Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two
aghrivaine

Batman Begins


President Bush was ushered into his second term based on bellicosity and low expecations. Everyone presumed he was an idiot, and therefore when he managed to tie his shoes and dress himself, as well as conduct an expensive and profligate foreign war - it seemed like a victory.

Same with "Batman Begins" - it just couldn't be worse than "Batman and Robin" which was so bad that time-travellers from the future actually appeared in the theatre I saw it in to inform everyone in the audience that "In the future, entertainment like this is reserved only for criminals and tax collectors. Take heart, people of the past - it gets better!" So clearly, the bar was set pretty low for "Batman Begins". With standards like that, only Condoleeza Rice could screw it up! (and she would, and then be promoted for it...)

So, "Batman Begins" meets and exceeds the absurdly low expectations set by the previous movies. Of course, since it's Batman, you could dress a llama up in black and have it stalk the foothills of the Andes, and people would still go see it. Come to think of it, I'd go see "Batllama" in a second. Of all the various actors who have played Batllama Batman, Christian Bale is the only to rival and perhaps exceed Michael Keaton. Think about that sentence for a second... But anyway, the only thing that detracts from Bale's performance is that he has to portray Bruce Wayne both as a very young man, fresh out of college, and as Batman, 7 years later. He's a little long in the tooth to be very convincing as a young fella ... but otherwise perfect as someone who is both a brooding lunatic and a billionaire playboy. It's a hard dichotomy to make believable, but Bale sells it fairly well... though his "scary voice" when he's talking tough to baddies is just on the edge of risible.

Much like "Spiderman" What "Batman Begins" does best is tell the story of how young Bruce Wayne evolved from a kid who was prone to falling into dark scary holes into the Batman. (Karl Jung is chuckling with the earthworms somewhere, I feel sure.) First he witnesses his parent's tragic and violent death - and then confronts the crime boss who he feels is ultimately responsible for the wave of villainy that claimed his parent's lives. Falcone the crimelord, played in a brilliantly corrupt yet avuncular manner by Tom Wilkinson, sets young Bruce straight in one of the great bad guy soliloquies of all time, right up there with Al Pacino's furniture-exploding rant at the end of "Devil's Advocate". Falcone carefully tears down Bruce's burgeoning sense of justice and revenge and let's him know that he's both powerless to change the world or avenge his parents, and entirely misguided for even wanting to.

And like any rational young man who wants to avenge the death of a loved one, Bruce embarks on a life of adventure and posing as a criminal in the shadowy underworld until eventually he arrives at a mysterious monastery on a mountain-side where he can take up the gentle art of whoopin' ass at a level previously undreamt of. His youthful trauma involving llamas bats dovetails with his desire not for revenge, but for True Justice when he meets Ducard, played by Liam Neeson. Ducard pronounces the capitals in True Justice, and turns his previous role as benevolent mentor Qui-Gon Jin on its ear. Here he is ruthless and expedient to a fault... anxiously training his "League of Llamas Shadows" to press the justice equivalent of the nuclear option button like they're hamsters seeking a food pellet. Ducard's rather spurious plan (and one of the weaker parts of the movie) is to let Gotham die in a tidal wave of crime and villainy. Somehow this will serve the greater cause of justice. Or something.

Anyway, the training sequences are all that you've come to expect in hackneyed formula badass-in-training sequences. A filial relationship between master and student that evolves into rivalry, foreshadowing of climactic fights to come, ninjas, clever ruses, and escaping from an exploding fortress. Bruce Wayne finally departs the mountain monastery reborn as The Batman, and returns to Gotham City.

There he is reunited with Alfred, played by the inexplicable Michael Caine...whose cockney accent despite being all wrong for a gentleman's gentleman, seems to work. He also crosses paths once more with childhood gal-pal Rachel Dawes, a dewey-eyed assistant DA played by a crooked-eyed Katie Holmes. What is it with that girl's face? She looks half-melted and lopsided, like someone took a plastic cast of her, heated it up and smooshed it around, and then slapped it back on her. She's easily the most annoying thing about the movie, delivering clunker lines like, "Justice is about harmony, not revenge!" Yeah, I'm sure the Gotham City SuperMax Penitentiary is full of wardens and screws who are really looking to shove a little harmony up the inmates asses - only they keep using billie clubs instead, for some reason.

In the course of becoming the Batman, he meets up with Morgan Freeman, the gadgeteer who invented all his cool stuff that for a variety of nutty reasons are conveniently only prototypes, and never put in production. He also crosses path with Rutger Hauer, the corrupt businessman who is running Wayne Enterprise while he's off learning to be the ultimate bat-bad-ass. And lastly, there's Gary Oldman, who is Sergeant Gordon, the only honest cop in Gotham. Oldman turns in a subtle performance as a working-class schlub. You can tell by his crooked glasses that he's genuine and honest! Still, he does a fine job, and is one of the better elements of the movie.

Unfortunately, also like "Llamaman Spiderman", the story that follows the creation story feels sort of tacked on. There's obligatory car-chases in the new, tanklike Batmobile - there's riots and a ticking time-bomb scenario, old friends from Bruce Wayne's past resurfacing to bedevil him, and Scarecrow... a strangely young and intense Dr. Crane (Cillian Murphy) who hits people with fear-gas after putting on a burlap sack. People have the oddest fetishes in Gotham City.

Still, things that were set up early in the story all get tied up neatly by the end. Future villains are hinted at (never mind that Jack Nicholson Joker, k? He never killed Bruce Wayne's parents, and we can use him all over again for the sequel! Shmontinuity, I say!) Things explode! There are dramatic villain soliloquies! More things explode! The theme of using fear to defeat fear is hammered home like something really obvious that gets hammered home in a very obvious way!

"Batman Begins" is good, though I'm still not certain how much it's because my expectations were low. There are some truly impressive feats of cinematography, combined with truly irritating and impossible to follow fight choreography. The sound design is workmanlike and in parts very hard to follow, and the music is frequently intrusive - so much so that at moments the dialogue is impossible to make out. On the other hand, a great cast is assembled. (Except for Katie Holmes, who at least has the decency to unleash her utterly scene-stealing highbeam nipples when she at last confronts Bruce Wayne in the ruins of Wayne Manor. There might have been some stuff that happened in that scene, but I didn't notic e- I was transfixed like a rat hypnotized by a cobra. Oooooh, nipples! And dang, you could cut glass with those suckers. Really her nipples should be credited separately, as they add more to the plot than Ms. Holmes take en toto .)

This Batman is far more Frank Miller than Adam West, which in the end makes for a solid story with moments of brilliance.

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