Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"Batman Begins": the review

I saw "Batman Begins" over the weekend. Quite entertaining. Very much a Big Hollywood Production: lots of fire, explosions, special effects, and even a couple car chases.

What struck me most about "Batman Begins" was the music, which is chock-full of violins on speed. This wasn't a Tim Burton affair, and I don't think the composers for the new film (among them, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard) were up to Danny Elfman's sweeping orchestral standards. But I do think my brother Sean, himself a professional cellist and occasional composer, would have appreciated the at-times frenetic score.

The principals are all good in their roles. Christian Bale (who gives Batman an exaggerated, Clint Eastwood-style voice when he's wearing the Batsuit) is the right actor to portray inner torment, and props go to Michael Caine for finally producing a watchable Alfred. Liam Neeson continues his string of swordsman roles, Cillian Murphy is a decent Scarecrow, Morgan Freeman is in fine form as Lucius Fox (Batman's version of Q), and Katie Holmes is competent-- if a bit too young-- as Bruce Wayne's sort-of love interest. Of special note: Rutger Hauer, who appears as a minor bad guy, looks damn old. I still remember him as the ruthless, superhuman replicant in "Blade Runner."

Except for the ice-blue training scenes in what is ostensibly Bhutan, the movie is mostly sepia-toned, just like the movie posters. This was an interesting departure from the blue-steel, "Blade Runner"-ish looks of the first two Burton Batman flicks, and a welcome return to seriousness after the turds grunted out by Joel Schumacher.

The movie was largely in keeping with the Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli graphic novel, Batman: Year One. We see a younger Jim Gordon (ably played by Gary Oldman), though unlike the graphic novel, the movie doesn't explore Gordon's marital difficulties. We see the vulgar, corrupt Detective Flass, a hulking footballer in the comic but portrayed as fat and nasty in the movie. Flass undergoes an unpleasant, hanging-upside-down interrogation by the Batman, which is reminiscent of a scene from Frank Miller's true Batmanic masterpiece, the 1980s-era The Dark Knight Returns.

The special effects were serviceable. For me, the best FX moments involved the Scarecrow's hallucinogens. The Scarecrow gets a dose of his own medicine at one point, and his vision of the Batman will leave little kids weeping for days.

As with any Hollywood action flick, there are huge holes in logic. This Batman's no murderer, but he blasts heedlessly through the city with little regard for innocent lives and property. We're also not quite sure how Bruce Wayne, Alfred, and Lucius Fox are able to keep the Batman operation a secret from the world, especially after the complete (and to me, unexpected!) destruction of Wayne Manor.

As a fight choreography junkie, I'll have to join the ranks of critics who complained about the abominable editing of the fights in "Batman Begins." Let's see the moves, man! What we got was reminiscent of Richard Donner's editing of the final fight between Mel Gibson and Gary Busey in "Lethal Weapon." That fight, which took three days to stage and involved four different martial arts, ended up looking like two pissed-off neighbors attacking each other after a wife-swap gone bad. The fights in "Batman Begins" almost all had that same feel.

But the story and acting more than made up for these minor complaints. Although this was an action flick, the essence of "Batman Begins" was, as Liam Neeson's character put it, the "journey inwards." Korean audiences might not relate to America's fascination with telling and retelling stories about our comic heroes, but I found this movie a worthy addition to the Batman canon, and quite possibly the best of the Batman movies thus far.


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