In a word, fantastic. I was so sure I was setting myself up for a fall. I remember reading about how Warner Brothers was going to get this franchise going again. Visions of Batman & Robin filled my head. Then a glimmer of hope in the darkness, Christopher Nolan was brought in to direct. For those unfamiliar with his past work, he did the phenomenal Memento and the also excellent remake of Insomnia. Then David Goyer was brought in to write, he had done excellent work with the Blade series.
The big question was who could pull of our complex hero? Enter Christian Bale, who proved to me he could play the role with the underrated Equilibrium. Then the big names started rolling in. Before long the cast comprised of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, and Rutger Hauer. This sounded too good to be true. I was sure Warner would find a way to turn this into a train wreck. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
This is a wonderful interpretation on the creation on one of the most interesting of heroes. This is the first film to truly capture who Batman is without requiring any leaps of logic. The film, while clearly not “real” in any sense, plays by it’s rules and the logic holds through to the end. This is the first real insight into why Bruce became the Bat, the first to explore with any type of depth to give background to his pathos. It has become more than just a reaction to his parents murder.
I really don’t want to get into too much of the story. Many of you, even non-Batman fans have at least a basic knowledge of Batman’s origin and the fact that he has a large rogue’s gallery to choose a villain from. What is really going to cement the stature of this film is going to be the a combination of character(including acting and dialogue), visual style, and story. So, it may be a better idea to take a look at these elements.
The first one to look at is going to be the story. This film, more so than any of the Burton/Schumacher era films, gives us a clear focus on Bruce Wayne. The first hour of the film shows a great deal of development and growth in the Wayne character. We all know that his parents are murdered by a robber in an alley after going to the theater, we know that he grows up and puts on a bat costume on and fights crime. Christopher Nolan gives us reasons for this change, and Bale gives us a conflicted young man. We see him develop naturally. The growth we get and the way they tie his training and such in to the later story works well and gives it more emotion.
The visual style that Nolan brings to the plate is also fantastic. There is a blend of the 40’s and the current day combining to create a darkly real vision. It isn’t the overly gothic look of Burton’s films, nor is it the overly cartoony vision of Schumacher. What we get is a believable looking city that is also not recognizable as anything in the real world. The costumes are great, the batsuit may still be of the armor variety, it still looks right. I love the Scarecrow’s mask. Everything hits the right mark visually.
Then there are the performances. First there is our star, Christian Bale, easily the best Bruce Wayne/Batman so far. Not to belittle the efforts of Michael Keaton, but Bale almost seems to have been born to play this role. He brings a previously unseen depth, successfully playing the two sides of his personality, the struggle to reconcile them. Then we have Michael Caine stepping into the role of Alfred, and what a performance he brings. He brings such weight and meaning to all that he says, there is a love and dedication in his words. Morgan Freeman bringing Lucious Fox to the screen as a scientist and friend to Bruce. Freeman brings a quiet intelligence to the role which plays very well. This is the first film to show Commissioner Gordon prior to becoming Commissioner, here he is Sergeant, and he is played by Gary Oldman. Oldman does a great job, possibly the best supporting performance of the bunch. On the other side of the coin we have Ken Watanabe as Ras al’Ghoul, the leader of a terrorist group which steps in when civilization becomes too decadent. Liam Neeson as his right hand man, Ducard. Ducard plays a pivotal role in the training of Bruce, I kept waiting for him to say “Use the Force.” Scarecrow is brought to us by Cillian Murphy, whose performance I really enjoyed. He infuses it with this quirkiness that I just loved, I am not sure how else to describe it. Then there is Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, it is such a nothing role, which isn’t really true, she is rather pivotal to the plot, but she is so underwritten that it comes across as a bad performance, when I think the writing is at fault.
You know, as I write this, I recognize that it has not been terribly informative, and for that I am sorry. I have not been able to find the words to adequately convey my feelings for this movie. It will be interesting to see how it holds up on multiple viewings. I think it is the next film to do a great job of starting a franchise, in the same league as X-Men and Spider-Man. I think the sequel could be even better. Just like those two examples, this did a great job of introducing characters and detailing the origin, but now that the origin exposition is out of the way, there will be more room for the story in the sequel.
It’s time for some random thoughts. I liked how the bat was fully integrated into the origin. I liked the discussion of being an incorruptible symbol rather than just a man fighting crime. I liked Scarecrow’s mannerisms. The training sequences reminded me of old kung fu flicks. I like how the origin is fully a part of the the rest of the story, I like how Gordon was willing to work with our hero. I liked Batman getting stun gunned. The more I think about it, the more I think the fast cutting in the action sequences works for the style of the film, I wasn’t sure at first. All of Wayne Enterprises toys just waiting to be picked up.
Bottomline. This is pure and simple a great film, easily the best Batman film. One of the better films so far this year. I need to see it again, then I may be able to write a better review. What I really want to say is to just see the movie.
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