I remember sitting through some movie previews earlier this spring when I saw the preview for Batman Begins. I wasn’t aware they were doing a prequel, but I thought, “Huh, looks ok but it’s going to be dragged down by the weight of the franchise.” The Batman franchise has suffered more than any other movie property in the last 20 years, and not being particularly fond of the comic books I felt that Overproduced Hell was where it deserved to stay for Eternity. I brightened a bit when I found out they were redoing the franchise, not providing a prequel.
Batman was the movie industy’s first modern day run-through with a famous comic book property, and I still think it was a great movie. It’s hard to picture anyone else but Jack Nicholson playing the Joker, and Keaton’s Batman was really great (though his Bruce Wayne was a bit off). Tim Burton was THE director at the time to bring Gotham to life on the screen. The problem with the movie was mainly that it played to an Action Movie crowd straight up: here’s your hero, he beats up some thugs, he dashes off some one liners, he has a climactic battle on top of a very tall building, he saves the girl, he tries to save the villian in the end, villian double-crosses him, villian ends up splat on the ground… with a laughing bag in his breast pocket.
Batman Returns started the slow descent into shittiness for the franchise. It showcased the one overarching theme of then-Hollywood’s vision of Batman: the movie must not be about Batman. It must be all about ever larger-than-life villians played by box-office superstars. To be fair, the spin-the-bottle style of Batman/Bruce Wayne casting in later movies also played to this but no matter who wore the black suit, the plot centered on the villian (his origins, his motives, his “master plans,” and his unique powers/gimmicks). The reasoning is clear: “Everyone knows who Bruce Wayne is! Why waste valuable screen time giving him motives, narratives, or feelings! He’s just a dude who’s parents got shot, he fell in a hole, PLAH-DAOU!! You’ve got a masked vigilante fighting guys who dress up like clowns! Now… the clown: there’s an interesting story! Why would a criminal dress up like a clown?! Get me Jack Nicholson for the clown and it’s a go!”
The Batman series continued to deteriorate until, by the fourth abortion of a movie, I stopped watching altogether. Do I want to see Arnold Fucking Swazzledoodle in another role where he belts out stupid one-liners with gusto and then heads over to Craft Services to pick up a Butterfinger? No. Do I want to see the end result of Hollywood GrassFucking Producers fucking around with the Batman universe? No. Batgirl, Robin, Batcat, Batdog? Do I want to see Alfred serve Master Bruce dinner but then hilariously fart while putting down the plate? No. These are not things that appeal to me.
Batman Begins? It appealed to me. Holy shit on a kringle, they cast someone as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow who I’d never heard of before! The main villian doesn’t speak in one-liners! The villianous plan actually makes some modicum of sense! Jesus, Hollywood, did you actually not meddle in the making of a movie for once?
Batman Begins opens with a stunning 40 minutes of no Batman. You see, to do a movie about how Bruce Wayne created Batman (and for said movie actually be good) perhaps you should actually spend some time telling how Bruce came to be the man he is. To that end, we witness Bruce’s training at the hands of the League of Shadows. There is only one word I can type to re-create the utter awesomenicity of this part of the movie: NINJAS. Not the mutant turtle variety, but historically true ninjas. It is not often I lean over to someone in a movie and say, “This is awesome,” but I did it to Erin last night.
To be completely honest, I thought I had gotten my money’s worth by the time Bruce returned to Gotham ready to become a crime-fighter. Then they just had to go all-out cool and give me a comic book movie with villian in addition to the background of Bruce Wayne. I appreciated the sentiment, Christopher Nolan (director of Memento and Insomnia [which, by the way, is another awesome movie]) and I won’t forget it.
One of the other great things about the movie is the way we see Jim Gordon (holy shit! I just checked and Gordon is played by Gary Oldman, who I totally didn’t recognize last night) and the way his relationship with Batman develops.
I’ll end with this hard-to-come-by-in-Hollywood priase for this movie: with the minor exception of one detail, it just makes sense. So many movies these days treat the audience like grade-A fuckwads who can’t piece together a storyline. The end result is one where you walk out of the theater and go, “Umm, how could he escape by blowing ahole in the wall of the cell when we saw them take away his GigantoGun before putting him in there?” Apart from the fact that its a comic-book movie (and therefore inherently unrealistic), I liked the fact that, given the situations people were in, they acted in ways that permitted me to suspend disbelief.
So from what I hear, they’ve already signed up everyone to do at least one, possibly two sequels to Batman Begins. If they turn out at all like this one I’ll definitely be going. Here’s to Hollywood not coming in and ass-raping a good movie with good actors and good director with more goddamned Bat-Nipples.