I saw Batman Begins with Ron and when we both stumbled out of the theater, our eyes adjusting the lights of the lobby, Ron looked at me and simply said, “Wow, they nailed it.” My stunned, open-mouthed silence was all the confirmation he needed.
I love Batman Begins. It was the perfect tonic to years of bad Joel Schumacher-induced memories. And as much as I loved Tim Burton’s Batman movies, they were still more Tim Burton than Batman. Here, finally, was a filmmaker who got it. Tee hee! I was thrilled!
This week, in preparation for the official release of The Dark Knight, I watched Batman: Gotham Knight, the direct-to-DVD…well, it’s not a movie, it’s more a series of vignettes that take place – sort of – within the same continuity as the Nolan movies, and I rewatched Batman Begins.
So without further adeu:
1. Thomas Wayne. Show of hands, who else wants this Thomas Wayne to be their dad? In the past the most we’ve ever seen of Thomas Wayne has usually been a guy in a nice suit walking out of a theater and then getting shot. We actually got full scenes with him! And what scenes they were! While it probably amounted to mere minutes of screen time, what little time there was was packed chock full of fantastic character moments. We see now where Bruce gets his innate goodness. Look, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up” is kind of hokey but when Thomas Wayne said it…I believed it.
2. Jim Gordon. Oh, man. Oooooooooooh man. The one thing that has always irked me about the previous Batman films is that we have never truly seen James Gordon – the badass, one good cop on the force who almost single handedly reformed an entire police department almost entirely through force of his own considerable integrity and will. That’s who Jim Gordon is in the comics, and that’s who we get in this movie. While he’s isn’t quite the tough ex-Marine that appears in Batman: Year One, you can see he’s a good cop destined for greater things. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Jim Gordon might be my single favorite thing about the Christopher Nolan movies.
3. Gotham City. Anton Furst won a posthumous Academy Award for designing the Gotham City that appeared in Tim Burton’s Batman and it’s a brilliant, creepy, Gothic concoction of shadows and gargoyles. But, as pretty as it was, his Gotham City always felt and looked like a movie set. In Batman Begins, Gotham is an actual city (It's Chicago with a bit of Hong Kong). It feels like a real place that you could actually visit (not that you’d want to). It wasn’t until seeing this film that I understood how rare a thing that was for Gotham City.
4. Ras’ al Ghul. I’ll admit it – they got me. When it is revealed towards the end of Batman Begins that Liam Neeson was, in fact, Ra’s al Ghul I gasped along with the rest of the audience. I think that I laughed after I gasped because in retrospect, it was so damned obvious – HE LOOKS ALMOST EXACTLY LIKE RA’S! The brilliant thing that they did here with Ra’s – and I don’t know if this was intentional or not – was that they played with my expectations of comics-to-movie adaptations. Of course the movie people would make Ra’s into an Asian man. I took that casting choice at face value because that’s the kind of things comic book movie people did in the past. And then they pulled the rug out from under me and it all made brilliant sense. Sure, in terms of motivations and actions, he’s not exactly like the comic book Ra’s – but the essence of the character is totally there.
5. The Relationship Between Batman and Gordon. This is such an important element to the Batman mythos and it has never been captured on film – until now. Batman’s relationship with Gordon is as important as his relationship with Alfred, Robin, Nightwing, etc. Batman Begins captured that grudging respect that defines their early days together. Gordon sees that Batman is good for the city and respects him for doing what he does, but you can see that he is not entirely comfortable with a man dressed up like a bat running around Gotham. No matter how much the city needs him. Gordon is an honest man, a good cop and Batman needs an ally. He recognizes one in Jim Gordon.
1. Alfred Pennyworth. It saddens me, but they’ve still never captured what I consider to be the quintessential Alfred Pennyworth on film. Actually, in many ways the version of Alfred played by Michael Gough in the previous Batman films is much closer to the comic book version than the one portrayed here. Look, this isn’t a slight against Michael Caine, who I love and is a living legend. Nor is it really a slight on the character he plays in this film who is loveable and awesome and just not the Alfred Pennyworth I know. We can call him Alfred Penceworth. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Alfred Penceworth. If Thomas Wayne can’t be my dad, I’d want Alfred Penceworth to be.
2. Rachel Dawes. There’s not much more I can say here without it seeming like I’m dogpiling on with all the critics who wrote about Batman Begins when it came out. For me I think that my biggest problem with Holmes' performance was that I never bought her as a tough Assistant District Attorney in a city like Gotham. She just didn't exude the kind of hard edge that I think you'd have to have when you're an honest agent of the law in a city that corrupt. Rachel Dawes as played by Katie Holmes just didn’t work – on any level.
3. Ra’s al Ghul’s Plan for Gotham City. It didn’t make much sense the first time I saw it, and it doesn’t now upon the latest viewing. A microwave emitter that vaporizes all the water around it that was turned on on a boat…but didn’t affect the ocean or all the people on board with all the water in their bodies? Wait, they say it's focused emitter but then when its used in the movie it vaporizes all the water all around it…except for the aforementioned ocean water and water in people's bodies… But I don’t think it really matters. There’s always a big, convoluted plan (that doesn’t quite make total sense) to destroy Gotham City. That’s what the bad guys do, right? Right? Let’s move on…
4. The Love Story. There was not much chemistry between Bruce and Rachel, and I didn’t buy his great love for her. Why? I dunno. See #2 for possible answers. Beyond not for one second seeing any chemistry between Bruce and Rachel, this was yet another entry into the pantheon of Batman movies in which Bruce feels the need to reveal his identity to his love interest. I believe I internally groaned when this one happened. Why does this keep happening? Maybe it will pay off in The Dark Knight…
5. There is no #5. Really, there's not. This movie is straight-up fantastic. If you've got a #5 I'd be fascinated to read about it in the comments below.
And there you have it. I could have gone on and on with the first list, but five is such a nice number. (Had I gone on and on #6 would have been Bruce Wayne, and #7 The Scarecrow).
Looking back on Batman Begins was quite a satisfying night at the DVD player. It had been a while since I’ve sat down and watched it all the way through and I had a great time doing it. I am now prepped and ready for the official premiere of The Dark Knight!