Sunday, April 27, 2008
"Batman Begins" (Christopher Nolan, 2005) There is the good Batman and the bad Batman; in Batman Begins we are invited to understand why our superhero (Christian Bale) is the conflicted fellow that he is, and how he transforms himself into the man in the mask, the superhero without super powers, a truly human avenger. Apparently, because this is a Christopher Nolan movie and everything has to be a little more complicated than necessary, it is not only because our hero was traumatized by witnessing his parents' death but also because Bruce, a timid little fellow as a child, grew up with a fear of bats after a nasty experience down a well, said phobia later leading to the family leaving the theater on that fateful night. Because he gets involved with the League of Shadows, ninja vigilantes who apparently have been responsible for cleansing the world of evil since the sack of Rome. See, I told you Nolan was nothing if not complicated. You can almost hear Jagger singing 'Sympathy for the Devil' at one point as Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) ticks off the number of cities he has laid waste to in the name of justice. In this world where there is a fine and dotted line between good and evil, the League both save Wayne and become his nemeses.
Wayne's first reaction to the death of his parents is to seek vengeance in particular on their killer, an act he is only deprived of by the intervention of the crime boss of the city (Tom Wilkinson) who will, of course, figure in the story later on as will the corrupt chairman of Wayne Enterprises (Rutger Hauer) both of whom working for, you guessed it, for Henri Ducard. Another conflict for Bruce - the money he relies on to fund his crime-fighting comes from the profits of a company working for the bad guys.
The movie's relationship with technology seems off-kilter too - one of the better things about this telling of the tale is seeing the development of the character; Wayne is feeling his way into the role, experimenting with the suit and the iconography. He is aided by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) playing a kind of Q figure as well as by the ever-faithful Alfred (Michael Caine). Yet, in the denouement, it is all so crash bang slick. We see little of the man himself other than jump-cut fight sequences or high-speed chases as he zooms around in his high-tech Hummer-style car that looks more like a bug than a bat.
Did I mention there was a love story too? The young Wayne has a playmate, the daughter of we assume the housekeeper of Wayne Mansion who grows up to be a D.A. (Katie Holmes) - one of the only incorruptibles left in the city. So just in case we don't get the moral dilemma of Bruce Wayne's double identity, she is here to make sure we do. How can he reveal his love and his true identity when he needs to play the role of callous playboy to protect those he loves? Even though it is a refreshing take on the Dark Knight after the Burton/Schumacher franchise, in many ways, Spider-man just did it better.