Batman Begins, and Two and Half Hours Later It Ends. Thank God.
What the hell is wrong with everybody? Are we so starved for films with decent plots and performances that we open wide and swallow anything presented as quality filmmaking so long as it doesn’t star Ice Cube or one of Ben Affleck’s girlfriends? What’s going on with all these four-star reviews? Is our only criterion for greatness a two-hour plus running time? Because that’s all I see going for Batman Begins or Cinderella Man, the best reviewed films of 2005 so far. Don’t get me wrong, Batman Begins is not a bad movie, it’s just not the best movie of the year. It’s not even the best Batman movie. Sure it’s better than Batman & Robin, but I’ve had bowel movements more satisfying than that film, so it’s not really the issue. I guess bat-fans were so desperate to erase the memory of the Schumacher years that they were sold on the new picture no matter what, as long as it didn’t draw its aesthetic inspiration directly from coloring books and Mapplethorpe photos. Batman Begins takes a much more realistic approach to the tale of the caped crusader, showing us the motivations and inner demons that can drive a man to don a ridiculous costume and toe the line between crime-fighter and vigilante. The film follows Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, from his troubled youth, scarred by the memory of his parents death, through to his late teens/early twenties, where he learns kung-fu from Liam Neeson, who has apparently quit his job as a Jedi Master to work as a James Bond villain. Wayne then returns to Gotham, where he becomes the costumed Batman in order to fight crime, corruption, and needlessly complicated terrorist threats. While the film focuses almost exclusively on Wayne’s character, never a bad thing in a film script, Christopher Nolan feels the need to ground the film firmly in our reality, our world, presumably to give Wayne’s character some additional gravitas that might not be present in a world of exaggerated gothic architecture and cackling villains. The problem is, Batman doesn’t exist in our world. In our world, Batman is just a stupid guy in a stupid suit (thankfully nipple free this time around) whose voice sound like he’s really mad about his throat cancer. The collision between our world and the world of comic books is a difficult one to ignore, especially in a film that demands to be taken as seriously as Batman Begins. Tim Burton understood this, as demonstrated by the first two films, but the producers of this film opted to hire talent that, while formidable in their respective areas of expertise, are not suited to this project. Christopher Nolan is a talented director when dealing with fracturing psyche of a crooked cop digging himself out of a moral trench in Insomnia¸ or the time-warped murder mystery of Memento, not when he’s working with a guy prancing around rooftops dressed like a leather-daddy with Spock ears. This is a film about terror, about how fear can drive a man, and how terror is a powerful tool and an even more powerful weapon, but Nolan treats the material so self-importantly and realistically that, while we soon begin to believe and understand the forces that drive Bruce Wayne, the man, as soon as he shows up in the bat-suit, fear is immediately replaced with a giggling fit worthy of a stoned teenager watching Ralph Bakshi films. Plus, in the face of the harsh reality of the early part of the movie, the comic-book logic and unnecessary complexity of the ending become even more ludicrous. Were they to be situated in the already unreal world of the first two Batman films, they would be quite at home. As it stands, it’s sort of like having Ace Ventura, Pet Detective make the final decision in Sophie’s Choice. Where Nolan failed was not committing to his decision for a realistic Batman fully. He left in much that we know and love from the Batman comics, like the costume, the heavy dramatics and the plot holes, but took out the sense of wonder and fantasy, turning Batman into what amounts to a joke that’s not funny. But at least we didn’t see his nipples.