I saw Batman Begins at a press screening last week and it is without a doubt the best Batman movie (and perhaps best comic book film adaptation) made so far. This is the first film based on a superhero character that really evokes the feeling of the books, with “Batman: Year One” and “The Long Halloween,” seeming to be the biggest inspiration for Director Christopher Nolan.
As you’ve probably read, “Batman Begins” spends a lot of time developing Bruce Wayne’s character and goes to great lengths to establish and flesh out his world, motivations, and the plausability of a billionaire dressing up a like flying mammal because his parents were shot by a mugger. Nolan obviously get the character in a way that Tim Burton did not. While I liked the stylistic decor, the music, and the eye-popping candy-colored visuals of the first two Batman films, the glaring plotholes that plagued “Batman” (two hoods able to shoot Batman point blank and almost demask him, The Joker taking down a jet with a handgun, etc.) and of course, the casting, with Michael Keaton as a rather short, too skinny Batman and Jack Nicholson as a too old, too chubby Joker, the film seemed to get waaayy off track from the source material.
This is even more apparent after seeing Nolan’s version, where such careful attention is paid to developing the essential relationships between Bruce Wayne, Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, relationships that are necessary for Wayne to achieve his mission and which aren’t given much thought in the previous films. The supporting roles are also played with the same inspiring, serious intent by Michael Caine and Gary Oldman that Christian Bale gives to the lead. All the acting in the film is good, with everyone on the same page in treating the film as anything but kid’s stuff, which may also lead one to question who exactly Nolan made this film for, it being touted as a summer blockbuster and all.
As numerous headlines about comics growing up the 80’s declared “Bam! Zap! POW! Comics aren’t Just For Kids!” this movie may leave anyone under the age of twelve or those seeking seeking the standard, CG heavy Hollywood roller coaster ride feeling a wee bit drowsy. (The middle-aged woman next to me at the screening slept through the first hour of the film.) Batman doesn’t show up in the film for probably a good hour, which leaves mainly dialogue driven scenes with Bruce Wayne as he meticulously constructs and becomes his alter-ego.
This careful development leads to packing more wallop when you finally get to see Batman on screen, but this also leads to my only major criticism. While the movie deftly handles dialogue and character interaction in a way that is very unusual for a huge summer popcorn flic, the action/fight scenes definitely point out Nolan’s weakness (or lack of interest) for such business. They are muddy and not particularly well visualized, and with the whole film having a somewhat dark veneer it is difficult at times to quite see what is going on. I found this forgiveable (Bryan Singer had the same problem in the first X-men film) as all the scenes that lead up to all the action make them far more interesting anyway: you actually care what happens to the characters, and isn’t that the point of going to the movies anyway?