Batman Begins

dir: Christopher Nolan
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I have to say, I’m starting to get sick of all this superhero shit. The names and stars change, the settings and villains, but it’s the same shit in a different bucket every time a new one comes out.

With fairly low expectations I ventured onward and upward to check this out, being mindful of the exuberant reviews that paint this as being the bestest superhero flick ever made. I have to say, I just can’t see what they’re seeing. To me Batman Begins is just another generic superhero film, only slightly lamer than the others that have been coming out lately.

Sure, it’s better than the other four movies directed by old spookykid Tim Burton and uberhack Joel Schumacher, but they were pretty crappy anyway. Batman & Robin was the acknowledged nadir of the franchise, but for my money it was just as lame and cringeworthy as any of the other flicks.

Admittedly, I don’t really have an affinity for the character in any of his incarnations. I never read the comic books, either the Bob Kane originals or the Frank Miller Dark Knight stuff. I watched the campy television series with Adam West and Burt Ward but hated the way that they kept stretching out the stories with cliffhanger endings, where there was never any resolution to anything that went on. There’s only so many times that a criminal mastermind can escape from jail or an asylum and continue committing the same loopy crimes every week before even the most benevolent and humanitarian crime fighter / police commissioner snaps and decides to kill them with their bare hands. Lord knows it had that effect on me.

That being said, the dramatic impetus, the psychological motivation behind Batman never really resonated with me either. It’s hard for me to care about a billionaire who fights crime because, like most mega-wealthy aristocrats who don’t decide to run for President, he’s kinda bored and looking for ways to amuse himself.

Okay, so they spend hours detailing his post-traumatic stress, his guilt and crippling emotional problems due to his feeling responsible for his parentals being gunned down in a feculent alleyway. So what?

I’d have more respect for the guy if his motivation was little more than “I do it for the chicks, and I love wearing latex”. It’s just as psychologically complex as any of the pseudo-Jungian-Freudian analytical bullshit they serve up in this or any of the other flicks.

That said, I think that director Chris Nolan is on a surer footing when he’s dealing with the psycho-malogical / dramatic stuff in the film, rather than the action sequences. The action scenes are all, with few exceptions, pretty painful and unwatchable.

You could argue that there is a thematic reason as to why early on the scenes where Batman takes down bad guys are hyperedited and spastic: assuming the fearsome Batman persona, he fights in such a way that he is barely ever seen until it’s too late for the criminal. His entire shtick is supposed to be confusion and misdirection as a tactic against his enemies. Sure, I’ll buy that for a dollar.

Later on, however, I don’t accept that over-editing something makes it more compelling. Over-editing something makes it incoherent and painful to watch. So assume that I disliked pretty much every action scene in the film’s 130 minute running time.

There’s something about the costume as well, it just looks comical to me. Christian Bale as Batman, or as anything, is wonderful, great, a genius thing to do. He’s a decent actor and deserves the big paychecks and supermodel blowjobs. But in that suit, with that goofy cowl (hood), he just looked ridiculous. He looked better than Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer or George Clooney, but then they all looked ridiculous.

It gives him this massively elongated head that seems to just go on and on. I actually giggled at some points when he was supposed to be mysterious and cool when talking to some of his good guy allies. The costume, well, the costume… If you buy it, then good luck to you. It just always looks a bit silly to me.

I can’t really go into the whys and the wherefores as to how I can accept the look of Spider-Man or the Hulk and not Batman on film, but I just can’t. There’s something about him that looks cool in comics and in animation, but just doesn’t translate well to the screen for me.

There’s something about the immobile neck that really gets to me too. It’s like every Batman is forced by his costume to have a paralysed neck like a steroid junkie who’s worked out so hard that their neck has disappeared into their chest and head.

Sure, there are lots of wonderful actors in this flick, and a few who aren’t wonderful but still do okay, and I guess that will raise the movie up in the eyes of a lot of people. But really, as odd as the primary danger to the city of Gotham is (a vaporised cloud of water containing a powerful hallucinogen threatens to turn everyone into a lunatic), it’s little different from every other hero flick where the girl and the city are in perpetual danger.

To be fair, some of the recent superhero flicks that I’ve enjoyed (the Raimi Spider flicks, Hulk, The Incredibles) didn’t exactly have particularly innovative villains or climaxes. It’s just that I found the jeopardy / danger to citizens and puppies stuff here extremely dull. I don’t think it was the material itself, it’s just that I can’t handle hyper-editing, and it flat out bores me.

The bad guys in this are somewhat interesting. Though they initially were his mentors, a cryptic Illuminati-like organisation called the League of Shadows orchestrates major world events and has designs upon Gotham City. A mafia boss, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) makes it his life’s work and delight to ensure the city is as corrupt as possible, right down to having city judges cavorting with underage hookers just for laughs.

A creepy psychiatrist who runs Arkham Asylum, Dr Frasier Crane (Cillian Murphy, or Kelsey Grammar, whichever you think is creepier) likes wearing a hessian sack over his head and using this trippy drug gas on unsuspecting victims which drives them insane. And there’s a bunch of other lunatics and corrupt cops as well. Some trains, thousands of bats, magical microwave emitters that vaporise water but don’t kill the thousands of people around it who are, to quote someone funny “bags of mostly water”, and long periods of noisy dullness where little happens despite the appearance of such.

Arrayed against them are a hollow crazy person who dresses as a bat, a butler (Michael Caine), a good hearted prosecutor who still hungers for Dawson’s touch (Katie Holmes) and the one incorruptible cop in Gotham City, Sgt Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Of course the good guys are probably going to win. Of course millions of people aren’t going to die. If they did, the flick was probably better off being called Batman Fucks Up, And How!

This isn’t really a prequel, they decide to just pretend the other films don’t exist, and start all over again. The primary difference between this film and the ones from the 90s is that those were really REALLY lame, were pretty stupid and didn’t take themselves that seriously. Batman Begins takes itself deathly seriously, which I like, but that doesn’t stop it from being a bit lame as well.

There are some smidgens of humour in the flick, it’s not all grimacing and overacting. There’s one particularly funny bit where Bruce Wayne pretends to be drunk to get rid of some party guests which I really liked, and the follow-up article in a newspaper the next day about the actions of a drunken billionaire is priceless.

There are also few moments that are damn near perfect in their intensity. Batman’s interrogation of a corrupt cop whom he suspends over a ledge as if he’s one of Michael Jackson’s children looked amazing. The way that Bale does the dialogue and moves his mouth was chilling, and almost frightening. Later on, when a henchman is drugged with the Scary Drug and he sees Batman as a demonic figure, he really is quite horrific, with black darkness pouring from his misshapen mouth.

Many different characters get to hallucinate, and they get to see representations of their deepest fears appear before them. I’m amazed that no-one saw their mothers, Angela Lansbury or Crispin Glover.

All of the relatively good stuff is wedged painfully in between fairly ordinary action stuff which bored me. This isn’t the greatest comic book adaptation ever made, it’s not the worst (they are legion, after all). It’s just another bloody film in a franchise. It’s entertaining, but not as deep as they’d like to think it is.

So they gave it to the guy who directed the mini-masterpiece Memento. Big deal. He directs action scenes (which, to be fair, probably aren’t his fault: it stinks of producer interference) the way drunk people vomit. He is still a very good director. It’d be interesting to see if they let him do the next one as well.

Speaking of which, you have to wonder what the next flicks (and there will be plenty of them, that’s for sure) will be called: Batman Goes Bananas!, Batman Yet Again, Batman and a Heterosexual Robin, Batman Versus Alien Versus Predator, Batman: Laundry Day. The potential list is endless.

That’s it. I order Hollywood to stop making comic book / superhero adaptations. It’s played out. Again and again, the Nietzchean obsession with the “ubermensch” is getting tiresome. This would be one of those prime moments where less would be more.

Heed me, or there will be a reckoning.

5 bored people waiting desperately for a flick to end so he can get the hell out of the cinema out of 10

“As a man, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be something... terrifying” – Batman Begins