Batman Begins

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The script for Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer scores on certain levels, but, as narrative, it lacks clearly drawn lines between “good” and “evil.” In short, it’s a mess: We have the League of Shadows, we have Bruce Wayne’s corporate empire, we have Gotham’s criminal underworld, and we have the cops who are in bed with the criminals. Then, towards the end, we have that bit about the looneys being set loose from the asylum (this isn’t much of a spoiler, just a detail). All of these disparate and wholly independent factors are then jumbled together in Nolan and Goyer’s cuisinart of a script, and, honestly, we have no idea “where to look,” so to speak,” due to its muddled, unconvincing narrative arc, the climax of which feels extremely contrived. The overall story feels a lot more frenzied than it needs to be, and by the end you can hear the movie wheezing as it strains to wring every last gasp of suspense from its plotline. What happened to the ideal of a pure, clear-cut hero vs. villain story, the kind we saw realized to perfection in Mario Puzo’s script for Superman?

The performances range from cutie-pie Katie Holmes’ passable limning of Rachel Dawes to Morgan Freeman’s delightfully dapper Lucius Fox and Liam Neeson’s decently villainous Henry Ducard. Michael Caine (Alfred) and Rutger Hauer (Earle) fill their shoes satisfactorily and collect their paychecks. Gary Oldman (Gordon) just tries not to look too embarrassed, the fey Cillian Murphy (Crane) hams it up (badly), all while Christian Bale seems hardly able to breathe in his lead role. Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is a grim, scowling sourpuss. Sure, the character has every reason to be in a bad mood, but what we need–finally!–is a superhero performance that feels natural, guileless. I was desperate for Bale’s Bruce Wayne to say something off-handed, crack a joke, relax those stiffened shoulders. This is the curse of playing Wayne, I think, and it’s one that’s affected everyone who ever played him, including Michael Keaton (my favorite of the contemporary ones). Let’s get over it, folks! This is not serious psychodrama; it’s just a comic book character. At least the 60′s TV show had the good sense to put that in perspective with its campy, melodramatic attitude and perhaps that’s why Adam West’s campier Bruce Wayne might’ve been the perfect interpretation of what is, in essence, a pulp character.

Anyway, none of this is to say that I didn’t like Batman Begins. It’s passable entertainment that our culture has wildly overrated. To put it into a bit of perspective, Bryan Singer’s work in X-Men might’ve had more flair while Nolan just seems straitjacketed in this material. He seems to have jettisoned the exhilaration of making a movie in place of earning the imprimatur of being a bankable director, someone capable of churning out consumable, mass market “entertainment.”

Grade: B-

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman

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