Well, let me qualify that. The Millennials technically had other superhero movies -- Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002), X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000), the godawful Catwoman (2004, names withheld to protect the guilty). They weren't all bad, and some of them were even good. X-Men can be credited with kicking off the 2000s wave of Marvel Comics blockbusters that, for better or worse, we've ridden to the present. But these movies didn't have much to say to us. They were for us, but they weren't about us. Batman Begins removed the tongue from the cheek of superhero adaptations. There was nothing retro or nostalgic about it. It wasn't just a comic book movie, it was a Real Live Film. Superheroes hadn't had a Real Live Film since Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992), which came out when my friends and I were in kindergarten, so is it any wonder we went bonkers for Nolan's take?
|Or maybe I should say we all went BATTY! Ha ha ha.|
|Still, all I see when I look at Christian Bale in a tie is Patrick Bateman.|
In its own modest way, Batman Begins was a Hollywood landmark. That can be the kiss of death for a movie. The first film to try something new often gets it completely wrong, and it's up to later films to polish the formula. The Jazz Singer was the first sound film, and it was racist, maudlin garbage. Gun Crazy ushered in a new era of screen violence, but you could sound its depth with a popsicle stick. Begins, however, is actually good on its own merits, apart from having just "done something new". The casting is inspired. By enlisting A-list actors for B-movie roles, the characters are lent a measure of dignity; Alfred is not just a butler, Gordon is not just a policeman. Given cartoons -- literally -- to work with, Caine and Oldman create real human beings. (Christian Bale might be the worst misstep in this regard; his Bruce Wayne is satisfactory, but he never gives Batman much oomph.) The mise-en-scene is gorgeous, and never strays towards kitsch. Begins looks both tasteful and expensive --- not just when the Batmobile is chasing down its foes, but also when dozens of couture-attired guests attend a birthday party at the magnificent, mausoleum-like Wayne manor. This film never stops looking like one its makers cared about.
In fact, Begins might have been better as a silent movie. The script is jarringly mediocre. When lines clunk -- and clunk they do, loudly and with frequency -- it's all the more wince-worthy because this is not just "a comic book movie." Predictably, its structure is bloated -- half an hour could easily be pared. Worst of all, Rachel Dawes, the major blight on the series, gets her big day out here. Whoever thought it was a good idea to approve this character? Given the dozens of much more interesting romantic interests Bruce Wayne pursued in the comics, who on earth saw fit to create an entirely new heroine for this movie -- and then forgot to invest her with any trace of personality?
All in all, Batman Begins gets a 4/5. It's not perfect, but it's the most polished and best-constructed film in the franchise and, while its sequels do it justice, this is the film that built their world. It's a movie that deserved to become a trilogy, and god knows that that's a rare beast.
|Hellooooooooo, Cillian! <3|