Thursday, 31 January 2013

Batman Begins (2005)

With the SQA's first round of preliminary exams over and done with, there is time to celebrate the sudden influx of free time in the evenings with a Christmas boxset. The two I got were Father Ted from my sister and The Dark Knight trilogy, which I had been asking for for roughly half a year before the big day and which was calling me yesterday evening. And so, with Swedish Charlotta in the house, we picked out the first of Christopher Nolan's three, Batman Begins, and watched as the laptop sucked it up.

Now, I should point out before I start on this that I have very little previous experience with Batman, having read the Beano and Dandy as a youngster rather than any classic panels from DC and having grown up with animated films such as The Emperor's New Groove and Toy Story 2 rather than Tim Burton's trend setting efforts or 1997's seminal, genre-redefining Batman & Robin (ahem). The only childhood experience I have with the Caped Crusader (I really dislike that term, but the word Batman should only be used sparingly) was the not-too-shabby Batman: The Animated Series which I caught on the BBC in the early morning. If I fancy a laugh these days, I'll turn on the original 60s series of Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which has a tongue-in-cheek approach that is still far funnier than much of what there is to be found on modern telly. The only films I have seen so far have been the three in Nolan's trilogy, which some might be shocked by, and some may be jealous of. Suffice to say, I can't imagine how any others could better these.

Batman Begins risks confusion at the start by running three separate timelines alongside each other: a young Bruce Wayne develops a phobia of bats and sees his parents killed; the older Bruce Wayne meets Liam Neeson in a foreign prison and enlists his help in developing the abilities he needs to fight injustice; Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after a seven year absense with a view to becoming Batman. Luckily, this is presented in such a way that it isn't too hard to swallow. Most moviegoers these days are well aware of Batman's origin story anyway, so it is to Nolan's credit that the deaths of Mr and Mrs Wayne are still frightening and unexpected. Essentially, all the film is, is another 'Superhero Origin' movie, of the sort that we see so often, intended to start anew and show off the filmmaker's unique take on a series. This one differs to the others, I think, in that... it's good.

There are a few new bits added in, a twist to the story of Ra's al Ghul chief among them. The plot is ludicrous, involving a massive machine which can vaporize a huge supply of water. It is carried out very pleasingly, though, with not only al Ghul but Cillian Murphy's creepy Scarecrow plotting to destroy the corrupt city of Gotham and start afresh against Christian Bale's insistence that he can help out in a much more safe and humane manner as Batman. Really, this film was made to show off Batman's skills and how he came to get everything he has, from the Batcave to a humble and loyal butler, before really pushing the boat (ferry?) out with the superlative follow-up, The Dark Knight. While Batman Begins isn't too bad a movie, no one could have picked up from it what was to come from the trilogy next. But that's for later.

Christopher Nolan is a Brit, having been born in London in 1970. You can almost tell this from the casting of the film, which is dominated by British talent. Christian Bale is Welsh, although he doesn't like to show it, and Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy are sons of Ireland. The reliably superb Gary Oldman takes pride of place in the film as James Gordon, Gotham's sole trustworthy policeman. Neeson is the only one of these four who doesn't have to put on an American accent for his role, not that it matters in any way. The facial hair in Batman Begins is second to none, by the way, with such offerings as Oldman's impeccable hairbrush moustache, Neeson's lovely goatee, Morgan Freeman's trim upper lip fuzz and Ken Watanabe's near indescribable parallel moustache/beard mutation. Google it, if you don't know what I mean.

Batman Begins was already high on many a best superhero film list, even before the rest of the trilogy came to light. Beside the two other films, this one might seem a bit drab and ordinary, particularly as many recent superhero films have borrowed from the tone of this one and portrayed a much darker hero than the ones in the old school movies. It's the fashion. Counted alongside the other two, it makes for a useful and necessary introduction to Nolan's interpretation of Batman and how he thinks. The acting is better than your average comic book adaption, too. It all clicks together as a whole, although each part works solo quite happily. It's like a triptych. Batman Begins makes you want more, and oh, how that paid off.

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