Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Batman Begins: Facing the Fear

After his parents are brutally murdered, Bruce Wayne exiles himself to the far reaches of the world, learning a code of honor that will turn him into a symbol of hope in the dark world of Gotham. Also, he's Batman.

In 1997 Joel Schumacher destroyed any good graces the World's Greatest Detective had on celluloid with the atrocious "Batman and Robin". Eight years later Christopher Nolan burst onto the mainstream film market with a re-telling of Batman's origins set in a realistic and gritty world. It was one of the biggest risks any filmmaker has ever taken and the payoff was more than worth it.

First off, Nolan cast Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne. He had played a billionaire playboy in American Psycho, but he is a Welsh actor and Batman is an American icon. To quelch fears, Bale did all of the press for this film using an American accent and convinced everyone he was more than capable of tackling the role. Secondly, this is not a typical comic book film. Long stretches of time pass between action sequences and moody dialog is exchanged during quiet, reflective moments. The plot is one of the most complex modern cinema has seen, with several villain changes as we work our way up the chain of command in Gotham's underbelly.

Thematically, Nolan hits on his go to sources. Sense of destiny, black and white, systematic disciplines and the duality of people. However, here he adds the element of fear. Both Batman and Scarecrow use the art of fear to face their adversaries, which lends itself well to thinking that they really aren't different. Lt. Gordon's last few lines of the film sum this up perfectly.

The film is essentially split into two separate areas. The first hour is spent introducing you to the characters and setting up the themes of the movie while the second hour is where all the big action comes into play, but at no point does action compromise story. This really gives the stars a chance to shine, and everyone turns in a fine performance, but Cillian Murphy must be singled out here. It wasn't until watching this film for the blog that I noticed the quiet lunacy with which he plays his manic Dr. Crane. The scene on the rooftop after he poisons Rachel is particularly effective and frightening.

Batman is one of the longest running comics in history, and for Christopher Nolan to come out and make a quiet drama full of symbolism and focused on a conflicted, broody anti-hero was a massive gamble. Fortunately for us, the studio saw the raw talent in Nolan and rolled their dice in a big way with him, only to reinvigorate what many considered a dead franchise and propel one of the best directors of this (or any) generation into the mainstream. Of course, Nolan thanked Warner Bros. three years later with one of the greatest sequels of all time, but more on that later in the week.

my rating: 9.5/10

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