Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Reborn


- The Hollywood market is saturated with superhero films and, unfortunately for the viewing public, most of these films are of low quality and are an absolute chore to sit through. Most of these films are absolutely ridiculous with thin recycled plots, bloated over-extravagant action scenes, and reduced to a sleepwalk by its shabby acting. The last Batman films of the 1990s, Batman Forever (1995) and Batman And Robin (1997), embodied the ridiculousness and redundancies of the tired superhero genre. So incredibly bad was not only the film itself but the critical and public reaction to Batman And Robin that Warner Brothers had to pull the planned sequel Batman Triumphant - placing the then near decade-long Batman film series on indefinite hiatus.

However, Batman Begins (2005) is not one of these view-and-forget'em kinds of superhero films in my opinion; in fact, Batman Begins is quite a good film when measured up in any applicable genre. This film, along with the few other quality superhero films, is what a worth-while super-hero film looks like: stylish, dark-toned, well-written; containing the right amount of action and yet a very human story at the same time. Batman Begins was a game-changing film for the superhero genre. Like the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy was for the fantasy genre, Batman Begins made superhero films legitimate again, proving that a superhero movie could be entertaining and interesting at the same time.

Batman Begins brings the Batman story back to its roots in a very entertaining and artful way by showing the haunted past that plagues Bruce Wayne's mind and how and why he becomes Batman. Taking the Batman films in a new direction required a new Batman: Christian Bale. Bale is superb in the role; naturally, his performance here is not in the same league as his performances in The Machinist (2004) or Rescue Dawn (2006) but it is still great - and when comparing Bale to other majority of leading actors in superhero films, he looks like Pacino in The Godfather (1972). This film is not just "star-studded," it's "talent-studded." Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, and Ken Watanabe are all excellent in their roles - even Katie Holmes manages to not suck!

With Batman Begins we see other high quality aspects not seen in other super-hero films. Great cinematography is one with Wally Pfister's Oscar-nominated effort with a real dark look and great picture quality. A well-written script is another, with a slightly simplistic overall story, but with great dialogue that is both entertaining and a direct route into Bruce Wayne's character. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer's collaborated score also cannot go unnoticed, with strong blasts of musical mood as well as powerful melodic subtleties.

As much as I like the many aspects of the film, I get the most enjoyment out of Liam Neeson's individual supporting performance of Henri Duncard. Perhaps not of the same caliber of Michael Collins, Oskar Schindler, Jean Valjean and other characters he has played in the past, Ducard gives plenty for Neeson to chew on and show why he is one of the best actors of our day. Here Neeson does what Hollywood likes to use him for the best in their mainstream films: playing the mentor role - at least, that is what we are supposed to think.... In the beginning of the film, Neeson's Henri Ducard character helps Bruce discover meaning and direction for his life and gives a great performance as a very likable and strong character. However, when Ducard turns the tables on Bruce and turns out to be Ra's Al Ghul later in the film, Neeson continues to dazzle the audience with an excellent twist of character that is too deliciously evil (to quote Stewie Griffin) not to like.

Neeson has played some not-so-nice dudes in the past, but he has never played a comicbook-style villain like Ducard. But for being in a supporting villain role, Ducard is surprisingly given a lot of characterization - thanks in no small part to Neeson. The character is written well, giving Ducard a dark past and twisted sense of idealism; but it is through the subtleties of Neeson's portrayal that we get a true sense of and full enjoyment out of the character. Neeson consistently shines in his starring roles but he also shines in his supporting roles where he regularly steals the scenes away from his co-stars and he certainly does that here in Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne's quest for direction in his life is the focus of the film but it is Neeson who steals scenes with every line delivery and towering presence and not Bale: when Wayne becomes Batman and hops the train in a heroic showdown with Ducard, Neeson's performance is still powerful and draws the biggest attention. Beginning with that truly awesome stunned glare upon seeing Batman somehow catch up with him on the train and ending with the calm closing of his eyes as that train flies off the tracks, Neeson ends the film with a loud thunderclap of a bang.

As good of a movie as it is, Batman Begins does suffer a bit from the ill-advised addition of some stereotypical super-hero screen woes. There are too many clichéd lines like "time to play," "he begged - like a dog," "I wanted to save Gotham...." plus clichéd situations like that little kid surviving the toxin and saying worn-out things like "Batman will come .... I knew you'd come" and the goofy cops trying to find Batman during the highway chase for my liking. However, Batman Begins still lowers its head and powers through the rest of the films that are attached to its genre; standing out as one of the best Batman films and superhero films in general ever made

CBC Rating: 8/10

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