands that the audience wants to see technique. We don't want to take his word for it that Batman is the baddest cat on the planet. Ridley Scott suffered from the same problem in Gladiator. The glaring hole in both these ostensible action films is inexplicable.
The story is a mixed bag. The realism and motivation is admirable, but the Villains Evil Plot, to save Gotham by destroying it, seems wack. Surely the world's most wicked city doesn't lie in the U.S. And why doesn't the microwave transmitter used to vaporize the city's water supply cause every human in its vicinity to explode?
Morgan Freeman is fine as Lucius Fox, and Michael Caine was a surprisingly effective Alfred. I say surprising, because like Jack Nicholson as the Joker, he looks too thick for the role. But that's the difference between comic art and the movies. In comics, you draw your characters as thin as you like. In movies, only the 'A' list can afford the personal trainers and cocaine necessary to preserve their Giacometti figures. I would have preferred Ken Watanabe remain Ra's Al Ghul, rather than Liam Neeson. And the guy who played the Scarecrow was a lightweight. Katie Holmes seems too young for the part. She's been axed from the sequel for failing to properly publicize the film, what with her newfound love (Scientology) and all.
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