Sunday, June 19, 2005

Looking To The Stars: Batman Begins… To Rock!

This column goes to print on my 27th birthday, although I actually write it at 2:01 AM, CST some four days earlier having just returned from the evening’s last showing of Batman Begins. The reason for this is so that I may write while the film is still fresh in my mind. And just so there’s no worries at the start, this entire review will be spoiler free.

I went into this movie with high hopes and only one expectation: it would be better than Batman and Robin. I will grant that this is a very low expectation but after Constantine and Catwoman you will forgive me for being on guard at yet another WB comic book adaptation. But all my early optimism proved to be justified. This is easily the best Batman movie EVER. Yes, that includes the Burton films and I expect to be thoroughly stoned by the goth community I am part of for that statement. Regardless, I would like to include a quick three-point bullet list for all Warner Brothers executives for future reference regarding the Superman movie, the Wonder Woman movie and the inevitable Batman sequel.

1. Have a Writer and Director Who Respect the Material

All the successful comic book adaptations, both in terms of financial and critical success, have had directors and writers who, if not fans of the original comics, at least respected the source material. By way of a comparison, Spider-Man 2 had Sam Raimi and Michael Chabon – fanboy since childhood and Pulitzer-Prize winning comic-book writer. This movie had Christopher Nolan and David Goyer – reportedly a fan and an actual honest-to-gawd comic book writer. Now compare this to Daredevil, which was reportedly dropped on the guy whose biggest project to that date was “Grumpy Old Men”, who was quoted as of saying that his biggest challenge was finding out how the character was different than Batman…

2. Get GOOD Actors, not famous ones.

This is not to suggest that you cannot have big name actors, which I know is very important to the executive types. Just remember that you should get GOOD big name actors. By way of another for instance, Batman Begins had a lot of good big name actors in supporting roles. Michael Caine. Gary Oldman. Morgan Freeman. Liam Bloody Neeson! And this made the movie all the richer because there was talent in all the right places. Compare this to Catwoman, Constantine or… well, anything that was created as a solo-piece for one big star even outside of comic book movies.

3. Take Your Time

You don’t need to throw $100 million dollars worth of special effects onto the screen right away. Take some time to introduce the characters and let us see who they are under the masks before throwing them into action. Batman Begins opened with a leisurely introduction that showed us the entire life of Bruce Wayne. I didn’t glance at my watch, but we had to have been at least an hour in before Batman showed up. And I didn’t care. Because the story was interesting without the need for flashy entrances, big explosions and a dramatic car chase at the very start.

As for the movie itself, I shall say very little save that the stigma surrounding the DC Comics superhero movie has been removed. The direction is superb and the story magnificent. The design is amazing, with Gotham City coming off as the missing link between modern day Manhattan and the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. And with one glaring exception (Katie Holmes, who looks like she should be getting ready for junior prom rather than working for the DA’s office), the acting is top notch.

I imagine that some fanboys will be outraged that some changes have been made from the core Batman story. How Lucius Fox never worked for R&D during his time with Wayne Enterprises or how Jonathan Crane never worked at Arkham Asylum. Then again, perhaps they will be too busy admiring how the script for the movie seems to draw off some of the best moments of the last 20 years of Batman history. Elements of the story seem to have been drawn from Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, The Long Halloween, Knightfall, No Man’s Land, and Legacy.

Let them grouse. For the rest of the common movie goers, this movie will be a welcome treat this summer. And for us fans who can tolerate a little bit of change (or persuade ourselves to call this an Elseworlds) this will exist as proof positive that there’s at least one group of people in Hollywood who know what they are doing.

Tune in next time. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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