Batman Begins (***)

Posted on June 1st, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

When I saw Christian Bale (or almost saw, as he was virtually too thin to actually reflect light) in The Machinist I would never have imagined that he could assume the mantle of Batman. But he does so with stunning authority, and I felt as if I were watching the first major motion picture based on the character. What I was doing, however, was watching the first really good big-budget Batman film. The first one (with Michael Keaton) was passably entertaining, but I have never sought it out to watch it again. The rest of the flock (or would that more appropriately be “colony”?) were not even that good, at least as far as I can remember, and I don’t really remember anything about them, other than Nicholson’s creepy grin and Schwarzenegger’s crazy ice cream man.

But in Batman Begins we finally have what is to me the first worthy representation of the Dark Knight on the big screen. There is no Burton-esque surreality or Schumacher-ian crassness tainting the story, which tells the tale of young Bruce Wayne and his journey to becoming Batman. Christian Bale plays the young billionaire orphan playboy with the right amounts of panache and pathos, and the supporting cast is excellent, including Michael Caine as the best-ever Alfred, Liam Neeson as Obi-Wan, Katie Holmes as Lois Lane, Gary Oldman as not-yet-Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Q, and Cillian Murphy as Johnny Depp. Those comparisons to other movies/characters are not meant to be derogatory, but they sum up each performance better than several paragraphs of drivel.

My one big complaint with the film is that way too many of the action and fight scenes are filmed in extreme close-up, meaning that the actual action can only be inferred, not observed. In some cases this makes sense in that the director is trying to show the perspective of Batman’s foes as he attacks them without being seen clearly, but the technique is used to the point of becoming a crutch, perhaps so that the director would not have to deal with the hairy continuity issues that come with ornate digital effects.

One would think, however, that the director would be a master of continuity, as this film is directed by Christopher Nolan, who also directed the time-warping (and iron-man continuity marathon) Memento. However, other than a bit too much jump-cutting and close-up-ing, Nolan sets a very good tone and pace for the film. One wonders if the kaleidescopic nature of the action sequences was a preference of the director or a command from a lunkhead studio moneyman.

Overall, however, the film works, but loses a half-star to the cheap pyrotechnics. Cheap as in unworthy, not cheap as in poor, as all the special effects are first rate, even if what they are depicting is blurred nothingness in a black cape at night in a rainstorm fighting black-suited bad guys. So, if the words “A Jerry Bruckheimer Production” get you excited, then add that half-star back onto this review. Otherwise go see the film anyway — we actually ended up seeing it twice this weekend, once on the IMAX (nice, but the slight cropping made the inscrutable action sequences even more indecipherable), then again with a friend of ours on the regular big screen.

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