Sunday, April 3, 2011

Year of the Superhero - Batman Begins

I have a number of fuzzy memories of Batman. I know I've seen Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and the greater part of Batman Returns, but besides the characters, I can't tell you anything except that I thought they were fun but really kind of cheesy. I also remember watching episodes of the 1990s cartoon after school, but the only images left are of Batman jumping off buildings. A lot of my knowledge of Batman and Arkham and Gotham comes from cultural osmosis.

So Batman Begins is not my first encounter with the character, but it's the first major one, the one that's going to be 'my' Batman, in a way. A confession: I watched it for the first time last week. It didn't interest me when it was in theatres, you see, at least not enough to drive into town alone to watch it. I found it interesting, and fun, and true to what I know of Batman, but I'm not sure how much enjoyment I'd have gotten if I knew nothing about Batman at all. (Luckily, I think just about everyone knows a little about Batman these days.)

I enjoyed the mountaintop ninjutsu training. Don't know whether the comic book Batman is a ninja or just really good at martial arts, but hey, never passing up ninjas in a movie, and it totally makes sense for him to know that stuff. I felt all the training, and the montage of Bruce's criminal activities, went on a little long. 'Twas cool and everything, but when I'm tempted to fast forward…. I liked that we got the background of why Bruce went to those lengths (Falcone, the murder of his parents' killer), because it grounded everything a little, and because I didn't know about those aspects of Bruce's past. I knew his parents were dead and therefore his motive, but… yeah.

I also really liked the action scenes in Gotham. Gotham would not be Gotham without an excessive amount of grit, and Batman would not be Batman if he didn't wantonly destroy public property in the pursuit of justice. I commend Nolan for making that level of destruction fit the mood of the scene, and not make it silly and pulling the audience out of the story. Would have been easy to do, I think. Batman would also not be Batman without his toys, and so the scenes with Morgan Freeman (!) were a lot of fun as well. Especially the bit with the Batmobile.

I haven't talked about the post-ninjas story yet, and I should. I'm probably in the minority, but I didn't mind that Scarecrow, Ra's Al Ghul, Carmine Falcone, and corrupt cops were all part of it. It worked for me. Double-crossing, secret agendas, and alliances between criminals make for good story and good tension. I also thought the twist on the poisoned water supply trope was nicely done, though flashing between the action in the aftermath and the guys watching the water pressure was a bit much. Did we really need them to tell us the stakes when we already knew them? Ah well. Minor quibble.

Other things I enjoyed: Setting up the Batcave, Alfred, the understated Bruce-Rachel dynamic, Rachel herself, Gordon the long-suffering good cop, the way the cops treated the idea of a vigilante, the score, the little nods to reality in the problems with the masks and the need for a grappler gun, the bit about the Joker at the end.

Batman Begins is an odd movie, though. Lots of great stuff in it, but it felt almost like two short films tied together. We see Bruce Wayne learn to fight and get his morals on. Then we see him donning the cape and fighting crime. The two aren't linked together very well narratively. I don't get much sense of ongoing character development. Bruce mentally becomes Batman during the climax of the ninja sequence, and then we get a standard Batman-fights-bad-guys story. He doesn't change that much between returning to Gotham and the end credits. What does change, we're told by Al Ghul, instead of being allowed to see for ourselves.

Overall, though, it's an enjoyable movie, better than the average superhero film, and could be watched just for the fight scenes because they deliver, they really do. I'm glad I saw it, whereas I kind of felt Batman Forever was a waste of my time. (I gather that's normal, though.) And now that I've seen Batman Begins, I can now let myself see The Dark Knight. I put that off because I wanted to watch the movies in sequence, and because I took Heath Ledger's death really hard.

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