Saturday, June 18, 2005

Batman Begins

And so it begins. A little discrepancy in the chronology, as compared to the progression of the real timelines of filmography. Batman Begins. I have no idea how anyone won't like this latest instalment in the Batman franchise. I mean, it's the optimal movie cocktail; with all the low-grade booze shoved roughly to one side and the cherries on top. Orange swirls, too. No, not that sort of cocktail. Really, there's these sophisticated action sequences, all that random swishing ninja sword fighting with Mr Mysterious Mentor Henri Ducard (a short-haired Neeson who vaguely resembles Viggo Mortenesen) spouting outwardly-chiding-but-secretly-proud mentor lines like "You were always unaware of your surroundings" (note that I'm paraphrasing here), the delving into dark history sequences complete with shots of an appropriately angsty Wayne delivering one-twos upon Chinese convicts, the emergence of superhero parts that are always essential for any fan-drool marathon, and the Righteous Police Commisioner(to-be), Lt. Jim Gordon, played, most inappropriately, by (gasp here for dramatic effect), Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman. What. Oldman, the classic villian? You know? Quiet British actor, bearded, can fake good accents, guy who played That Russian (Ivan Korshunov) in Air Force One, Dr Zachary Smith the Villianous GP/Terrorist Wishing to Blow the World Up in Lost in Space, (where he really spouts evil Sith/British anti-ideologue and gets the Sarcastic Treatment by Matt LeBlanc, the guy from Friends), Dracula in Dracula, and nearly got to be the voice for General Grievous in Sith. And Sirius Black (whoever that is) from Harry Potter and the [insert names of latest two movies here.] Enlighten me on the details. Anyway if you've watched Oldman in many of his roles you'll realize that guy is just scary. Look at him. In Batman Begins. Wearing the John Bolton (moustache), being the Only Honest Policeman Left in Gotham City. He emanates this aura of honesty and goodness. And competence. And his accent is American. In Air Force One its Russian. In In Lost in Space it's British. In Harry Potter and the [insert names of latest two movies here], it's uh...never mind. He is a terrifyingly good actor, because he just projects auras, from his manner, his voice, his expressions. He was absolutely unrecognizable in Batman Begins as the classic Oldman.

Anyway, Batman Begins is a good movie. Probably the best of the Batman movie franchise. (though I have yet to see Tim Burton's versions.) And I thought Batman and Robin was acceptable. George Clooney the pseudo-angsty Dark Knight seems to have little angst to justify being the Hammer of Justice. Maybe he's just too long on the job. Many have panned his "smirking Batman" and Batsuit nipples that are the legacy of Schumacher Batman movies.

Sticking to the point. Batman Begins is a fitting introduction to the series. The plot, while still a tad superhero-ish, is the most macabrely twisted and the darkest of superhero plots seen so far. Circles within circles...and the Illuminati-esque capper is most satisfying of the twists. I like how all the elements of conspiracy come together in a very neat but not contrived way. Deus ex Machina is thankfully missing. The Oriental Bit at the start, with Bale/Wayne spouting the hilarious wo bu shi huai zhe! (I am not a criminal!) in half-there intonation is priceless. While a little mystically charged the League of Shadows can be genuinely unsettling at times. Especially when Neeson/Ducard/? reveals that they were behind the burning of Rome, the Plague of the Middle ages, and other catastrophes that have "restored the balance and elminated decadence" in the world, the weight of history does hang deep. Fabricated, yes. But nevertheless. Cliched? Maybe, a little. But at least it's done with style. And style is all that matters in reviewer scribblings. Ken Watanabe (Ra's Al Gul) makes me wonder if he can actually speak English.

Acting is generally excellent all around, with Bale projecting the right amounts of emotional angst. Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane) scares me. His disconcertingly smug, unsettling, almost-insane stare is perfectly conjured. And when he dons the bag and becomes the Scarecrow, it wouldn't have been out of place in a horror movie. Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) has been described as never failing to deliver good acting chops. While he doesn't stand out, at least he still gives a believable performance. Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone) is British. And he plays an Al Capone-esque, gun-toting gang boss who sounds like he was weaned in Brooklyn. Need I say more? Alfred the Butler radiates fatherly charm and concern, but I actually (shock horror) prefer the Alfred in Batman and Robin. Not to say that Michael Caine was bad. He was good, and hailed as one of the best actors in Batman Begins. Katie Holmes, (one half of TomKat) who plays Rachel Dawes, Batman's love interest ("but," you shout. "We never saw anything like that in the cartoon!") was acceptable. Not the underdog. But not outstanding. I actually am less sensitive to acting ability.

Direction. Good cinematography, good acting chops, nice closeups, very emotional. That aside, I would like to say that Batman on fire is disconcerting. He's a superhero, for crying out loud. Spoiler Alert! Anyway, Nolan is better known for the independent psyschological movie than a big-budget blockbuster, and he puts his talents for drawing out Freudian, er, themes, to good use. Batman Begins is more character driven than most summer blockbusters. The obligatory action sequences are not the centerstage. Bruce Wayne and the Internal Struggle of How He Actually Turns Into Batman is. As Bruce in his playboy persona blithely says to a group of clustered companions, "A guy who dresses up like a bat...clearly has issues." Oh yes. Humour is actually quite abundant for a supposedly dark (which it is) movie such as this.

The funniest line in the movie goes like this.

Crane: He's here.
Random Street Enforcer: Who?
Crane: The bat-man.

The way he says it is just hilarious. I am going to buy the VCD/DVD and play it over and over again. Just joking.

Anyway, Batman Begins is good, and is probably the best of the superhero movie franchise to date.

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