NOLAN REVIEW: Batman Begins

12 07 2010

Nolan rose to a whole new level of notoriety by taking on the rebooting of the “Batman” franchise, taking the series in a new, exciting, and grittier direction.

Although I was alive in the 1990s, I wasn’t consciously aware of the rapid descent of the “Batman” franchise at the time.  Trying to brush up on my knowledge of the series before the release of “Batman Begins” in 2005, I watched these movies that had audiences cringing.  The Tim Burton/Michael Keaton collaborations had some sense of artistic vision, albeit in a fairly corny kind of way.  The Joel Schumacher/Val Kilmer teaming was pretty dreadful, but it doesn’t get much worse than 1997’s “Batman and Robin.”  George Clooney is a fantastic actor, but with his smug, pissy attitude, he was totally the wrong person to play the Caped Crusader.  Plus, the Batsuit had nipples, just a horrific manifestation of how far the series had sunk.

Then along came Christopher Nolan, who was still all the rage from “Memento,” with a darker vision for Bruce Wayne and Batman.  He based his approach to the movie on “humanity and realism” to make the rise of a hero all the more extraordinary.  Rather than delve into exorbitant villains like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, whose credibility rests on fantasy, he chose to have Batman fight the kind of men who might actually be on the streets striking terror into the hearts of citizens.

What Nolan delivered was nothing less than astounding.  He built not only a hero but a man, the oft-neglected part of superhero movies.  The priority with the movie was to develop the character of Bruce Wayne, to show what made him tick and why he would become a masked vigilante patrolling the streets of Gotham at night.  Nolan, who also wrote the movie, develops a highly effective psychological profile of Wayne (Christian Bale), who decides to done the guise of Batman to overcome the fear that has come to define his life since the murder of his parents at a young age.  He takes on the symbol of the bat, a fear of his since childhood, to share this fear with his enemies.

And it’s not just Wayne that Nolan goes to painstaking lengths to rebirth.  He also gives Gotham a facelift or rather, makes it a whole lot less glamorous.  I think that the city is one of the few things “Batman Begins” does better than its sequel.  It’s a dirty, graffiti-filled environment that looks like the breeding ground for criminals that it is.  The streets provide a great place for Batman to begin, taking down the mob and other organized crime.  They don’t really spawn much of a villain so much as someone with a threatening voice, Tom Wilkinson as boss Carmine Falcone.

We all know how great “The Dark Knight” is, and it’s easy just to bask in the glory of that.  But for Batman to start fighting a higher class of criminal, he had to learn to take care of the guys below.  In “Batman Begins,” we see just that.  Yet upon watching the movie post-“Dark Knight,” we realize that it has so much more to offer than just setting up a sequel and providing background.  It’s a fantastic movie for both character development and action that’s smarter than your average blockbuster.

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