DVD Review Of
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 4/27/06
Christian Bale is, bar none, the best actor to ever portray Batman onscreen, and only Guy Pearce, I believe, could have come as close to being as good. Batman Begins, by director Christopher Nolan, who made the classic Memento (starring Pearce) and the good American version of Insomnia, shows that he understands what has made Batman the most popular superhero in comic book history- yes, surpassing both Superman and Spider-Man. That said, as good a comic book film as Batman Begins is, thatís all it is. It has no real depth, other than in the realm it occupies. But, thatís more than enough for your average moviegoer. At 2 hours and 20 minutes in length, it also re-visions Batman, not as a psychotic loner who makes himself into an avenger, nor as the campy icon of the 1960s television hit, nor the last two installments of the 1990s film franchise, but as a Ninja warrior. This is good, in that it allows Liam Neeson, as the villain Raís Al Ghul (who uses the alias Henri Ducard), to finally allow his penchant for wooden acting and spouting inane Oriental koans to be fully realized, unlike his turn in the second Star Wars trilogy, but bad in that it utterly undermines the psychological complexity of the Bruce Wayne character, for the Batman, in his purest original form, is a vigilante driven by vengeance, not a savior. Neeson has not had a role so suited to his Lurch-like acting style since Darkman.
Fortunately, this is not a character study in film, itís a comic book film, so this schism has little effect on the film. The mythos of the character is well known. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy whose parents were murdered. He then reeks vengeance on fearful criminals. This leads him to Raísís League Of Shadows warrior band. They fall out over Bruceís lack of wanting to kill to combat evil. Rasís fortress burns down and Bruce saves his life. When he returns to Gotham City after seven years in Tibet, or, at least, away from the city, he vows to wipe out the mob element. What he does not expect to encounter is a corrupt legal system and a psychotic psychiatrist named Jonathan Crane, who is working for Raís, to poison the city with psychotic gases that can be unleashed, and also lets loose all the criminals from the Arkham insane asylum. Crane calls himself The Scarecrow, and uses fear to manipulate others. In the end, Batman defeats Crane and Ras, saves the city, and also loses his mansion. As the film ends he meets on a rooftop with Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), one of the few good cops in the city, and they discuss a new threat, a wacko who calls himself The Joker.
So much of this film owes its structure and fiber to the first two Spider-Man films- from the hints of future villains to a train crash, that thereís no effort to even hide those facts. But, so what? If youíre gonna steal, steal from the best, and the first two Spider-Man films are the pinnacle of the comic book genre of films. There are good performances from many of the actors portraying Batman comic book regulars, from Michael Caine (Alfred the butler), Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)- Wayneís version of James Bondís Q, and even Katie Holmes as ADA Rachel Dawes, the putative love interest for Bale in the film, even though no chemistry between the two is developed. Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone, the mob boss, is also good, as is Rutger Hauer, as Wayne Enterprises chairman, Richard Earle. Even some flashback scenes of Bruce Wayne with his parents, especially his father Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache), work well, and donít drag down the action. The same can be said of the scenes of how Wayne slowly accrues his Bat gadgets. The score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is very well deployed and evocative, and the script by Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer is taut, yet also pop culturally savvy.
As for the DVD, thereís only a trailer. Thatís it. Bare bones as it gets. Itís a shame that Warner Brothers didnít go all out with extras, but neither did they push this film like they did the earlier franchise. I suspect thatís because they didnít really believe that this darker version could succeed. That said, as good as this film is, there is none of the needed levity that even Tim Burtonís first Batman film, in 1989, brought, back when it was considered the dark take on the Dark Knight, and the sequel to this film will be interesting, to say the least, for how in the world will anyone top Jack Nicholson as The Joker? The film lands somewhere between camp and grit, but could have needed a bit more camp, thus why it just misses out on being a great film- even if only in a comic book vein, like the first Batman film by Tim Burton. That said, this darker avenue bodes better for the future of this new franchise, even if it means enduring the grim-faced and dubious Oriental philosophies that even martial arts films are wise enough to wink at.
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