Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Written by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (the "Blade"
trilogy; the upcoming "Ghost Rider").
Starring Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine and Morgan
Release Year: 2005
Review Date: 6/20/05
The 1989 Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson flick
"Batman" holds a special place in my heart; it was 16 years ago
(!!!) that I fell in love with the big-screen comic book adaption,
something that at the time had not quite been hacked to pieces and
that drew great actors, big budgets, a visionary at the helm (Tim
Burton) and a soundtrack that mixed maybe the best score ever by
Danny Elfman and the flawed-yet-funny idea that Prince could pull
off a title track. (Sorry, Dad...I know how much you love your
boy!) I still can't believe that Nicholson wasn't nominated
for an Oscar that year; the performance is brilliant, demonic,
hilarious, you name it...and, as everyone knows, Keaton's career was
at its peak after the first "Batman" film, only to die in the misery
that is "White Noise."
The Bat-films that followed were various
forms of horseshit, none more abysmal than "Batman & Robin", still
to this day the only film that drove Dave Bell nearly insane.
(Those that were in attendance that day still remember Dave's
reaction to Coolio hangin' out onscreen: "Man, that guy's a
fuckin' sellout!") Even the 1966 film version of the campy TV
show with Adam West & Burt Ward was a dog, but what did you expect
with acting slightly better than a high school play? So, at
first I was worried when I heard that some asshole decided it was
time for a Bat-remake.
But, back in December, I read somewhere that
Christopher Nolan--the director of my favorite film of 2000,
to direct the new Batman flick, so I figured I had to check this one
out...and, in the ways that you would expect with Nolan--character,
story, pacing--"Batman Begins" delivers. This go-round, we
start from, uh, the beginning, as we get the recap of what happens
after Bruce Wayne loses his very-financially-secure parents in a
robbery attempt as a child; Bruce (played in adult years by
Christian Bale) grows up rich but unhappy and after getting tired of
seeing his hometown Gotham run by local criminals, he skips town and
ends up somewhere in Asia, gets caught committing low-level crimes
and is tossed into jail, where he is discovered one day by Ducard
(Liam Neeson), a member of the League of Shadows. This League
is hell-bent on eradicating crime in major cities, so after Bruce is
broken out of prison he journeys to the League's HQ to learn their
ways, many of which make their way into the Bat-handbook in later
After this prologue, Bruce heads back to
Gotham, only to find the city in worse shape than ever; along with
his long-time butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and a scientist at his
family's business, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce begins to
craft an alter ego that he can use to fight crime in his hometown.
He'll need all the help he can get to take on the local mob boss
(Tom Wilkinson), a shady mental health doctor (Cillian Murphy), and
the doctor's boss, not to mention a bunch of thugs bent on making
life tough for the Batguy.
Thanks to the bevy of great actors in this
film, "Batman Begins" has a strange big-budget independent film feel
to it, mostly to good effect. Freeman and Caine are big-time,
certainly, but their penchant for understatement works well against
the backdrop of what looks like a ridiculously expensive production.
Add in Gary Oldman, former Oscar nominees Wilkinson and Ken Watanabe
(from "In the Bedroom" and "The Last Samurai", respectively),
castoffs like Rutger Hauer and even a cameo from renowned
international star Rade Serbedzija--he's the homeless guy floating
around--and you have some great work that isn't swallowed up by big
special effects, big action sequences and the big Wayne Manor of
this film. Hell, even Katie Holmes, who has gone indie for the
majority of her film career with "The Gift", "Go" and
April", is pretty solid as well.
The story is great and is mixed well between
present and past events; the flow of the dialogue is great, never
too cheesy or over-the-top; the score is good, not fantastic, but it
does the trick; the atmosphere is appropriate but admittedly, I
liked the darker feel of the 1989 version better. I did love
the effect that the Scarecrow mask had on his victims, none better
than when it is turned on himself, making the Batman mask look like
it was puking tar, to strong effect. "Batman Begins" feels a
"Star Wars Episode III" in its prequel-ness; you love seeing the
makings of the Batcave, or the first iteration of the Batmobile
(essentially a tank, the "tumbler" might be the coolest thing in the
movie), or the first efforts of Wayne to come up with a costume, or
how to fly, or how to carve out a social life while fighting crime.
All of that stuff is cool. The two
things I didn't like, enough to bring it down a grade:
1) The action.
I am tiring of the new tendency of action
films to show me action from too close a vantage point; by this, I
mean that I had real trouble figuring out what was happening during
fistfights pretty much the whole time I was watching "Batman
Begins", an easy problem to solve if we just move the camera back
about 15 feet. As an example, the first fight scene, where
Bruce is attacked by a bunch of guys in that Asian prison.
After the assailants fall into the courtyard, you are essentially
watching a mob attack Bruce, and then you get 20 seconds of punching
sounds, guys getting walloped, camerawork so fast and close that you
can't really even tell where Bruce is, and then about 10 prisoners
laying around in pain, apparently whooped by Bruce/Batman to pieces.
Wish I could have seen it. All of the fight scenes in "Batman
Begins" are this way, and in general, they suck. I also found
myself laughing whenever I watched Liam Neeson beat the hell out of
someone; come on. The one set piece I did like was the car
chase where Bruce drives all over Gotham trying to get his girl an
antidote. The driver-seat-pull-forward-to-periscope/fire car
weapons mode was sexy-hot.
2) The bad guys.
As I noted, I do think the Scarecrow
mask/poison thing is cool. (I also loved the little nod to
Crane and the Headless Horseman, which I think about 100% of my
audience missed as I cackled in my seat.) Otherwise, our
villains here suck. I understand that you have to build up to
big-time baddies--Penguin, Joker and Freeze, for starters--but the
mob boss, Scarecrow, and the head of the League of Shadows just
didn't measure up. They also weren't, well, very evil, which
brought down the coolness a little bit for me. ("Hey Gotham,
we're going to poison your water and make you go all
crazy-like...that'll learn ya!") This will certainly be
addressed in future films, should Bale & Co. sign on to do more of
these things, but even attempting to one-up the Nicholson-as-Joker
performance strikes this loyal man as blasphemy.
Otherwise, very strong stuff, and this (kinda)
erases the bad memories I have about Tommy Lee Jones attempting to
do comic book by playing Two-Face in "Batman Forever."
Hopefully Nolan will come back to do a sequel.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard