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Vince Reports on Batman Begins

Published June 20, 2005 in Movie Reviews
By Vince Palomarez | Image property of Warner Bros
Batman Begins Batman Begins hits theatres around the world
I still remember the day my faith in the Batman franchise was destroyed. It was the summer of 1997, opening night for the 4th film in the Batman franchise, Batman & Robin. I grew up a huge Batman fan. I'd been reading the comics since I was a little kid and my geek obsession got even worse with the release of the first film (geek alert: when the first film was released, I used to wear a batman shirt every day for a whole summer because I was such a huge fan of the film). Granted, the next two films (Batman Returns, Batman Forever) didn't even come close to the first film, but they didn't get too out of hand and it was just really cool seeing the comic you always loved as a movie. Then a mixture of inflated studio egos, bad casting, careless screenwriting and a director who had no love (or idea) for who the character really was destroyed that franchise before my very eyes. What was supposed to be a film centered on a very dark and brooding vigilante who instilled fear in his victims became a campy colorful event more similar to the 1970's TV series than the comic. Gone was everything Batman represented and in its place you got to see incredibly bad acting and witty puns (How can you not forget Schwarzenegger spouting off such lines as "Chill out" and "This party is on ice") and convenient product placement (does anyone remember when Batman paid with his bat credit card?).

Batman Begins Review

Batman Begins Tom Wilkinson plays Carmine Falcone
Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought this because the film bombed at the box office and killed the comic book movie for a long time. Eventually time healed all wounds and with the success Marvel was having with their films Warner Brothers decided to give it one more shot, but this time instead of big name stars, corny plots and overacting, the studio decided that they needed to keep the film faithful to the character. The first decision they made was to go out of the box and enlist a director (Christopher Nolan) whose two previous films (Memento, Insomnia) were more geared for the art house movie fan than the big blockbuster fan. The next move was to shy away from whatever big name actor was on top of the A-list star chain and go for more reputable actors (Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman) who could add depth to their characters not seen in the previous two films. The director and studio decided to go back to the basics and focus on the origin of Batman rather than remind viewers of why the franchise was destroyed by building off of Batman & Robin. The end result is Batman Begins, which is an excellent foundation to rebuild the franchise to what it should've been.

Right off the bat (no pun intended) this film separates itself from it's predecessors by setting a dark and serious tone that hasn't been seen in any previous Batman film. Gone are the over the top villains with their witty puns and outrageous behavior and costumes. In its place are characters more based in reality (well as close to reality as you can get with a guy dressed up in a bat suit fighting crime) who have a little more depth than what the previous films gave to their villains. Both villains have an agenda and a passion for what they are doing. While the Scarecrow's (Cillain Murphy) motives are a bit more financially based, Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) on the other hand is a man of passion who believes in justice, but goes about the wrong way of enforcing that justice. Both actors do an excellent job of making their characters shine, while not taking away from the main story.

Batman Begins Batman Begins
While previous versions focused more on the villains because of their big name star value and focused less on Batman/Bruce Wayne, this film does the complete opposite. This film is all about Bruce Wayne/Batman and what makes him the crime fighter that he is today. And they couldn't have made a better choice than casting Christian Bale (American Psycho, Equilibrium, Empire of the Sun). Bale conveys such emotion and brooding anger with every scene that you can't help but find an emotional attachment to Bruce Wayne not found in any of the other films. One moment he can be seething with anger and the very next he can be charmingly funny and charismatic which emphasizes the dual identities Bruce Wayne/Batman has to deal with. He is the perfect choice to play this role and his commitment and passion for the role he plays helps give the film a huge sense of legitimacy that it sorely needed. The rest of the cast (minus Katie Holmes who seems way out of her league here) does an excellent job making their supporting roles shine especially Michael Caine and Liam Neeson who pretty much steal every scene they are in.

In terms of the story, Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer (Blade 1-3) take a page from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One comic. Instead of just jumping right into the action, Nolan and Goyer spend close to an hour explaining to you what exactly made Bruce Wayne become Batman. Some people may be upset about not seeing enough Batman in the film, but what would Batman be without Bruce Wayne? He'd be some rich nut who wears tights and beats up criminals. By going in depth with Batman's origin you really understand why he does what he does. The story may run a little long and get a little too outrageous with the final face off, but the little details and emphasis on character over action really makes the story very compelling even to the non Batman fan.

If Batman Begins has any flaws it's the dialogue. Even though the film tries to be as serious and realistic as possible (again, as realistic as a man dressing up in a bat suit and fighting crime can be), most of the dialogue comes off as a bunch of long winded preachy monologues. As a lifelong comic book fan I am used to this kind of stuff, but to the average viewer it can come off as a bit overdramatic and corny at times. There is also one scene involving Batman interacting with a young boy that kind of makes you wince, but both of these issues take nothing away from this film.

Distancing itself from its predecessors and taking a more serious approach to the character, Batman Begins is a huge success. By not taking the same route the previous films took and instead caring about the story they were creating, this film is clearly the best of the previous four and quite possibly one of the best comic book films of all time. An excellent script, a proven director, and a great cast help to bring some legitimacy and hope back to the comic book movie after some recent bombs (Daredevil, Elektra, Hellboy) and if done right, bring some hope to future films (Fantastic Four, Superman Returns). Batman Begins will help erase the horrible past that was the George Clooney/Joel Schumacher era and is a great step in rebuilding the fans' faith in the Batman franchise.


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Vince Palomarez
Sources: Image property of Warner Bros

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