I saw Batman Begins at the midnight showing Tuesday of last week. I’ve been holding off on the review until I saw a second viewing of the film, one unmarred by the wear of sleep.
Upon first viewing, I marveled at what I considered to be the finest interpretation of Batman ever put on film. Upon second viewing, I concede that it may not be the finest. That honor still probably belongs to Batman Mask of the Phantasm. Batman Begins is a close second, at the very least.
Batman Begins is a quasi-realization of Frank Miller’s Batman Year One. Gotham is in the throes of crime and corruption. It is in a state of moral decline without a glimmer of hope to guide it through the darkness. Or it would be, if the city wasn’t so hopeful and appealing. It’s a sprawling sea of steel and glass, ornamented with beautiful women and fast cars. This is probably the most believable vision of Gotham City ever conceived but because of this, it loses the hopeless quality that brought Batman into being in the first place.
For the most part, the story holds true to history. Bruce Wayne witnesses the death of his parents (at the gunpoint of Joe Chill, not “Jack Napier” as the abysmal and over the top 1989 Batman led us to believe). Through sheer force of will, he becomes Batman—a dichotomous symbol of hope and fear. Unlike previous interpretations, Bruce’s path is not so clear. Bruce is a lost soul seeking meaning and vengeance for the death of his parents. He happens across The League of Shadows and their master, R’as Al Ghul. R’as takes Bruce’s physical prowess and sharpened focus and turns it inward so that he may find the ultimate meaning and with it the means for vengeance. A disagreement on the means to find vengeance creates an irreparable split between R’as and Bruce and Bruce leaves The League of Shadows to find his own way in Gotham.
Once in Gotham, Bruce rejoins his parent’s company and finds Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman. Lucius oversees a collection of defunct technologies that Bruce will use in his war on crime. Through trial and error, Bruce creates his means to battle the forces of evil and corruption. He shall become a bat. It’s interesting watching the development of Batman as a technology. This aspect was completely ignored in 1989’s Batman. Batman must be believable, to an extent as he is just a man. Tim Burton’s Batman was a billionaire psychotic—a man of vast wealth and technology but of unclear means. How did he develop these talents? Who is he? This is something that we never find out. In Batman Begins, we are well aware of who Bruce Wayne is before we ever lay eyes on Batman. This creates a much more believable platform.
Christian Bale was a superb choice for Batman. He’s a stronger Bruce Wayne than Keaton or Clooney and a better Batman than Clooney, Keaton or Kilmer. (Kilmer would’ve been an excellent Batman had he been given a script and director to work with.)
Michael Caine was a very good choice as Alfred Pennyworth. Caine has the power of presence to pull off Batman’s father figure. He has a strong wit and a loyalty that is never in doubt. He is Bruce’s anchor to reality, as he should be.
As my friend Jason pointed out, Morgan Freeman has played the wise old man for far too long. It seems that Freeman has been playing himself for the last ten years. I have no complaints with Morgan Freeman but I would’ve like to saw a younger man play Lucius. Freeman is a second (third?) father figure for Bruce. It’s fitting, I suppose, for a man with father issues to have so many to choose from.
Jim Gordon was played by Gary Oldman and he did an admirable job. He certainly looked the part.
R’as Al Ghul was a good choice as a villain for this film. As a terrorist, he plays into the fears of our modern sensibilities. I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Mad Hatter later on. As terrorism was the prevailing fear peddled in the media for the last few years, child abduction is currently vogue.
The plot of the movie, I’ll not spoil. It’s a bit convoluted but not to the point to where it detracts from the movie. The love subplot was believable and holds true to Batman tradition.
It wasn’t hard for this to be the best live action Batman yet. The five previous movies (including the 1968 camp fest) were all of questionable quality. As a film, it’s excellent. As a Batman film, it’s the pinnacle that all subsequent Bat films will be judged by.
All in all, it’s the fourth best comic movie ever, after Superman, Spider-Man 2 and Sin City.
Not bad, Warner Brothers.