Batman Begins

[rate 4.5]
This review is a tad tardy and wholly unnecessary as there are five kazillion reviews of the movie online now, but if you’re interested in the opinion of someone who won a writing competition to be IN the first Michael Keaton Batman movie, here goes:

I’m giving this movie four and a half bats out of five.

I saw ‘Batman Begins’ at the 12:01am Atlanta premiere with a theater full of fans, which always tends to make an action-adventure movie more fun to watch although it does make it harder to see the screen when there are 200 little Bat-Ears poking up from everyone’s costumes.

‘Batman Begins’ is about as close to being a “real” Batman movie as any fan of the comics could ever hope to see make it to the silver screen. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first Tim Burton version of Batman it couldn’t escape his cartoonish vision. The “literary” character of Wayne/Batman is more complicated than a simple cartoon, something that Hollywood has consistently mishandled until the Spider-Man and X-Men series arrived.

It was gratifying to see a movie explore the foundations of the Batman mythos and especially intriguing to see the filmmakers reach into the supernatural 1970’s era of the Batman comicbook heritage and pull out the character R’as al Ghul (wiki for R’as) who is simultaneously Batman’s nemesis and guru-figure.

Christian Bale delivers the goods as a young billionaire whose sole purpose in life is to find his way through the grief and horror of witnessing the murder of his parents. The transition from street brawler to costumed crimefighter is an incredibly difficult path to negotiate because at the end of the day it’s hysterical to see someone standing around in a cape… how do you bridge that gulf?

You bridge it by bringing in 21st Century heavyweights like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. You allow their characters to mediate the silliness with Military Surplus and Cockney Heart.

When I first saw images of the latest version of the Batmobile on the internet, months before the first trailer, I hated it. By the time I saw the thing in action on the screen I changed my mind and started calling around to place my order. It’s exactly what I need to get through morning traffic. When Bale tells the vehicle to “Dress Me” I was hooked. Bitching truck thing Batman!

There’s a story in-between all of the setting up in ‘Batman Begins’ and it’s pretty darned good. Batman is still figuring out what he’s doing, the dance of real life and vigilantism. I’m especially pleased that they found a way to use a minor villain like Scarecrow to help set up the Batman character so that they can save the bigger bad guys for later films. That was one of the biggest sins of the Burton version of Batman: they killed off the BEST bad guy in the very first movie, leaving the other films to spiral down into the mire of scenery chewing by hams like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Carey. Not that those guys weren’t pikers compared to Jack Nicholson’s scenery chewing (and he could chew some scenery, I was there to watch him do it in-person for two nights).

Look for Gary Oldman as Detective Gordon, who comes across as a REAL guy. The whole world of ‘Batman Begins’ is so much less MTV-ish than anything you’ve ever seen Batman in that I think that many non-fans will be very surprised. In the end it’s still just a movie about a superhero, just one that’s near and dear to my heart. Thanks to Christopher Nolan and to the writers and creators who put together this latest version of Batman. I really enjoyed it.

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