After watching “The Lego Batman Movie” this past weekend, coincidentally enough the next film up on the Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon list is “Batman Begins,” the first movie in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Well, actually it’s not technically Nolan’s next film; “Insomnia” comes after “Memento,” but neither Netflix nor the local library had it available, so it’s on to “Batman Begins.” And thanks again to my husband, Aaron, for joining me on this joint blog-a-thon!
For some reason, I’d always thought of the Dark Knight trilogy as some of Nolan’s later films, but doing this blog-a-thon reminded me “Batman Begins” is actually just his third major release. It’s interesting DC Comics and Warner Bros. trusted Nolan with a superhero movie of this magnitude early in his career, but it’s a gamble that paid off very, very well.
The Batman franchise wasn’t exactly in great shape when Nolan inherited it (yes, I’m picking on you again, “Batman and Robin”). Although the franchise had headed in a rather silly, campy direction, Nolan breathed fresh life into Batman’s cinematic mythos with his grounded and gritty version of the character. His movies have become the gold standard DC Comics movies are now judged by.
While I’m definitely a Marvel fangirl, I also really love Nolan’s Batman films, and I think “Batman Begins” is a great origin story. It wipes the franchise’s slate clean and shows how Batman’s tragic past and ninja training shaped the vigilante he becomes.
Christian Bale’s portrayal of the caped crusader ranks as one of the best, and his brooding, morose Batman fits well with Nolan’s darker tone. (The Lego version of Batman also does a great job lovingly poking fun at this serious persona.) Michael Caine has become equally iconic as Batman’s butler, Alfred, and Liam Neeson makes for a great villain as the (spoiler alert!) leader of the League of Shadows.
I don’t really have any complaints about this movie. While we’ve seen a lot of superhero origin stories since this movie was released in 2005, Batman definitely needed a fresh start on the big screen, and Nolan’s distinctive film making style was a perfect fit for the franchise.
“Batman Begins,” the beginning of the greatest superhero series ever made. These movies are so widely regarded that, before its release, “Suicide Squad” apologists on the Internet argued that “Suicide Squad” and other DC movies shouldn’t be held to the Batman standard because they’re “too good.” (As a side note, these arguments make for hilarious reading. Who else would say “Orwellian blitzkrieg of Marvel bot-trolls” with a straight face?)
As a superhero origin story, “Batman Begins” is excellent. As a film viewed in a vacuum outside of its genre, it’s a good film, but does have a few kinks in it.
The first thing that I like, which I hadn’t thought of before, is how well “Batman Begins” integrates the “super villains” and “superheroes” into the story. A lot of these movies loudly cry out at the start THIS IS A SUPERHERO, SEE HOW HE’S DRESSED LIKE ONE? HERE’S THE SUPER VILLAIN, HE’S EVIL AND ALSO HAS A WEIRD COSTUME. THEY’RE GOING TO FIGHT NOW. In “Batman Begins,” there’s a good reason why he dresses like he does and looks like a stealthy, armored, ninja badass, not a weirdo in tights with underwear on the outside. On the other hand, the super villains are characters with motivations beyond “I want to kill the superhero because plot.” I also noticed that the villains in this movie are content to stay in the shadows and almost never seek to fight Batman. Compare this to the villain who wants to destroy New York City for the 50th time. The hero here takes the fight to evil instead of vice versa.
Beyond this, I just like the dark, realistic tone. I sort of covered this in the previous section, but I just love how real the whole thing feels. The Batmobile looks and sounds like a military vehicle. His armor looks practical. The streets look dark and desperate, but not comically so. Villains that wouldn’t be good at fisticuffs aren’t. The police station is always bustling with phones ringing and people running all over. The ninja training is difficult and punishing. It’s nice to see a hero earn his powers for once instead of being a Captain Spider Thor-Hulk, who is instantly granted it by the powers of “the plot requires it.” [Note from Ashley: I let Aaron make fun of my beloved Marvel movies, but someday I WILL get him to love these movies as much as I do.] 😉
So what do I not like as much? Well, it’s an origin story. And Batman’s parents are quickly catching up to Uncle Ben in terms of “death portrayed in media.” Having to work a full crime drama into an origin story always feels a bit rushed.
There also just seem to be some rookie mistakes in here that take you out of the moment and make you realize you’re watching a scripted movie with effects and not witnessing an unfolding drama. They may seem minor, but they are easily correctable and were missed. First, the tiny pile of boards that falls on and kills Ra’s Al Ghul. That stuff looks and sounds like it weighs 15 pounds at most. It is very unconvincing. Second, when the train is moving toward Wayne tower, the water technician has, as one site says, “perhaps the clunkiest and worst-written [lines] in the entire franchise.” Agreed. Not only are the lines bad, but they tell us what we’ve already been told, and they both end in the word “blow.”
In case you forgot what they are:
“The pressure’s coming straight for the main hub under Wayne Tower, and if that pressure reaches us, the whole water supply, right across the city is gonna blow!”
“Evacuate the building. We’re right on top of the main hub, and it’s gonna blow!”
Someone needed to catch this.
Lastly, how on earth was the helicopter not able to follow the Batmobile to Bruce’s hideout? Car pileups and traffic have no effect on helicopters. That’s like, the point of helicopters. Again, these are minor but noticeable kinks which were thankfully learned from in the sequel, which would become the apotheosis of comic movie history.
As a final shout out, I’ll just say I really like Liam Neeson in this movie. I’ve been disappointed at his downfall from the majesty that was “Schindler’s List” into being cast just to say things like “release the Kraken!” or having to do “Taken 12: Let’s Murder the Lagos Underworld.” He does a good job here though and gets to showcase his actual acting talent along with having a good voice and build for action movies.
Overall, I like this movie. I don’t LOVE it. But it’s enjoyable and I can watch the whole thing without wanting to get up and do something else, which is rarer these days.