Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Batman Begins

With the release of The Dark Knight Rises coming ever closer I decided I would start getting everyone ready by reviewing the first two movies in the trilogy. I originally wanted to review every Batman movie that has ever been made but I ran a Batman film series from January-March and didn’t want to sit through every single movie again. I don’t think anyone would want to see The Dark Knight Rises by the time I finished, as too much of a good thing is a bad thing, even with Batman. Anyway, I of course start with Batman Begins, the first film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. This takes Batman movies in a completely new direction and shows us a side of the story that is normally reserved for the comics. Honestly, I’m not sure where to start so I’m just going to wing it.

Normally editing is something that either catches my eye way too much or I don’t notice it at all. Batman Begins, however, does a really good job of using the editing to help tell the story without being overly obnoxious. If you’re a Batman fan to any degree, you know very well that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed while he watched helplessly as a child and it was this moment that inspired him to become the bat. The nice thing about Batman Begins is it goes into more detail about how he became Batman rather than simply why. While that is important, it is even more crucial to note that during the first “act” of the movie, the story trades off between Bruce’s “how” and “why” moments from his past and present. Editing the first act this way actually goes a long way for the story. If the movie spent the exposition act saying “this is why he became Batman, and now we’re going to show you how he became Batman” it would have taken a lot longer and been a lot more boring. By telling the two stories interchangeably the movie becomes a lot more interesting and reveals more about the characters in a shorter span of time.

Speaking of switching between past and present, the way this is done is also really clever. In the present when we want to switch to the past, Bruce is presented with a question. This allows us to not only get our answer in a more interesting way than if Bruce had just told us, but it allows us inside his head for a little while. In switching back to the present, we are brought into existing conversations about the topic at hand taking place at a slightly later date in time, allowing the timeline to move forward smoothly and quickly.

Using visuals to aid in storytelling is always a good way to go for a film rather than telling the entire story through dialogue. Comic books have to do this all the time, of course, and one thing that this movie does very well is use frames from various comics as influence on how to frame the shots. (Note: this movie references a lot of comics but none more than Batman: Year One. For simplicity, I am only going to be showing frames from that one. Sorry guys!) So, remember when Bruce’s parents die and his father tells him not to be afraid, then the camera pulls out and shows Bruce on his knees next to his parent’s bodies? That shot is one of many inspired by the comic and really helps cement the fans into the story. Note: all images that are not from the movie link to the pages where I found them.

Batman Begins doesn’t just use Year One for shot reference, however. Various plot devices were also pulled from the comic, yet another nod to the original medium and a welcome show of respect for comic storylines not normally seen in film-making. While the circumstances of the scene are different, the “bat back-up” scene was crucial to the Year One storyline. While there was no introduction of the technology for this scene in the film, it wasn’t necessary because it was a nice surprise for comic book fans everywhere who understood the reference.

Of course, I can’t mention the comics if I don’t bring up the ending. Gordon and Batman are officially allies (under very different circumstances between the film and the comic, but allies nonetheless). A new villain is popping up that calls himself the Joker, and Gordon needs Batman’s help.

As a comic book fan and a movie enthusiast, I always get annoyed when the filmmakers tackling a comic character barely read the comics, let alone do them justice for the film. One of the reasons this Batman film is among my favorites is because Christopher Nolan and everyone else involved in this film took the time and effort to make sure they weren’t pulling the entire story out of nowhere. They did their research, they included things from the comics that they liked and they lightly changed things they didn’t like. Story and visuals alike, this movie is a Nolan film and  Batman film in one, unlike the atrocities of the Schumacher films that just so happen to have Batman in the title.

Being a Nolan film, he is welcome to take some liberty with the existing characters and add new ones as he pleases. Rachel Dawes, a character we all know was added for the “Nolanverse”, is very rough in this film. It is a bit troubling that she is one of the few female characters in this entire movie and is portrayed as having an unshakable sense of right and wrong. I’m not saying that she is a bad character because she is a good person, but the fact that the movie attempts to show her as flawless because she is female/the love interest is very troubling. It is often disappointing to see writers who are unable to write good female characters because they are too hung up on their gender role, and this seems to be the case with Rachel. Because she is the love interest, she gets to be what a perfect woman should be and not what a woman actually would be.

Other than all that, her logic is completely inconsistent. I will never understand why she claims to have thought about Bruce the whole time he was “missing” when the last time she saw him she had to slap him for wanting to kill someone. I can understand her disappointment in him becoming a selfish playboy when he returns, but essentially this disappointment is not in what he has seemingly become, but what he has seemingly remained to be. The playboy bit is a little new, but before Bruce left he was pretty much an insufferable twit. He could not see past his own problems regarding his parent’s death and did not care that other people were suffering until she pointed it out to him. When he returns she is disappointed and even goes so far as to return the spearhead they fought over as kids as if to say “you can take it, I’m done with this”, but insists that Batman is not the man she loves, but Bruce is. I guess this is turning into a rant but all I’m trying to say is that Rachel is a very poorly thought out character.

As far as Bruce being completely insufferable before he leaves, I actually admire this about the film. I find it more realistic as this is how most victims of homicide or manslaughter react. Bruce wanted to kill Joe Chill, which is not altogether an uncommon reaction to a loved one suffering at the hand of another. This is, to an extent, why we have the death penalty. Not only is this more realistic though, but it adds so much to Bruce’s character. He is not just some guy that decided at the age of ten that he was going to become a crime fighter. He is a man who had to struggle to get over his own selfishness to realize that other people were still suffering and didn’t always do bad things because they were bad people. He is a man who had to redefine himself entirely in order to become what he wanted to be and pulled it off surprisingly gracefully. There is redemption in becoming Batman for this incarnation of Bruce Wayne (as there are in many others, I’m not trying to blow off other great storylines here). I like that Bruce gets to redeem himself, and it is also (sort of) a reference to another franchise that came before! Oh Christopher Nolan, I see what you did there.

            Aside from this, I do have some problems with Batman in this film, namely “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”. Granted, this is mostly a problem for me as a Batman fan. It makes sense for this movie, but in Batman lore it is widely known that Batman does not kill people, no exceptions, not even for The Joker. By creating the circumstances that lead to Ra’s al Ghul’s death (blowing up the train tracks before the train can get to Wayne Tower) he is essentially killing him by refusing to save him. I will admit this is a pet peeve of mine, but the only movie that portrayed Batman’s unwillingness to kill with any kind of accuracy was Batman: The Movie from 1966, and we all know how corny that was. It is disheartening to see this character trait portrayed so poorly in the film adaptations.

While this movie does have a few faults, I must say it is a better attempt at making a Batman film than any other. If you don’t respect the medium from which you are making your movie, what you will get is an unrelated movie with a familiar title. This type of filmmaking has disappointed comic book fans for years, and we are finally in an era where comics are being taken seriously by filmmakers. It is possible to make a good comic book movie that entertains comic book fans, movie buffs, and even the general public. This movie, in my opinion, was one of the first to succeed at this and I hope the legacy this film leaves is long lasting.

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