Batman Begins
July 17, 2008

KC wants to go see The Dark Knight soon, before we hear too much about it. I’m not really interested — I can’t see clips without thinking how tragic it was to lose Heath Ledger — but everyone expects me to see it, and I want to keep him company. (We’ll see Mamma Mia! first, though.)

Batman Begins cover
Batman Begins
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I mention this only to explain why I finally watched Batman Begins — it was necessary homework.

It was pretty much what I expected. Fight scenes and attempts to make this pulp story meaningful with men training in Tibet and facing their fears in macho ways, all structured with fast cutting and smoke. I like many of the actors, but they seem overwhelmed by the massive sets and the inevitability of the requirements of their roles. And it’s a shame Katie Holmes’ acting career peaked when she was 15.

I was fascinated by how long it took for the movie to introduce either the Bruce Wayne playboy character or Batman. Almost an hour went by without establishing the basics. Maybe it’s a fair assumption on the moviemakers’ part that absolutely everyone who saw this already knew why we were watching the kid flashbacks and the near-ninja ice-pond swordfight and the Year One panel recreations.

Since the story’s so familiar, the question becomes how well it’s done. This is certainly a big-budget movie, and it shows. There’s a lot to watch on the screen, but for me, I was rarely emotionally involved. The only part I really liked was the underground “conveniently useful prototype technology lab” and the way Morgan Freeman ran it. And Wayne’s excuses, too. “Now I’m going spelunking.”

I was really glad I saw Iron Man before this, because it made for interesting comparisons. Both are about too-rich men building supersuits to fill a void in their lives. Instead of being fun to watch and someone you’d want to know, though, Christian Bale’s Batman strikes me as vaguely slimy, menacing, someone to sidle away from without alarming him, as demonstrated in the party scene. (Oh, and the car is dumb. Especially how he parks it.)

Batman got me back into comics the second time (the third was what stuck), back around the time of Batman Returns. I think now, though, that he’s not a character I have much resonance with. People say they like him because he’s someone anyone could be, a human who made himself better, but at this point, he’s a superhuman who pretends to be achievable. You may like to envision yourself as him, but you’re really going to be one of the faceless crowd made mad.

Between the effects and the forced exposition and the sad attempts at catchphrases and the mechanical portrayals of elements we already know, the story is all brain and brawn. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a *bad* movie… It’s very faithful to the comics (the good ones). It just doesn’t have much heart. It’s great for the fans, not so much for a general audience. If you don’t know the comics, the character types can seem pretty two-dimensional. And I don’t think it’s very re-watchable. But what do I know … it took me three years to get around to it!

15 Responses  
Brian Morton writes:  

Johanna, I know what you mean. I saw Batman Begins in the theatre when it came out, but had trouble remembering it a week later. I enjoyed parts of it while watching them, and I liked the car, but nothing resonated, as you say, emotionally. I tried watching the dvd last year, but wandered off about halfway through, looking for something that might interest me more.

That being said, go with KC to see this one in the theatre, it gave me almost everything the first one didn’t. I’ll not hype it up any more, there’s plenty of that already, but I think you’ll be pleased with Nolan’s work this time out.

Oh, and take lozenges. Batman’s snarly voice made me want soothing candies every time he talked.

Johanna writes:  

I’m glad to hear you liked the second one more! KC saw this first one in the theater (at a convention sneak preview, so with a very jazzed sympathetic audience), and he loved it. Watching it again on DVD with me, he agreed that the first hour was somewhat slow going. So I think the sense of surprise is helpful to the enjoyment, as are the surroundings.

Dave writes:  

I agree about the lack of emotional resonance of Batman Begins. I remember liking it when I saw it, but not a lot of it remains with me now.

I doubt I’ll see The Dark Knight. I can’t get past the visual portrayal of the Joker. He should be insanely evil, but not gross. I had the same problem with the Penguin in Batman Returns. It hurt to watch that movie. Of course, the next two films were painful to watch as well, but for different reasons.

However, I hope this new film is a success. If so, it would serve as a fitting memory for a talented actor who died far too soon.

A Different Dave writes:  

Pretty much ditto on what the first 2 commenters said. My wife was a good sport and went with me to begins (she even put on a Batgirl (Bruce Timm version) t-shirt to match my Batman tee. I enjoyed it but it didn’t stick much – and when my wife gave me the DVD for Christmas two years ago, well… let’s just say it still has the wrapper on it. And she has already announced she has no desire to see the new one because “it looks scary.”

One thing: I thought the filmmakers missed a plum opportunity to offer a up a little harmless fan service: IIRC, there was a scene set outside the back door of Captain (?) Gordon’s apartment (wow, memory fuzzy). It would have been cool to see a young teen girl with red hair and glasses out on the porch/fire-escape/whatever observing the chaos – and then a voice from inside says “Come back inside, Barbara.”

yes, I’m a dork

The Deacon writes:  

Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and disagree with all of you. The first hour was doing something that no other batman movie (or comic that I know of) has done. That is, show how batman was made. In the old stories and movies, you see poor little Bruce’s parents shot down and the next logical step is, of course, swinging around in a bat suit beating up bad guys. Huh? I appreciated the inclusion of how he decided to be a symbolic figure of fear, where that symbol came from, and the ways that this relentless pursuit of justice (or is it revenge?) for his parents has left him empty, even in the end. I also appreciate the way that the Scarecrow is his opposite. He uses fear for very different reasons.
Also, you’re not supposed to want to be next to Batman. The ol’ “it takes a monster to defeat a monster” dictum is at work here. Batman is a symbol power, fear, and above-normal ambition, not humor like Iron Man. Batman is fare more serious than Tony Stark. His suit doesn’t have missiles or servo motors and it can’t fly. He is the engine and he tunes his body and mind like a machine.
After that movie, Batman stopped being a super hero to me and became a Samurai.
I enjoyed the first one quite a bit, and still enjoy watching it now.
I can’t wait to go see DK tomorrow!
Cheers, folks. Sorry to disagree, but at least I’m cheery about it!

Johanna writes:  

That’s fine — disagreement can be more interesting, sometimes. I’m glad you enjoyed it; thanks for explaining more about what you saw in it.

I think we fundamentally have different views of what Batman should be. I think he should only strike fear into bad guys. You (and the movie) seem to aim more for someone who frightens everyone, if only a bit.

The Deacon writes:  

I see your point and I’d say that the new animated flick Gotham Night deals somewhat with that theme in the first segment. A group of skater kids trade stories about Batman encounters. The different ways each sees Batman is interesting.
This may be picky, but I don’t necessarily aim for a creepy Batman, it just seems to me that somebody who transforms himself into a war machine to fight the nastiest of the nasty will end up with some rough and unpleasant edges, and that just seems more plausible to me. (I know, I know, plausible and super hero movies? Whateva!)

Johanna writes:  

Interesting you should mention Gotham Knight… And I take your point about plausibility. As I tried to explain in my comments (but may not have gotten through successfully), I find many people think of Batman as more plausible than other superheroes, but that doesn’t work for me because of what all his writers and artists and stories have added on over the years. But yes, I agree that someone who goes on that quest won’t be the nicest person to meet. :)

Batman: Gotham Knight » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] penned by current and past Batman writers. The idea is for them to use the template created in Batman Begins as a reference for what Gotham looks like and what characters they can incorporate in their […]

James Schee writes:  

Hmm the odd part for me is that the part you said was slow, was the most interesting part for me.

When he gets back to Gotham and puts on that ugly suit, it got sort of dull for me. I may be going through a phase though. Since I watched the new Hulk movie in the theater last night. It was okay, but the Hulk just looked silly to me too.

I’ll probably go see the new Batman this week though, its showing in my local theater which has $1 during the week shows.

Dark Knight Sets Box Office Record » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[…] are expecting this movie to beat the total domestic take of Batman Begins by the end of this first week, though, over $200 million. That’s quite a rapid return. […]

patrick writes:  

Christian Bale’s work tends to be right on all the time

Batman Movie DVD Set on Sale » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] memories of its overblown glory. I know, at least, they’ll be easier for me to follow than Batman Begins. And I’ll enjoy seeing the special features and making-ofs. […]

Dark Knight Rises on DVD December 4 » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] Dark Knight Rises, the third in the most recent cinematic Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, comes to Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download on December 4. […]

The Dark Knight Rises » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] Dark Knight (because I was upset by Heath Ledger’s passing), and I was three years late on Batman Begins. So this is something of a naive writeup. Plus, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, I’m more […]


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