Caped Crusader Cinema: Batman Begins (2005)

In Retrospect

Many projects went into development in the dark years following Batman & Robin, which I followed to varying degrees between serving a mission and attending Utah State. Among these potential follow-ups were another Joel Schumacher-helmed sequel titled Batman Triumphant, a live-action version of Batman Beyond, a Batman/Superman team-up, and an adaptation of Batman: Year One.

But Warner Brothers was understandably hesitant following the Batman & Robin debacle, and none of these projects managed to get the elusive green light. The series remained dormant until an up-and-coming filmmaker named Christopher Nolan came along, and was given the reigns to rethink the franchise from the ground up.

Following graduation in the Spring of '04, I was working for USU Extension Marketing with fellow graphic design grad Ben Barnes. We often had little work to do, save the occasional Master Gardener guidebook or Equine Team brochure, so we passed the time by hyping ourselves up for Batman Begins and Revenge of the Sith. As each new production still or behind-the-scenes video made its way to the internet, we were there, ready and willing to make custom desktop wallpapers.

I went to the midnight show with Ben, our wives (who likely agreed to go at that hour because they got to see Christian Bale shirtless) and our boss Rick, who came stag. I eventually saw Batman Begins three times in the theater, and found it to be so superior to all previous live-action adaptions in the way it truly understood the character, I even wondered if I would be able to go back and watch my beloved Tim Burton movies.

Critical Analysis

The real breakthrough of Batman Begins is who its main character is. It's not about the villains, which is what all the previous live action movies had focused on. It's not even really about Batman, as he doesn't show up in full costume until an hour into the film. No, this is Bruce Wayne's story. Everyone's favorite orphaned billionaire is finally given the attention he deserves, instead of merely being the chin behind the mask. His back story is fully fleshed out, bringing a new found depth to his motives and ambitions.

Batman Begins is also the first bat film to attempt grounding everything in reality. Batman's arsenal is pared down to only the bare essentials—the Bat Suit, Batmobile, and a modest collection of gadgets, Everything is given a thorough explanation as to why it exists, and how Bruce Wayne comes to acquire it, whereas the other movies sort of half-heartedly suggested that all of Batman's "wonderful toys" were creations of Alfred. After watching the beginning of Batman & Robin, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor old butler, imagining Robin whining to him that he needed a smoke machine and not one but two neon Robin logos to spruce up his motorcycle's holding bay.

As Roger Ebert points out, Batman Begins "is not realistic, because how could it be, but it acts as if it is." Some of the explanations we are given are completely ludicrous if you really listen to them, such as when Lucius Fox describes the development of the Batmobile, aka the Tumbler:
"She was built as a bridging vehicle. During combat, two of these would jump over a river, towing cables. Over here on the throttle, flip that open and throttle up. This will boost you into a rampless jump... We never could get the damn bridge to work, but this baby works just fine."
If ever there was a more impractical way to build a bridge, I'd like to hear it. But I'll be darned if you aren't willing to suspend your disbelief because Morgan Freeman delivers the line so convincingly. So maybe "realistic" isn't the right word. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe Batman Begins is "plausible."

I tend to be an armchair editor when I watch movies. I am always thinking about what could be excised for the greater good. I would rather that something leave me wanting more than overstay its welcome (don't get me started on King Kong). Even at 140 minutes, Batman Begins is lean and mean, with very little excess that could be trimmed. But while I originally felt the film was perfect, a few minor flaws have exposed themselves with repeat viewings (as is often the case).

First, some of the fight scenes move so fast, and are shot so close up that it is near impossible to tell who is headbutting whom. You might just get headbutted yourself if you sit too close to the screen. Second, all the exposition can get a little tedious after you have watched it as many times as I have. Just settle down, Mr. Random Wayne Enterprises Employee, we all understand that if the train reaches Wayne Tower, the whole city's water supply is gonna blow, thanks to you telling us over and over (and over). And finally, Rachel Dawes, as played by Katie Holmes, is one condescending beyotch, and has little romantic chemistry with Christian Bale. Keeping things in perspective though, these are minor quibbles when you consider the previous movie featured Batman and Robin on ice skates doing battle with "the hockey team from hell."

All nitpicking aside, Batman Begins easily established itself as the definitive live action Batman upon its release (until Christopher Nolan & co. topped themselves earlier this summer). And while I originally feared that Batman Begins had rendered the Tim Burton movies obsolete, I'm happy to report that this just isn't the case. The two interpretations can peacefully coexist along side one another. That is one of the great things about the character. There is always room to rethink and reimagine, as long as it doesn't involve nipples or neon.

Grade: A-


Ben said...

This movie rocks, no doubt about it. Here are some of my favorite things from Batman Begins:

1. So many good quotes. From Austin Powers' Farder (Bruce: You haven't given up on me yet, have you Alfred. Austin Powers' Farder: Nevah!) to (Ras Al-Qui-Gon (Time to spread the word...and the word is...PANIC).

2. Speaking of Qui-Gon, if there is ever a movie that requires a wise man with some sort of training in the martial arts, you gotta think the Liam Neeson is your man, right?

3. What kind of parents are Thomas and Martha Wayne? "Let's see, what's showing at the local Opera House this weekend...Hey! It looks like Bat-Opera is in town! You know who would love that? Our son, who just had an extremely traumatic experience falling down a well and being attacked by bats. He's sure to get a kick out of it!

4. Listening to Bale do his Batman/Bruce Wayne work while hiding his cockneyed accent. Is it me or does it seem like he's always talking out the side of his mouth. Too bad he couldn't bust out his New Yawk accent from his days as a Newsie.

5. But seriously, one of my favorite things about this movie is the understated score. I didn't think they could do Batman without the famous Tim Burton score (I imagine it would be making a Superman movie without the John Williams theme), but the way the music is underplayed and hints at a main theme is really great, evolving along with the Batman character.

robmba said...

On the bridge thing, would you think jumping over a chasm pulling cables would be more or less plausible than the old school G.I. Joe Bridge Builder vehicle? Remember, it would lay down this huge bridge that it carried around folded in half on top of itself.

And I think the term you're looking for is regarding the ease with which we believe the explanation of the Tumbler's development is suspension of disbelief.

I wonder whether Batman (1989) or Batman Begins (2005) has more memorable lines. There's some great ones in the new movie(s), but the 1989 edition has quite a few real classics.

Dave said...

I updated the paragraph in question to incorporate a reference to suspension of disbelief. And thank you for the G.I. Joe reminder, I knew there had to be a more impractical way to build a bridge.

Krissy said...

I love this movie, all except for Katie Holmes and the old man in Wayne Tower who keeps saying, "the pressure is spiking!" and "it's gonna blow!" I think they could've given the audience a bit more credit by not shoving that down our throats. We get it. Actually, we got it a long time ago. The train and all the utilities converge at Wayne Tower, the "unofficial hub of Gotham City." Now let's move on to something better... like more shirtless Christian Bale.

Becky said...

I do admit that Christian Bale had a a lot to do with the fact that I even saw this movie in the first place. But, as it turns out, I really liked it. I can't remember the last time I was so pleasantly surprised with a movie.

This did, however, signal the beginning of the end of Ben and I going to see midnight showings opening night. I don't really like going to a movie 3 hours early just to stand in line with a bunch of nerds dressed up like their favorite character then get home just in time to get 3 hours of sleep in before work the next day.

ScottBoomer said...

I aggree with Dave, this was my favorite one until the "Dark Night" came out.

It was great to have a Batman that was more belivable and realistic, well at least plausable.

I'd had enough neon lights and bat nipples.