Friday, June 17, 2005

The League gives up on the Spurs to go see Batman Begins

So, this evening at half-time, the Spurs appeared to be within a hair's breadth of having the bejeezus kicked out of them by an astoundingly invigorated-looking Pistons team. Jamie and I sighed, looked at one another and decided to take in a viewing of Batman Begins.

Followers of the Batman comics will find that the script has stuck to familiar characters from the Year One storyline, adding in elements of later stories (no Scarecrow in Year One) as well as picking up the 90's-era explanation of Batman's background (which I believe was created by Christopher Priest). The only notable addition to the cast of characters is the Bruce Wayne love interest, Rachel Dawes, played by Tom Cruise's new romantic prop.

Unlike previous Bat-films, this movie follows the pattern set out by Superman The Movie and Spider-Man, giving us a good hour of film introducing the audience to the central character before allowing him/ her to put on a cape/ mask. The movie acts as a comprehensive origin story which could provide ample footing for the sure-to-be-made sequels.

Director Christopher Nolan is also responsible for the screenplay, teaming with former comics-scribe David Goyer (JSA). Nolan's casting director deserves bat-kudos for his/ her role in selecting the players. Certainly the casting (which almost read like an comic-internet geek's who's who of dream casting) helped to elevate the movie. While the script is certainly good, good material in the wrong hands can land you with your typical Schumacherian take on the Caped Crusader.

Gotham is not the Anton Furst post-Blade Runner city scape which The League has always liked. But, you know, the design changes really went with an idea Nolan uses to sell Batman this time around: Batman is a person. He doesn't live in a mythical, fantastic city. He lives in a city you can believe is a plane flight away. And while you might not personally know any ninjas, Bruce Wayne has trained with highly proficient martial artists, which you might believe. And he doesn't build all his stuff himself. He co-opts from his own company's R&D department. he has to buy his masks mail-order from China. He uses a lathe to make bat-shuriken.

A lot of comic fans have selected Batman as their favorite superhero because he's "just a guy", and doesn't rely upon magic power rings or an invisible jet to get the job done. And while The League is an avid Batfan, we never bought this argument. After all, with all the work it would take to complete the Batcave with just Bruce and Alfred as labor, it's difficult to visualize Bruce having much in the way of time enough to go out and do any crime-fighting at all. Not to mention the difficulty of maintaining a bat-plane, boat and endless supply of Bat equipment.

Batman Begins tends to stick to a certain reality slightly closer to our own as it visualizes what near-future or not-yet-to-market technologies and a pie-in-the-sky budget could do towards bringing a person toward collecting the famed Bat-arsenal. In fact, this movie probably makes one of the best arguments since Year One regarding how on earth this whole Batman thing would work without Bruce being found out in a week or two.

Although the movie is somewhere over two hours, certain elements do seem overly compressed. The Bruce-Rachel relationship doesn't get enough attention for the audience to really become invested (an element which a viewing of Spider-Man before a rewrite might have helped solve). Batman also seems singularly fixed on one mission for the duration of the film. We don't see Batman getting involved in multiple situations and building the reputation which he seems to suddenly have among the Gotham criminal community.

Before the film came out, there was quite a bit of concern regarding the Bat-Suit. And as fans of the 1989 version of the movie will recall, that fear probably was well-founded. Keaton's suit looked great. As long as he stood absolutely still.

There are times when I wish the Bat-suit makers would try to just cover Batman's eyes completely and get those great white slits he has in the comics. It would resolve the issue of the black make-up around the eyes and make Bats all the more more menacing. And I'd buy the "you have to act with your eyes" argument a lot more if Spidey hadn't raked in a billion dollars with red pantyhose and sunglasses over his head.

The movie is rated PG-13, and rightfully so. The villain here is the Scarecrow, and the visuals tied to Scarecrow's fright gas would have melted my brain at age 8. He is one scary dude (and written better in this movie than I can recall him being written in the comics since that Grant-Breyfogle issue I alluded to earlier this week).

If this is what DC and WB are doing for their properties, count The League in. While the movie wasn't "true" to the comics from a chronological retelling of the Bat-Mythos, the characters remained true to what's on the page, and the tone matched the Batman books of the past 15 years. I do anticipate that some movie-goers will have a problem with that. I sincerely do. Even Burton kept some "Pow! Whap! Comics are for Kids!" stuff in his cartoony world of Batplanes and Jokermobiles. People expect it, and when you defy people's expectations at the box office, a lot of times you pay for it.

But I like it.

I'll probably be doing another viewing in pretty short order, and I am sure it will be then that I'll see the plot holes and a bucket load of other problems, but for now, I've got a Batman movie I never thought I'd see, cared for by people who wanted to believe in the aspects of the character that have kept him popular for more than 60 years.

Sadly, The Spurs got their asses handed to them by a margin of 30 points.


I failed to mention Gary Oldman nailing his portrayal of a pre-Commissioner Jim Gordon. Well done.

Do NOT read the comments section if you haven't seen the movie. Randy has spilled the beans on an important plot point.

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