Friday, July 22, 2005

batman begins [movie review/column]

Why Batman Begins is (quite possibly) the best Batman movie so far.

With the hype that surrounds any blockbuster (or mainstream) movie these days, I’m sure I’m not the only overly skeptical viewer of my time. It has been ridiculous for a long time now, just how much money is poured into these films, that have long-ago become a total commodity. So it is to particular surprise that the latest of a myriad of blockbuster hit films, Batman Begins, is actually really fucking good.

To some extent, this confused me. Did I like it because I was a Batman fan through-and-through? Perhaps it was just a good, standalone film. Or did it just seem good because of just how atrocious the third and forth Batman films were?

Because these were truly abysmal. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin were undeniably shit. But a young Batman obsessive such as myself was never be able to admit this. “I mean, sure, they’re not great, but it’s Batman!”. The identity of the films alone was some redemption for how poor they really were. They had nothing else going for them. Because really – Jim Carrey as The Riddler? Arnold Scwacineger as Mr Freeze? These casting decisions are both unexplainable and unforgivable. But the low point of the later misappropriations of the Batman idea surely came when George Clooney was cast as Batman.

These reasons make it a little harder to objectively judge Batman Begins. Even though I’m pretty sure I repressed any memory of George Clooney in the lead role, the fact still lingers somewhat. With the other misfortunes of bad casting and ridiculous ventures into modernizing (and comodifying) the whole Batman thing alongside other successful but ultimately disposable blockbuster action flicks, any self-respecting Batman fan couldn’t help but feeling a little cheated by what it had become.

While this is probably not the leading reason for the success of Batman Begins, it definitely plays some part. Batman fans of my generation are a whole lot older (and more cynical) now, possibly due to the scarring misadventures that were the third and fourth sequels. More to the point, though, globalization and post-modernism and all that stuff probably play some part in it. Either way, our culture calls for something more real and relevant from our films, whether in the form of special effects or character development.

Batman Begins answered this call. The overall aesthetic is that of darkness and morbidity. It’s all golden sunsets juxtaposed with the seedy, dystopian, Gothic cityscapes of Gotham. Every advancement and appropriation on the older Batman films is a success. The sardonic and sinister eclecticism of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns (the first two films) is disposed for a more serious and ominous atmosphere and setting.

And for once, the love story part of the film was actually bearable. Although Katie Holmes wasn’t the strongest of actors in the soppy bits, she worked pretty well as the do-good DAs assistant. Thanks to all the latest tabloid news (that even infiltrated more well-to-do publications like The Press or Sunday Star Times), all I could think about when she was on screen was Tom Cruise. And now the self-proclaimed virgin is pregnant!. That dirty little slut.

But anyway, Batman. The aforementioned cynicism that dominates many in my peer group was, for me at least, overwhelmed by this film. I was thoroughly exhilarated throughout – an odd feeling, considering my usual disdain for anything showing at the bigger, blockbuster driven cinemas like Hoyts and Readings. Such a big part of my childhood was evoked by such a well-made film. Casting big(ish) actors into the smaller parts of the film works well – just one example of how no corners were cut. The plot is reasonably elaborate, and although some have said it is a little clumsy in parts, the length exposition of how Batman came to be Batman is enthralling, as with the rest of the more action-orientated scenes in the movie.

There was something real about Batman Begins. While the other films delved somewhat into what it means to actually be Batman (e.g, how he still has to live an everyday life, etc), never before has such psychological depth been available to the viewer. Christian Bale plays (easily) the best Batman yet, in basically every area. Driven by conscience and inner-torment, he is truly human, despite the how fantastical the whole Batman idea is. And he’s such a hottie!

In retrospect, it’s not hard to see how Batman could mean a lot to a young boy. He’s heroic, he’s on both sides of the law,and those gadgets! And the cape! Wow. If this all sounds a little obsessive, well, you’re probably right. I’m sure there are a few others that might remember this: A particularly disappointing moment for any young Batman fan was on that cartoon show, hosted by Fiona Someone, where they gave away a Batmobile that you could actually get in and drive! My memories of this toy see it as unparalleled in terms of Batman merchandise. Whether it was actually that great or not, I’m not so sure – only that spoilt, undeserving kid who won the competition can answer that. He would’ve been either the most popular kid for having a Batmobile or would’ve received cruel torment for all the jealously created in owning such a prized possession. Yeah, I had all the Batman Returns Collector Cards, not to mention a surplus of Gotham Dollars, and plenty of the action figures (of course). Unfortunately, these figurines are now lost – hopefully in the hands of one of the next generation of Batman fans. As my brand new Batman Begins figure stands happily atop my bookcase, I can rest easy with the knowledge that young Batman fans everywhere need no longer be disappointed like I was with Batman’s over-comodification.

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