Stander's Screening Room: BATMAN BEGINS
No, I'm not talking about proud-chested, concrete-chinned spandex-junkies with any number of paracosmic excuses to justify using a phone booth as a walk-in closet.
I'm talking about people who take what they are dealt, adapt to it, live with it (and all its inherent baggage), and work it 'til they can't work it no more, on the behalf of other people who can't---or won't---do likewise....for reasons that are all their own.
Spider-Man, the X-Men, Indiana Jones...all well and good. (And I really LIKE Spidey.)
But, as much fun as their movies have been....they're WAAAYYY on the back-burner tonight.
Why? Because frankly, I think there's just something special about seeing something that has been done wrong---so many times---finally get done right.
Batman Begins, in my humble opinion, is how it should have been done all along.
Don't get me wrong, folks...I liked Michael Keaton's portrayal in the first movie. He was the best they could do at that time, and I think he did Bruce Wayne as well as he could....which was pretty darn good.
And I have always been a fan of Tim Burton's work as a film-maker. In a world of cookie-cutter cinematicos, he really is an original artist, and should be recognized as such---and will be, I hope---for years to come.
The second movie, Batman Returns, was all right. Michelle Pfeiffer did okay as Catwoman, and Michael still had all his Bat-chops in more or less the right place. But that flick made the mistake of trying to copy the charm of the first one, and it just didn't work as well. (To be honest, I think Danny Devito saved that one from cutting-room purgatory...I mean, who else could have done the Penguin as well as he did, really?)
The next two movies....hell, I don't even remember what they were called, and I don't feel like expending the effort to find out. All the starpower that Hollywood had to offer couldn't save them....because they focused on Batman as a money-making cartoon cash cow, and forgot who he was in the first place. Feh.
But in truth, the one thing I feel for all of them is pity....because they didn't have Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan to work with.
Christian Bale has done it. He has pulled it off.
In Batman Begins, you see Bruce Wayne as the millionaire-man-about-town, and you see him as the nearly-terminally-obsessed Dark Knight...and, most effectively, you see him as a young man who almost became neither one.
And courtesy of Christian's sometimes-unassuming, sometimes-brutal, and above-all-honest portrayal...you truly see all three of them AS ONE AND THE SAME MAN.
In short....he NAILED it.
But even this sterling effort would not have been as effective, had director Christopher Nolan not given him a very REAL Gotham City to play in.
In this movie, Nolan does what no other Batman director has so far (yes, including Burton).
He shows us BOTH sides of the old girl...the shining metropolis envisioned by Bruce's father Thomas and his fellow entrepreneurs, and the dark and gritty back-alley hunting ground which it became. (And, folks, he pulled even Burton's stylized gloves off here. This place is nasty and dark, but it is also very, VERY believable.)
I must also give due credit to the supporting cast. (Supporting cast, indeed!) These folks did what consummate professional actors do....they molded themselves into the roles they were given, gave Christian solid characters to bounce Batman off of and, in so doing, really DID support the film.
Michael Caine finally gives Albert a real personality, and in many cases saves the film from becoming too dark and brooding with just the right injection of humor and humanity in just the right place. Bravo, sir.
Morgan Freeman (a man who has played God and a janitor at the same time, and made it work) wears the guise of Bruce's gadget-man like an old favorite smoking-jacket that you could never bring yourself to get rid of, just 'cause it's so damn comfy.
Gary Oldman (yes, folks, that's really him) puts in a marvelous turn as Jim Gordon, a beat-down desk cop who has no idea what's about to hit him...but is still a cop, and rises to meet it when it does.
And Liam Neeson....well, you'll just have to see for yourself. So there. Nyaah.
The only weak link here? Katie Holmes. You know....that chick Tom Cruise wants to marry. (Which, if her wet-rag-of-a-performance is any indication, may well be why she got the part.)
But that's okay, because....'cuz......oh man, I can't hold it back any longer, HERE IT COMES----
This Batmobile is the biggest, meanest, coolest, BADDEST mo-fo of a privately-owned transport apparatus you have ever seen. This Batmobile is what armored personnel carriers want to be when they grow up. It doesn't even have the common decency to LOOK like a Batmobile. It doesn't need to. This thing is the Shaft of all-terrain-vehicles. Seriously. When you honk the horn, it says "DAAAMN RIGHT." This Batmobile is what happens when a Stealth fighter and a Sherman tank break into the liquor cabinet, slam down a couple of cases of Night Train, and get on down with their bad selves on a bearskin rug by the fireplace ALLLLL night long. This is Isaac Hayes, Barry White, John Rambo and Mr. T all Freak-ensteined up into one bad-ass take-no-f[EEEP]in'-prisoners heartbreaker with an M-1 Abrams for a momma and the Terminator for a daddy.
This is not the Batmobile....this is the BAAAAAAAD-mobile.
(long-winded series of wheezes...getting it back together now....)
Sorry. I had to let that out. I'm better now.
To sum up....this film, o faithful ones, has set the bar for the rest of this summer's usual "blockbuster" fare right early...and set it rather damned high indeed.
Oh...and a message of sincere sympathy goes out from myself to the makers of the Fantastic Four movie due for release this season, and especially to Ioan Gruffudd. My wife and I have followed his career ever since we stumbled upon his brilliant work in A&E's Horatio Hornblower films. He is a stellar actor, and we both like him very much. It is truly a shame that his first real starring role in a major motion picture (King Arthur, in my mind, doesn't count) has the unfortunate timing to have to follow the unmitigated triumph that is Christian Bale's performance as the Dark Knight.
Ladies and gentlemen....Batman Begins.
Finally----FINALLY----justice has been done.