Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Batman Begins

Last night we went to see Batman Begins. I have a dilettante's naive enthusiasm for comic books and comic book based movies, and Chris Nolan's version of Gotham and the Caped Crusader does not disappoint. A few musings:

Casting: Batman Begins features a stupendous lineup of UK acting talent, including Liam Neeson (Am I the only one who thinks Rob Roy was better than Braveheart?), Tom Wilkinson, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman. Bale, playing Batman, is also British (and Gloria Steinem's stepson!) and is spot on as both the anguished Bruce Wayne and the increasingly confident Batman. Like some other bloggers, I was puzzled as to why [SPOILERS: Ra's Al Ghul was ultimately cast as a Caucasian; the dramatic misdirection could have been maintained if Al Ghul had simply been played by a different Asian actor than Ken Watanabe.] But most of the cast, especially Wilkinson and Oldman, disappeared into their roles in a truly delightful fashion. Special bonus for Blind Fury fans: Rutger Hauer plays the Chairman of Wayne Enterprises!)

Two actors proved unplaceable during the film; afterwards, I was shocked to discover that the guy playing Dr. Crane (who came off as sort of a Doogie Howser, Psych.D) was not some low rent Elijah Wood impersonator but Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later, now unrecognizably disguised with a shock of dark hair. Similarly, the actor playing Thomas Wayne plucked at my memory; he turned out to be the duplicitous lover from Wings of the Dove.

One quibble: I had a long debate, post-film, on the appropriateness of Katie Holmes. I am not terribly fond of Miss Holmes: her perpetual girlishness limits her range, she's not a powerful or persuasive actress even within that range, and she's sold herself to Tom Cruise. Her phenotype is utterly dissimilar from the previous Batman love interests (pale, slender blondes), although since this film is technically not connected to its predecessors this may be irrelevant. But there were only one or two scenes in which I could buy Miss Holmes as a hard-nosed A.D.A. and many more where she seemed more like a perpetual college intern in the office. I'm happy to hear that she will not be returning for future installments of the new franchise.

Onward to other concerns:
Chris Nolan's previous movies, Memento and Insomnia, were deeply pleasurable, if unsettling, movie experiences. This is an exception to that rule, although it was definitely more affecting than your average comic book picture. The beginning sequence in the Himalayas dragged on and was a bit cheesy. I have trouble keeping a straight face when ninjas are unironically portrayed on screen.

The cinematography was claustophobic and, as another critic has pointed out, lacked many well composed shots for us to appreciate. The fight scenes in particular were shot in the peculiarly chaotic manner typical of many recent action movies: a manner such that the viewer is unsatisfied since she cannot tell who is striking whom and which maximizes the blurring of limbs and bodies. Perhaps this cuts down on the utter absurdity that would be reflected by a more long-range shot (how difficult can it really be for a group to fight one man? As Fezzik tells us, the techniques are different, but even Batman Begins itself later gives an example of Batman overwhelmed by a crowd), but it's still aggravating.

One additional question: in what time period is Batman Begins set? Computer screens and cell phones abound, women are respected as D.A.s, and cars are contemporary. However, other signs, such as the set design, seem to harken back to an earlier period. The Tim Burton films embraced the aesthetic (and in some respects the culture) of an earlier era. Will future Batman films continue to be set in a contemporary universe? Will they be themselves set in the future?

Comments welcome.
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