Published Jul 01, 2005Life and film studio battles are funny things. A year ago, Marvel had a stranglehold on the lucrative "comic to film" movie genre. With the success of the X-men and Spiderman franchises, they appeared to be unstoppable. DC, on the other hand, while arguably ushering in the comic book film with Superman and Batman decades early, had an ongoing Superman saga of silliness (with countless directors, stars and writers revolving around it for years) and the less said about the last couple Batman movies the better.
However, a year later and it looks like their fortunes are about to be reversed (echoing the battle the two titans of pulp fiction have been having for decades). With lacklustre offerings such as The Punisher and Elektra, the potential failure of The Fantastic Four (if the trailers are any indication) and the turmoil X-men 3 is currently embroiled in (with director Bryan Singer's defection to the DC camp to direct the finally being made new Superman film), DC is unquestionably poised to take the lead from Marvel. And while Batman Begins doesn't establish DC as the clear-cut leader as of yet (Marvel still has the superb Spider-man cannon and a Spidey sequel in the works), it makes it a neck and neck horserace for now, with the upcoming Superman potentially poised to put DC over the top.
Batman Begins is not a complete re-imagining of the series, as some have claimed, but it's an excellent film that's darker than almost any other comic book film adaptation so far, save Frank Miller's Sin City (not so coincidentally, Miller worked on the Batman comic series and is credited with some of its more dystopian stories that influenced this film, the Batman comics since, Burton's work and the excellent Warner animated series).
While previous Batman films have plopped us in the middle of Batman's life and spent more time focusing on the villains, Batman Begins is the origin tale, examining everything from why billionaire Bruce Wayne fears bats (he's tormented by a childhood trauma) to how his parents were killed (not by a pre-Joker, as Burton imagined) and Bruce Wayne's impetus for becoming Batman, to the economic downslide that is ruining Gotham to how he learns his skills, develops his alter-ego and where he gets those wonderful toys from, and it even examines Batman/Wayne's battle between justice and vigilantism.
With undeniably talented director Christopher Nolan at the helm (Memento, Insomnia), Batman Begins is, as previously mentioned, darker than any Batman film yet (even Burton's), but unlike previous Batman films, there is nothing campy or silly about it; in fact, at times it's almost nihilistic. While it is clear that this is a comic book world, Nolan and writer David S. Goyer (who we'll forgive for Blade: Trinity) endeavour to give a shade of realism to the proceedings and at least attempt (semi-) plausible explanations. And while it may be utterly humourless in its tones, there are occasional moments of humour that shed brief light on the darkness.
While he's the fourth Batman in the last five films, Christian Bale (American Psycho, Reign of Fire) is excellent for the part of the dark knight and carries the character easily on his shoulders. Bale has the innate charisma to pull off the flamboyant billionaire playboy aspects of Wayne and cuts a strong profile in a cowl. And although at first his scratchy Bat-voice is a bit odd, you warm up to it.
In terms of villains, the destroy Gotham plot offers us the Scarecrow (played insanely well by Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later fame), who's mask is so simple that it's remarkable how creepy it is, Ken Watanabe as Ra's Al Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows, a strong Liam Neeson as Wayne/Batman's mentor/adversary and a cliché mob boss in the form of Falcone.
Of course, while the principals generally fare well and the supporting work by Morgan Freeman (Lucious Fox, Batman's toy supplier), Gary Oldman (a young Jim Gordon) and Michael Caine (as Alfred) is good, Katie Holmes's role is wooden and she's miscast. Also, Watanabe receives little screen time and the mob character of Falcone is so cardboard a stiff breeze could blow it over.
Regardless, Batman Begins is an excellent comic book adaptation that is easily the best Batman film yet and will resurrect the series. Of course, the villain tease at the ending will make the wait for the next nearly intolerable to any true fan. (Warner)