Friday, July 16, 2010

Batman Begins

I'll be honest, when Bryce (a.k.a. Evil Dead Junkie, the name I've known him by for far longer), put out an appeal for his Nolan-a-thon for Things That Don't Suck, I knew I wanted to write something, but I had no idea what. Memento was a watershed moment for me as a moviegoer, Batman is my favorite superhero, Inception looks to bare more than a passing resemblance to an old favorite of mine, Dark City.

So what to write? A nostalgic bit about seeing Memento in an art house before it became a breakout hit? Something about Nolan's mastery of genre filmmaking, which lead to one of the biggest movies ever made in a genre most Hollywood types said would never draw a mainstream audience? A comparison between two movies by bold directors that use dreams and sleep as the central mechanic?

In the end, I decided to go with what I expect to be the least covered movie of the blogothon, Batman Begins. Batman Begins will forever be overshadowed by The Dark Knight, and with myraid good reasons. It has overall better villians, better performances and, most importantly, you see Batman within five minutes, as opposed to Batman Begins, in which the Bat is absent for well over an hour of screentime.

The problem is, the first film has now been kind of shuffled to the side, and is ignored for all the great things it did do. One being it took villians which heretofore would never have had a chance at gracing a movie screen. Quite honestly, I'm surprised the studio let Ra's Al-Ghul find his way into the multiplex (though, to be fair, he's toned down and much shallower of a character than his comic counterpart). The Scarecrow is less surprising, but the fact that he made it through intact is nothing short of a miracle in the world of the Hollywood Rogues Gallery. I mean, look at what they did to Bane!

Jonathan Crane's alter ego is one of my favorite Batman villians, one who I always felt was a true threat to him. Cillian Murphy plays the role brilliantly, giving the doctor the right amount of quiet menace, and the Scarecrow the perfect maniacal edge. The only real shame is that we barely get to see the true Scarecrow in action, and it's Rachel Dawes, not Batman, who has the movie's last encounter with him. Unsatistfying, to say the least. But the encounter in the apartment is excellent, and exemplifies exactly what makes him such a threat to Batman.

The story borrows a bit from Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, particularly as it pertains to the mob element, but on balance probably gives a more satisfactory origin for Bruce Wayne. We see more of Thomas' influence on young Bruce, and see much more of his travels in the name of fighting evil. Tying everything back with Ra's Al-Ghul just makes for a nice cherry on top.

The thing that really makes the movie successful, though, and lays the groundword for the incredible sequel, is Nolan. All good Batman movies have a strong unity of vision, thanks to quality direction, and this one is no exception. The style of the Batmobile (which I, quite frankly, don't like, but it fits with the aethetics), the villians costumes, the Batcave, even Gotham itself all look like they belong in the same world.

Now, while Tim Burton's Batman films both have this, it was Nolan who really raised the bar with Batman Begins (though some credit goes to Bryan Singer's X-Men films) to the point where something like the '90s Captain America movie just isn't acceptable anymore. You can't make half-assed attempts at comics just to make box office anymore. Fans, not just of comics, but of movies, expect a higher quality piece of work now. And that's Batman Begins' most important contribution.

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