Tonight, I saw Batman Begins and found it lacking. I realize that as an established and experienced comics geek, I’m hard to please with superhero movies, but just the same, I was displeased with the treatment — displeased, and disappointed; Christopher Nolan directing a good cast sounded like something that would actually yield worthwhile bat-themed entertainment, but the movie fails on almost every front. It’s not a dismal failure, even; it’s simply empty, meaningless and clumsy.
Like I said, I was hoping this’d be a good movie. It certainly had the right crew: Nolan may not be the greatest director ever, but this far he has proven himself as a competent craftsman. Certainly, Christian Bale makes a great Batman and a great Bruce Wayne; he has the skill, the physical ability and the looks. Gary Oldman’s look as Sergeant Gordon is impeccable; the mustache, the glasses, the hair, the demeanor — it’s exactly as it should be. Michael Caine makes a great Alfred. Even Katie Holmes — even though she’s apparently sinking deep into that special brand of bugfuck craziness that Tom Cruise vomits all over our reality from his own little continuum that bears no resemblance to the world the rest of us live in — is certainly a competent actress, even if her character in this movie is completely pointless and only exists because someone somewhere decided that what Batman really needs is a romantic interest.
If the actual Batman stories were like the movies, Batman’d get a whole lot of poontang and spend a whole lot less time obsessing over vigilante justice. Guess Miller should have titled his seminal work The Dark Knight Gets Some and replaced all of those interesting bits with stilted dialogue…
And speaking of dialogue, it’s awful. It’s clumsy, awkward, and more often than not, just dumb. Sure, it’s a good cast, real good. A lot of the lines come out sounding good, even if they don’t really make much sense. But when you have to constantly say words like that, it stops being a question of skill; no matter how good an actor you are, there comes a point when saying stupid shit makes you sound stupid. And really, I realize that on the face of it, having Character A first say something to Character B, and then, later on in the story, having Character B say it back to Character A under different, yet ironic circumstances, can seem like a clever device, and it certainly has its uses. However, when you see it a dozen times — and seriously, I don’t think I’m exaggarating that figure; if anything, I think I’m underestimating it — in the course of a single movie, it grates something awful.
As an added bonus, Batman uses this annoying technique to reveal his secret identity to the aforementioned token romantic interest. (Incidentally, this was also done in Batman Returns, when Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle share a moment at the dance and by accident repeat their lines from an earlier moment and, as a result, suddenly recognize each other. It’s a fairly good scene, too, which makes this exchange that much more annoying.) This pisses me off simply because it’s something that so many superhero movies do, and it’s almost without fail the wrong thing to do. It’s a secret identity. It’s supposed to be secret. If you do reveal it to someone, you certainly don’t do it in public on a whim. (By, say, engaging in a highly acrobatic kung fu battle in a playground in broad daylight, when you’re supposed to be a blind lawyer — ah, Daredevil! But I digress.)
But it’s not a really a smart movie, not even a little bit clever one. The evil plot is simply silly. It is commonly accepted among fucking stupid people that action movies in general and superhero or science fiction action movies in particular don’t have to make any sense because they’re just entertainment, but even by those standards, the plot is simply stupid. R’as al Ghul wants to destroy Gotham City, because, uh, it’s a bad place. He wants to do this by pumping it full of pretty nasty gas — gas that is released from the water in the city’s pipes as the water vaporizes. For this, he uses some kind of a, uh, microwave projector thingy that makes no sense whatsoever, as it apparently makes water boil lots and lots, but apparently doesn’t affect any other liquids or, indeed, the water in human bodies. Furthermore, apparently in Gotham City, the only way to turn water into vapor is by using said microwave projector. Guess nobody ever puts the kettle on over there. Undoubtedly many viewers are quite willing to accept all this stupidity without batting an eye — fair enough, but the bigger problem is that the plot isn’t particularly engaging or interesting, either.
I don’t know. It fails as a Batman movie — we spend an hour following Bruce around during his intense training as he attempts to become a mighty warrior, which apparently involves, uh, becoming a bum, stealing apples and then getting busted lifting some WayneTech electronics and sitting in a Chinese prison so he can fight some guys there. This takes about two minutes; the rest of the time he spends fighting Liam Neeson (who not only makes R’as al Ghul look like an incompetent idiot, whose catchphrase is apparently “mind your environment”, but also manages to turn Henri Ducard from an amoral mercenary into a nonentity while giving neither character enough personality to make me even remember what his voice sounds like less than five hours after seeing the movie) or wandering through conversations that may sound cool to people who don’t bother to think about what the characters actually say, but which don’t really convey much in the way of information or character development.
Going from bad to worse, it also fails as an action movie. The fight scenes… well, there’s a bunch of them. It’s a Batman movie, after all, and his modus operandi concentrates rather heavily on remonstrating physically with bad people. That, too, was disappointing; most of the fights are simply confusing; there are plenty of fast cuts, shaky camera, quick pans and whatnot. Batman is obviously beating shit up, but most of the time, I couldn’t tell if he was kicking, punching or what, or even who he was fighting. In the climactic battle between R’as and Batman, I couldn’t really even tell which one of them was winning; I just kept hoping that the camera would pull back enough so that I could see what was going on. Batman, who is supposedly one of the greatest, possibly the greatest martial artist in the world, never appears to be particularly agile or athletic, and I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly how he takes out the hordes of mooks in the movie simply because I never see it happen; there’s just a bunch of fast movement in dark and confusing situations and sound effects. And of all the good ways to pull that off, Nolan chose not a single one. He has the same problems with the Batmobile (which, it should be pointed out, is wicked cool and easily one of the best things about the movie); it does cool things and Batman drives it hard, but more often than not, we see close-ups of the vehicle thrashing something instead of wider angles that would actually give us an idea of what’s going on. It’s frustrating.
I dunno. I very much wanted to see Batman done right for a change, after Schumacher took a huge dump on the franchise. Certainly, what with the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises having gotten such excellent silver screen treatments and Sin City — and even Hellboy, to some extent — accomplishing the same, it’s been proven without doubt that it can be done — that all it really takes is enough money and skill and most importantly, the will to do it right. I don’t have a problem with adapting the source material, but there comes a point when what you do no longer has any of the drive, spark and spirit of the original work, and Batman Begins is a prime example of that. It goes through the motions, but that’s all it manages to do, no matter how good the cast is and no matter how cool Bats’ wheels are.
No, it’s not a great movie — but then, for all the things I point out, it’s not a complete failure, either. It’s just so average, formulaic and empty that it’s utterly meaningless. Daredevil was so fucking stupid and such a colossal failure that it made me mad; this just made me wonder how long I’d been sitting there and how long it would still last. Most of all, it’s a terrible waste of talent… and the Batman license.
On an unrelated note, I need to be up in about, uh, two and a half hours, and I have yet to go to bed.
I am such a smart boy.
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