Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Batman Begrins (spoilers!)
Today is opening day for Batman Begins; the picture above was the view from my hotel room near the Grauman's theater where the premiere was hosted early last week. That building was right across the street from the theater and appropriately dominated the landscape. My wife and I had just flown back Sunday night from a wedding in Fano, Italy for the Monday premiere (was at the wedding recepion til 1:30am, slept for 2 hours and then got up at 3:30 am to drive 4 hours to Rome for our 10:30 am flight to the States!) so I was worried that I would fall asleep during the flick since it wasn't going to start til 7pm which is 4am Central European time.
Why the long trek to see the movie...well, I had a very small role in the flick. Now before you waste your time looking for me in the scenes with the Ninjas...what I contributed was at the very beginning. I did the illustrations that are part of the DC credit at the very beginning of the movie. I had seen animated logo before online when it was being created and it lasted some 12-13 seconds. I swear when I saw it on the bigscreen, it felt like 2.
After that, I left the theater and went to bed.
Just kidding. Anyway, I wanted to post my thoughts about Batman Begins before it officially opened. Deadlines got in the way, but better late than never, right?
Couple caveats before I begin. I work for the parent company that produced Batman Begins. I also draw a comic book featuring Batman which may or may not be a positive factor in that I think comic book purists are the toughest a-hole critics to please. Count me in please. I wasn't a huge fan of the original 4 films. They started out really good and then got bigger and flashier and less interesting with each sequel. Just as a litmus test, my favorite 'superhero' comic book movies are Superman, Superman 2, the Rocketeer and Spider-Man 1...and the first Matrix which though technically not based on a comic book, just nails the spirit and intelligence we all look for in a superhero flick.
And you we won't be with Batman Begins. Simply put, this is a GREAT movie; not just a great superhero movie, but a GREAT movie even if Christian Bale never donned the Cape and Cowl halfway through the flick; in other words, the origin pre-Batman was just as or more compelling than when he actually becomes the Dark Knight which is a real tribute to the director Chris Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) and screenwriter David Goyer (Blade). After 20 minutes of watching the movie, Denys Cowan who was sitting next to me, nudged me and said this is already better than all the other movies combined.
And he was right. The first 2/3s of this world are loaded with intense imagery, great scripting and fantastic acting. We see aspects of the origin never really explored before. For one, we see more of the relationship between Thomas Wayne and Bruce that I had never seen in print. No longer just a cipher, a character introduced and killed to create sympathy and motivation to the protagonist, Thomas Wayne is quickly developed to be an extremely likable character. We know instantly who and what kind of person he is and that it's Bruce's need to be like his father and his guilt over his death which drives the man behind the mask, more so than the thirst for revenge against the criminal element.
There were lines and scenes which made me go �"wow, give me more." And more they gave. Not so much in terms of the action, though there is plenty, I have to say that that kind of movie bores me to death. I know it's a function of my age as I have passed into a whole new demographic after hitting 40 but I love the scenes where we see and explore the character of Bruce Wayne and his various interpersonal relationships with his father, Alfred, and Lucius Fox more so than the end fight sequence along the streets of Gotham. Unfortunately, because we are so used to seeing action movies end in big set action sequences, we KNOW beforehand what we will be seeing and the net effect is a bit too point by point for me. Stopped the out of control train? Check. Big showdown with the main villain? Check. As visually fantastic as the action scenes were, I was more mesmerized when the ACTORS got to strut their stuff on the screen.
Which takes me to the casting which for a glitch here and there was just SUPERB. Christain Bale is so talented he can convince you that he is both 17 or 30 years old on the screen and when he looks angry, it's just primal. Cillian Murphy just KILLS as the scarecrow. His crazy piercing eyes really makes this character much more formidable than the one you see in the comics. Micheal Caine's Alfred is just a treat to watch. He can tell he is reigning it in and he still manages to steal his scenes. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox is so damn charismatic and fatherly, it's crazy while Jim Gordon is more understatedly played by Gary Oldman who I wish we got to see more of. Probably plays a much bigger role in the sequel. Liam Neeson does an admirable role of playing the heavy--completely believable and smartly played. I was just glad to see him in a movie where he doesn't die in the first 15 minutes like in Kingdom of Heaven or Gangs of New York (and Star Wars tho he didn't die right away...but you knew it was coming!).
My favorite shot in the movie is a sweeping shot as we pan across Gotham's skyline, passing Batman standing on a spire. It just looks so right, so real, and yet so eerie. Which is the feel the whole movie has. There are some CGI added bits to the downtown landscape but they really feel unnecessary in my humble opinion. The contrast of seeing this crazy masked figure juxtaposed on a real, very naturalistic looking cityscaping is really just breathtaking, much like it was seeing Spider-Man swinging through NYC or Christopher Reeves flying through a classic, modern looking Metropolis. Every environment looks and feels like they were there rather than in front of a green screen or in a movie lot. You can feel the biting cold of Tibet (shot in Iceland) and the dank, slippery rocks which line the Batcave.
Overall, this is a sophisticated, intelligent movie which begs to be seen again and trust me, I haven't seen a movie twice in the theater in nearly a decade. And what I also really enjoyed was the humor in the movie. There are some droll asides from nearly all the principal characters including Batman and it's refreshing to see that even as Batman, Bruce Wayne is not entirely lost behind the mask. Director Chris Nolan really did something difficult here; Batman Begins is an entertaining, dazzling action movie which singlehandedly puts the Ooopmh back into the franchise yet manages to serve up a captivating, haunting tale of a man and his search to exorcise his personal demons.
Afterwards, at the after party, I got to meet some of the people behind Batman Begins but I wanted to get back home since I had been on the road for nearly 2 weeks so we left at midnight and made the 2+hour drive back to San Diego in our rental car which was a fitting bookend to this crazy trip.