Batman Begins review by Matt Fuerst


I generally like to start my reviews off with a little intro paragraph, so in preparing Batman Begins I thought it appropriate to reflect on the quality of all the Batman films. Then I paused a second or twenty and tried to figure out how many there were, and which ones I had seen. I remember Batman and Batman Returns but the rest had slipped my mind. IMDB refreshed my memory about Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. The Tim Burton directed Batman from 1989 and it was an impressive entry into the superhero genre. Burton mixed a good amount of wackiness, darkness, villains, Danny Elfman and Prince together to make a very good superhero flick. At the time I would have said excellent, but have you watched Batman lately? I have, and didn't think it aged like a fine Merlot. Batman Returns was a pretty good sequel as well. In fact it stands out pretty vividly in my memory. The introduction of an excellent villain in The Penguin and the mysterious Catwoman. As we all know, things got a little fuzzy after Returns, different people playing Batman, different ideologies from directors, some poorly paid villains. So the big question is: does Batman Begin exceed it's forefathers?

The basic breakdown of Begins works out as follows: Half of the movie is an origin story, and half is a Batman fights crime in Gotham City story. The stories aren't told completely linearly, instead director Christopher Nolan jumps around in time to try to explain the motivation of The Bat. I'll try to keep things vague here just in case you've lived under a rock. Young Bruce Wayne is the son of some very loaded bleeding heart parents. He suffers some serious early childhood trauma that sets him apart developmentally. We're talking some serious "Rosebud" type stuff here. Fast forward to Master Bruce's college years, he decides to detach himself from society and travels the world trying to conquer his fears. He eventually meets up with the mysterious League of Shadows who train him in their combat arts. Bruce eventually returns to Gotham to find the city falling apart, a real mess. He has all the money in the world, but realizes that money alone cannot fix a broken city being decayed at it's root by crime. Instead, he decides to root out crime by fighting it.

Thus Batman dons his suit and does what superheroes do. The second half of our story begins as various villains, some with powers and some simply bad people are rooted out by The Bat. This part of the film heats up, though it at time wanders in search of a direction. The overall point of the second half is that a plot to destroy Gotham is afoot and it's up to Batman alone to foil it. This storyline is moved forward in one quick spurt at a time, then the movie returns to the miscellaneous other storylines that are being juggled: an employee of Wayne Enterprises being unjustly fired, the CEO of Wayne Enterprises being evil, a Mafia boss who may have played a role in young Bruce's childhood trauma, the damsel being intimidated by thugs. All of these interesting elements are jammed into the second half of the movie.

The second half of the movie really tickled my happy spot, but I thought it suffered from a problem similar to that of another comic book movie, Constantine. They just tried to stuff too much story into one film. The pacing of the movie isn't helped by the decision to overplay the origin story, which probably takes up half of the movie and I felt was far weaker. To me it felt like the origin backstory was an attempt to legitimize the film, and appease people who would turn their nose up at a "superhero" movie. Yes, the motivations of Batman are important and set the tone for what he does in the future, but I'd imagine the first time it was told in comic book form it lasted all of 4 or 5 pages. Here it's stretched out for a full hour much to the sacrifice of the rest of the movie.

Many elements of the movie I really rolled my eyes at when viewed out of context, but just managed to work within the film. I saw a shot of the new Batmobile well before the film hit the theatres and found myself groaning in pain. What a horrible looking piece of machinery. But I have to admit, it was gleeful to watch it rumble around Gotham and made me quite giddy. It's a fun piece of comic book goodness. The imagery of the the main villain (I believe the villain details are kept pretty secret in the media so I'm keeping this vague) is spectacular and probably the best done villain in a comic book movie ever.

As evidenced by my review, I'm a man torn. I'm a comic book guy and I occasionally buy Batman books. The Batman I like uses his intelligence and detective skills to fight crime. Superheroes down to street thugs, Bats has taken them all on and won using his wits, brawn and cunning. There's a lot of that present in Batman Begins, but there's a lot of other cruft I really could have lived without. If you weren't particularly excited about another Batman entry I can't in good conscious encourage you to see Batman Begins. If you like Batman or superhero flicks there's plenty here to entertain you, but you will notice a few bumps along the road.

7 out of 10 Jackasses
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