Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Film Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Oh man, is this movie eight years old already? Boy, does that make me feel old! I remember when this film first came out. It was hailed as the greatest superhero film ever made. When this movie trudged into theaters, all previous superheroic attempts were lost in its long shadow. The previous Batman embarrassments were forgotten, DC was sitting pretty on a gorgeous new franchise, combined with the recent Spider-Man movies and there was hope that Batman Begins would usher in a new era for the superhero movie. One where the stories were taken seriously, one where Hollywood stopped being afraid of creating real characters.

As a kid (eight years ago puts me at a whopping thirteen years old), I hated this movie to death. Hated it.

I was a real dumb kid.

Despite that, my child-self did get something right, something which kind of is a legitimate complaint. The film is called "Batman Begins", and it does heavily reinforce the idea that Bruce Wayne is the mask that Batman wears. However, it only reinforces that notion by saying so, as what it shows is that the film should have probably been called "Bruce Wayne". Not Batman. This is not a Batman movie, this is a Bruce Wayne movie, much like how it's sequel could have been called "Joker" without requiring any changes.

Whether this is a good thing or not is entirely up to the viewer. As my opinions have shifted over time I've come to realize that the main characters really should be the people beneath the mask and not the mask itself, and I have a hard time discussing with other hero fans because of this. See, I have this habit where instead of calling Iron Man "Iron Man", I call him "Tony". Instead of calling Human Torch "Human Torch", I call him "Johnny". That's because those are the characters. Human Torch isn't any more the real person than, say, I am "Raptor". This movie follows that, but it seems weird for Bruce Wayne because by all accounts, DC does not like the civilian identities of their heroes even a little bit. Superman is not "Clark", he's not even "Kal-El", he's "Superman". This is moreso for Batman.

Primarily this is because DC has never been good at creating compelling civilian identities. They simply aren't important. Unlike the Marvel pantheon, whose supporting casts of average people are incredibly important, DC only has two aspects to any hero that really matters: the costume, and the girl. That's it. In some cases those go hand in hand, in other cases they don't. Really though, that's all DC has ever written.

Note that I'm not saying that DC doesn't write actually stories for their characters, they most certainly do. All I'm saying is that the stories are not written to progress the civilian identity so much as they are to progress the notion that the mask is the character. In other words, DC is full of Venoms.

Because of this it's a little weird to have a movie so heavily focused on Bruce Wayne. I'm not saying it's bad, it's really good, actually. The thing is, it's not a Batman movie, and that's what it calls itself and that's what sold it, what sells it, and what people are expecting when they watch it. From that perspective it's a little disappointing. Batman Begins really is not a superhero movie so much as it is a movie which features a superhero character. And I hesitate to even call this interpretation of the Batman character a superhero. Really, he's a vigilante.

What this movie really is is a movie about a character. It's kind of a coming of age movie, but already beyond the point of puberty. It's a movie about a man trying to find his place in the world, trying to find how to improve that world. Batman just happens to be a persona this man creates in an attempt to find that place. Mixed in with all these feelings are a number of aspects inspired by various genres from pulp, to superhero, to detective, to crime drama. Bits and pieces of this all over the place, tightly woven together with a dash of noire to create a unique experience which can be taken seriously, even though when looked at in retrospect, just as the cliff's notes of what this is, it shouldn't be.

If you were to judge this movie just on all the ideas put into it spilled out in a brief synopsis, it would be some of the hokiest stuff since the original Thundercats cartoon. Despite this, Chris Nolan has managed to create a truly dark, truly emotional, truly solid, and truly serious world. I'm sure having Howl Pendragon playing Christian Bale playing Bruce Wayne playing Batman helped a bit, but I'm more than certain Nolan's direction is the true driving force here.

There are aspects of the film which felt a little dry, and still left me a little disappointed because they just weren't comic book enough for me. I don't know, I guess I'm just a little more childish than the movie wants me to be. I did think it was good, and I thought it was worthy taking the tone it did to tell this story. And I know for a fact that I love at least the first of its sequels. I just don't know if this is what I'd like to see Batman as on a regular basis. Over all though, the movie was good. If you're looking for a superhero movie, watch something else. If you're looking for a movie about one man finding his purpose, searching on the brink of death, and you don't mind a lot of heavy exposition and slow moments and actually paying very close attention to the film before you, yeah, this is great.

Great, but still dull at times. I don't know where this fits on my ratings exactly. There are so many other movies I would rather watch again, and I guess I'll have to make that the deciding factor. How many other movies would I prefer to watch over Batman Begins? When the simple answer to that is "Everything Marvel Studios has put out so far, plus most of the DC Animated films", I can't really give this a "Great" score. I'll have to settle on "Good". Batman Begins is good, with a seven out of ten.


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