Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Film Review: Batman Begins

"It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you."

Ahead of the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Confab will feature reviews of both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, to get you in the Batman mood - if you aren't already. 2002's Spiderman and its sequel can be credited with bringing superhero movies back in vogue. Sam Raimi's webslinger series was evidence that the superhero movies could be more than just action films, delivering an intelligent, emotional story with humour as well as fantastic action scenes. If Raimi established this formula, Christopher Nolan perfected it with Batman Begins. The first instalment of Nolan's reboot of the Batman series sets the scene for arguably the best comic book (and indeed action) franchise of all time.

Batman Begins introduces us to a young Bruce Wayne, exploring his fear of bats and the death of his parents. Disillusioned with the justice system after the arranged release of his parents murderer he goes to the courtroom with a gun intending to exact revenge. This darker side of Wayne has never been fully explored in the numerous Batman films which precede this one. It is safe to say this is an indication of darker things to come for the series, as well as its protagonist. Of course, our hero doesn't become a murderer, although whether or not it was because he is beaten to the punch by one of mob boss Falcone's henchmen we are left to decide for ourselves. He confronts Falcone, seeing him as the real cause of Gotham's problems, only to be told he is a tourist in the underworld and that he will never understand the darker side of the city. This prompts Bruce to run away to the Far East where he lives as a criminal but asserts that he never becomes one.

The rest of the film follows Bruce through his training all leading to his becoming the Batman. Christian Bale delivers a fantastic and versatile performance as Batman. As Bale himself has stated, he plays four characters in one man: the pre-Batman, younger Bruce who is filled with anger and bitterness; Bruce Wayne's playboy billionaire persona; Bruce Wayne the troubled and guilt ridden man and the enigmatic, angry Batman persona. Bale is supported by Michael Caine as loyal butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as weapons expert Lucius Fox, Liam Neeson as mentor Henry Ducard, Katie Holmes as love interest Rachel (yes that's pretty much the only remarkable thing about her character)and Gary Oldman as Detective Gordon.

Caine plays his role with wit and has an excellent paternal chemistry with Bale. The scenes between Alfred and Bruce allow the latter to display a vulnerability and humour the script allows little room for elsewhere. Freeman's Lucius Fox is sharp and sardonic but isn't given much scope for development (something which is rectified in The Dark Knight). Liam Neeson plays a convincing mentor figure for Bruce when he is training in the Far East, teaching him much of the skills he will later use as the Batman and delivering some great one-liners later in the film. Katie Holmes performs the role with little imagination but in all fairness to her, Rachel Dawes of Batman Begins isn't a character who has been crafted with much to begin with. The childhood friend who acts as a conscience for the protagonist is annoying at times and sickly sweet at others. Oldman is fantastic as Detective Gordon, a good cop trying to do the right thing in a bent city. He is both warm and down to earth, providing some of the more humourous moments in the film and is a real pleasure to watch.

The villain of the film is kept deliberately mysterious by Nolan until very close to the end, something which helps inject the plot with tension and suspense. Cillian Murphy plays faux-villain/henchman the Scarecrow, donning a terrifying mask and using a hallucinogenic drug as a weapon which knocks Batman down a peg or two in one of the more scary scenes in the film. Fans of the comics may have been disappointed by the representation of the Scarecrow as Murphy seems to be much less manic and deranged than his literary counterpart. However, Nolan's Scarecrow seems to fit in much better with this film and allows Nolan to fully exploit the character of the Joker in Dark Knight without there being too much similarity.

Batman Begins strikes all of the right notes; it is dark, intelligent and witty with a stellar cast and a fantastic lead. There is much more humour in it than in The Dark Knight which means it never quite achieves the dramatic power which its sequel is able to. The one slight drawback is the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes. The chemistry between Bale and Holmes is practically non-existent. It is difficult to believe the attraction from Wayne to the irritating and even boring Rachel. Their one kiss is flat at best, awkward at worst. Thankfully, the focus of Batman Begins is on Christian Bale's character and the romance element is given little enough screen time for this not to become a detracting factor.

Overall, Batman Begins is a fantastic introduction to the franchise. It explores Batman's in enough depth to be interesting and insightful but not to the extent that it slows down the plot. The supporting characters aren't particularly developed but due to the nature of the film, particularly as the first in a series, this can be excused. Most of all, Christopher Nolan achieves what Sam Raimi set out to but failed in Spiderman 3, exploring the darker side of the superhero character without turning him into a farce.

By Emma-Lee Davidson


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