Batman Begins review by The Grim Ringler

As a movie nerd and a part time comic nerd, it’s hard to know how to take it when Hollywood decides that it’s suddenly in love with comic books. I mean, of late, the movies have been a lot better than average. Sure, some have sucked, but to me, even a so-so movie like Daredevil was still fun (especially the director’s cut) and had something to offer. I think fans have to let go of their need for the comics and films to directly correlate. I mean, it’s all going to be digested and processed through the Hollywood machine and all you can do is hope that it turns out better than you expect and at least true to the comic’s spirit. I mean, take Spiderman. No, it isn’t accurate, but it’s true to the spirit of the comic and character and made for a couple great movies. But it’s interesting, if you step back and look at things. What we have now, with comics, are fun summer action films. Which is sorta what they are…on a level. Yes, they are loud and bombastic, and are full of action and are great fun. But the best comics always had something else going on. Another level. And some of the movies are getting that, but most are just focusing on the big battles and action. Which I can understand. But then you have something like Sin City, which changed the paradigm a bit. It took the comic and molded the film around it, making the film conform to the world of the comic. It had been tried before, but never so successfully. And suddenly a comic was as much arthouse showcase as it was a fun action film (and yes, you have American Splendor and Ghost World but we are not talking dramatic comics here, which are a different world altogether). But with Batman – Begins the bar has been raised even higher. This is not just a summer film, not just an action film, not just a superhero film, nope, this is a fully realized action thriller with real characters, real drama, and a completely new take on a familiar character.

This is what Batman needed, and what comic fans needed even more – validation. For too long comics have been seen and shown as full color actioners about men in tights and their hulking enemies. With Batman – Begins we have a film that works from the character outwards, showing his becoming of the Batman as a reaction to a world he can no longer believe in. This is not Tim Burton’s wonderfully over the top comic book adaptation but a reinvention of the character ala the dark, realistic worlds of Frank Miller, who brought the Batman into a world of violence where he was as much in the shadows as those he pursued.

Bruce Wayne (the wonderfully cast Christian Bale) is a lost man. Held captive in an Asian prison after being caught during a cargo theft, he is a man who has lost his family, his sense of self, and his belief in man. It is only when a stranger comes to him and presents him with a challenge and a promise that there are others in the world that seek justice that Bruce finds hope. And it is only when he finds the people this man was speaking of that Bruce takes the first steps towards finding himself. He joins this group, learning to master his anger under the tutelage of the stranger, and he finally feels he has a purpose – he will mete out justice to those that deserve it. But when he is ready to graduate and lead this band of vigilantes he finds he cannot go as far as they demand him to in order to make sure justice is served. Knowing that this is not the justice he is ready to serve, he escapes and returns to Gotham, his home, where he will re-take his place at the company his father created and will decide how best to serve justice. Using the training he learned overseas, Bruce creates a phantom, a monster that will fight crime. A man-bat that will stalk those who would do Gotham harm, always in the shadows and always watching. Utilizing prototype military material that has become so much forgotten clutter, Wayne starts putting together the character of the Batman. As successful as his first operations are though, Alfred, his man-servant and caretaker (Michael Caine making a great character here) reminds him that he must also nourish the man, and not just the beast, and so the billionaire playboy is born, though begrudgingly, in order to serve the will of the Batman. A cover must be maintained. What he finds though is that by being this playboy Bruce takes something away from him, away from what he is doing, though perhaps it’s that the woman he had grown up loving now sees him as a self-absorbed fool, and not as the servant of justice that she has become. He is conflicted. But there is no time for questions as while he has been preparing the Batman and learning how to fight crime, a doctor at Arkham Asylum has been serving a master that is all too familiar to Bruce, and serving him well. This doctor has been experimenting with fear and its effects on the mind and, with the help of a deadly toxin, can now manipulate fear and cause people to go mad from it. He has been poisoning the water supply of Gotham and is just about ready to unveil his great masterpiece, just in time for his master to come calling. Batman is there to stop this before it can go to far, but can he face down the very man that trained him and vanquish not just his enemy, but also his own fear?

I was so impressed with this film, and what it achieves. Wow. Christopher Nolan has re-invented the Batman mythos and has made him a real man in a real world and with real freakin’ issues. He’s nuts, and is told as much by those that love him. But it is only through Batman that Wayne can help the dying city of Gotham and find peace in himself. The best thing about the movie is that Nolan shoots the sequences with Batman in them as you would a horror film. Batman is an animal, a monster, a thing to fear, and he is shot as such. One sequence even looks like it was snatched from Carpenter’s The Thing, and that’s the feeling you have – dread. He is a madman and deadly because of how driven he is. There are two villains in the film, but the real foe of Wayne is himself and his past, something we never saw in the previous films. He cannot stop blaming himself for the death of his parents and as such cannot let the past go. It is his past that drives him. But it is the love of Alfred that tethers him to Bruce when Batman starts to take control.

To me, I couldn’t really nit-pick. The acting is superb, the action amazing, and the set design was great. This looks like a real city, like a real New York, and is not art-directed into submission. I love that this feels like a real city, though one that is a bit touched up with some Wayne tech gadgets, but a city nonetheless. I think the biggest gripe I have is that Scarecrow doesn’t get much screen time, though the film isn’t about the villains as much as this first journey for Bruce Wayne and Batman. The villains are well portrayed, and important to the story, but only so far as to push the character forward. Which is what this is all about. Not grand speeches and jaw dropping action (though the action is great), but about one man’s quest for himself, for justice, and for an end to his fear.

I adore this film. It blew me away. It was a deeper, better film than I expected. It is stylistic, but not at the cost of the story, it is thrilling, but not at the cost of the characters, and it has resonance but not at the cost of a fun adventure. Welcome back Batman, we missed ya.


9 out of 10 Jackasses
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