Oh, true - "Spiderman 2" was still being fawned over by pasty comic book geeks everywhere, at least whenever they could spare a moment to stop arguing over important things like if they got Peter Parker's hair parted on the correct side. But for every "Spiderman" movie that didn't make nerds want to bludgeon things to death with their mint-condition Spider-mobile, there were movies like "Daredevil." Movies like "Catwoman." Movies like "The Hulk." And soon would come movies like "The Fantastic Four" and "Superman Returns." Truly, this was a time for some despair.
And beneath it all, that lingering sadness remained. Beneath everything else, hitting harder and cutting deeper than any other betrayal was that one sad, heartbreaking fact: They had done it. They killed Batman.
This paid for the funeral.
Then we start hearing things. They're bringing him back. Instant fear seeped down the pant leg of many a nerd as the 'Nam flashbacks of Alicia Silverstone donning the Batgirl costume rushed back, threatening to drive many to madness. I know that I was one of them, rocking back and forth in the corner of my room in the fetal position as echos of Clooney's fourth-wall desecrating line "This is why Superman works alone" bounced around in my head.
But then we started to hear other things. Things about this guy barely anyone had heard of named Christopher Nolan. The only thing anybody seemed to know about him was that he was "that one guy who made that one movie that went backwards, or something."
Well, I for one knew exactly who he was, and the name of that movie was "Memento." He had also done a movie with Al Pacino and Robin Williams called "Insomnia." I had seen both of those films, so I looked at "Batman Begins" with a new sense of hope, because after seeing those two films, I knew that Nolan was a guy who knew what the hell he was doing. And as more information came out, it became clear that finally, at long last, they were taking Batman seriously again for the first time since 1989.
I just going to come out and say it, "Batman Begins" is the best superhero origin story ever made. Period. Now, some may argue that the first Sam Raimi "Spiderman" was the best. I would say that while it's true that "Spiderman" was a great origin story, I have to give it to "Batman Begins" simply because to me, it made the most sense out of any origin story I'd ever seen. Most of this came from the first part of the film showcasing the often forgotten fact that Batman is, in fact, a ninja.
For all of you blowing a gasket at that, think about it. Bruce Wayne is trained in the mountains by people, who as we plainly see, are ninjas. He employs diversion, mind games, and stealth to take out enemies without being seen. He wears black and stays in the shadows whenever possible. He throws shurikens for crying out loud. Oh, true, he calls himself "The Batman" instead of "The Ninja-man," but if it looks like a ninja, moves like a ninja, and fights like a ninja, odds are it's a ninja.
No, nothing ninja-esque about this dude at all...
What that does is make Bruce Wayne a more realistic and interesting superhero. Let's compare Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne.
Peter Parker is a normal kid. Whether or not he's really super smart depends on the movie you watch (I'm not up on my comics, so I don't know what he's like in those), but for all intents and purposes, he's normal. Then he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and hey presto he has superpowers. These powers are just heaped on him without him really having to work to get them. Oh true, he has to fall off an occasional building before he masters his web shooters, but all of a sudden, he's doing back-flips and kung-fu battling villains like a madman, despite him never learning how to fight. He can just do that now.
Because spiders are natural warriors?
You wouldn't think it, but this dude holds 3 MMA championships.
Bruce Wayne trained his ASS off. There was not a single "power" he has that was given to him. He worked for every single bit of skill that he has, and every cut, every broken bone, every concussion, every single injury he sustained was willingly taken out of his obsession with stopping the crime that took his family away from him. And at the end of the day, he's human. And more than any other superhero, the physical strain that he goes through is clear to see. He's not a superhero, he's just an exceptional man who has no special powers to fall back on when he's in trouble.
For my money, this is a far more interesting character to follow than someone like Peter Parker, or god help me, that goody-goody two shoes Clark Kent. I've just always loved the fact that Batman has to leg sweep a guy once in a while, you know?
"My plan? Well, I was thinking about flying really fast and picking something up. It's all I seem to do."
More than any other "Batman" films, the Nolan series starts off by showing what Bruce Wayne actually went through to become Batman. Every other time it was just the prerequisite "dark alley gunshots" and Mr. and Mrs. Wayne lying on the wet sidewalk in a flashback/dream sequence. In this movie, his struggle seems more poignant because we see the buildup to those struggles, which is something the other films all lacked entirely.
I love Christian Bale as an actor, but out of everything I've seen him in, I think his turn as Batman is going to be what people remember him for, which is a good thing. I liked Michael Keaton as both Bruce and Batman, because he was the only guy to play Bruce Wayne like he was crazy enough to dress like a bat and fight crime. I even thought Val Kilmer was a great Bruce. He just wasn't great under the mask, frankly. But Christian Bale is the first guy who's played a good Bruce Wayne while still looking like he could be Batman physically. The way he carries himself and the way he is crazy ripped leaves little doubt that he could actually do these things. You look at Val Kilmer as Batman and wonder if he's worried about his hair getting messed up under the cowl.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, it's only one cast member away from perfect. Having Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgen Freeman, my unapologetic man-crush Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe, and even frigging Rutger Hauer in "Batman Begins" basically makes it a movie composed of a respectable chunk of my favorite actors. And then there's Katie Holmes. Her performance is tolerable enough I suppose, but when she's on screen with actors like Michael goddamn Caine, it's like watching Homer Simpson boxing Drederik Tatum: the best she can hope for is her corpse still looking vaguely human after he pounds into a meat-flavored pile.
"Now den. Oym gonna 'it ewe wiff dis bat, an' ewer gonna take it. 'Cause oym Muwhyco Caine."
Oh, quick side note, be on the lookout for future royalty on the streets of Gotham.
Psychotic, inbred future royalty...
If there was a short coming with "Batman Begins," it was probably that I felt that it waffled slightly when it came to the question "Who is the bad guy in this?" Now, this is simply a matter of the movie pulling some twists on us, obviously, but it did feel on occasion that there was no central villain for the good middle hour of the film. And I must say that I was upset that Cillian Murphy's villain, The Scarecrow, was essentially made a non-issue about forty minutes after it appeared that he was the main bad guy. Of course, they work him into the main villain, Ras al-Ghul's plot, but he's really just a pawn in a bigger scheme. And he has what is undoubtedly the least dignified and most unsatisfying send off for a Batman villain that I remember seeing. Getting tasered in the face by Katie Holmes? Really? That's the resolution of that one? Lame.
I also wasn't a big fan of how the effects of Scarecrow's "fear-gas" were implemented. The visions that people are seeing when they are under its effects really don't seem that terrifying. I mean, most of the time, other people are just appearing as having glowing eyes. I suppose when Scarecrow sees Batman while suffering its effects it kind of works, but really all Batman looks like is a drooling gargoyle. Not really that scary. Now, if they were rotting, decaying, grotesque corpses or something, that I can see being scary. But how far could you push that and keep a PG-13 rating? Who knows.
Those little nitpicks aside, I loved "Batman Begins." I had been a fan of Christopher Nolan before, but his rescuing of The Dark Knight earned a spot in my favorite directors file.
And to think, we thought he knocked it out of the park on this one. If we only knew...
THE BOTTOM LINE - This was more of a retrospective than an actual review, I know. This is mostly because honestly, if you haven't seen "Batman Begins" yet, what the hell are you doing? It's one of the most important comic book movies ever, being the beginning of what I would call the best superhero trilogy ever made. Very Highly Recommended.