Today’s installment: Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody we talked.
I unloaded about this movie on a message board right after I saw it. (I barely saw the whole thing–I came as close to walking out on it as I have on any movie since The Thin Red Line. I’ve since mellowed about it somewhat–the acting was terrific, and I appreciate the characterization of Batman as someone to be scared of–but they made such a hash out of virtually everything else that I’ve sort of de-mellowed and come to really resent the movie again.) Here’s my litany:
Rutger Hauer to Morgan Freeman: “Go get all those papers and disks and data and put them on my desk right now. Also, you’re fired.” Because THAT makes sense.
I also LOVED how Alfred’s FIRST GUESS about what Master Bruce was talking about in terms of becoming a “terrifying symbol” against crime was that he was going to adopt a second persona. Because that would have totally been my first instinct too. I mean, doesn’t everybody assume that people who go missing for seven years and end up being broken out of a Himalayan prison by a death cult then come back and start talking about how they’re going to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies want to dress up in a costume and fight crime?
Haphazard, murkily edited fight scenes with drearily boring fight choreography. This is the era of Kill Bill, House of Flying Daggers, The Matrix–if you’re going to make a big deal out of your protagonist’s martial-arts training, at least make it look impressive.
Can we please have ONE comic book movie that doesn’t hinge on some big, dopey, nebulously powered sci-fi device that’s going to destroy the city? X-Men, Spider-Man 2, now this–enough.
Scarecrow, one of the film’s two major villains, was dispatched by a supporting character simply by shooting him in the face with a taser. He then gets carried off screen on a spooked horse. Wow, what a climax.
Speaking of boring and pointless Scarecrow scenes, his first confrontation with Batman lasted approximately 5 seconds before Batman got his ass handed to him. By a psychiatrist who looks like he weighs about 98 pounds.
Also, Batman’s costume is bulletproof and can withstand direct electrical currents, but it burns like polyester.
Batman’s cowl and mask are really dopey looking. The ears are too small and curve inward—they’re not intimidating. The mask curves down too low on his face and makes his chin look fat.
God knows I love Christian Bale but except for the scene where he’s interrogating the crooked cop, his Batman voice was awful, like the world’s worst Clint Eastwood impersonator.
Scenes just collide one on top of the other with no through line, no sense of transition, seemingly no logic. Characters are introduced with no build-up and no sense of pacing or timing. Bam! It’s Morgan Freeman! Bam! It’s Dr. Jonathan Crane! Bam! It’s Liam Neeson!
Katie Holmes supposedly ingests a fatal dose of fear toxin, yet she’s still coherent enough to listen to Batman’s calming instructions as he drives her around town.
That was the most boring car chase scene ever, btw. Nothing at stake—for all the jive about how Katie Holmes was gonna die, she seemed fine, no more freaked out than any normal person would be if a man in a Bat costume was driving them through the downtown of a major city at 200mph with a squad of cops chasing them)—no interesting or genuinely evil antagonists, just a bunch of thoroughly outclassed cops.
For someone who (in this version at least) is completely pathological about all crime, Batman sure doesn’t mind causing millions of dollars in property damage, does he?
“Not saving someone” and “killing someone,” in the circumstances shown in the film, are the exact same thing. That’s a truly retarded bit of fanboy morality.
“I’m not an executioner. Therefore I’m going to burn down your monastery, killing you, dozens of your henchmen, and most likely the very criminal I’m currently refusing to execute.”
“Hello, I’m a random employee of the water system, introduced during the climax of the movie simply to explain what’s going on, because I guess it’s impossible to have Morgan Freeman serve this function for some reason. Anyway, if that pressure-raising device that’s currently following the monorail above the water main gets back to this central processing plant in which I am speaking, the whole system will blow! Everybody in the audience get that? No? Okay, I’ll repeated it two minutes later!”
Not only did Batman not stop the Scarecrow, leaving it to a supporting player, he didn’t stop the subway either—he left that to another supporting player, Jim Gordon. I don’t know why it’s so hard for filmmakers to realize that the big climax of your movie should feature YOUR HEROES TAKING AN ACTIVE ROLE IN BRINGING THINGS TO THAT CLIMAX AND SOLVING THE CLIMACTIC PROBLEM. Ahem, Wachowski Brothers in The Matrix Revolutions, ahem ahem.
I’m just wondering if anyone else picked up on the fact that the theme of the film was fear? Because I don’t think they made it clear enough when EVEN BEFORE THEY INTRODUCED THE FREAKING SCARECROW they used the word fear or afraid or scared or terror or some variation thereof about six dozen times. Yes, that’s part of what Batman’s about, but it’s not ALL he’s about. Give it a goddamn rest already with the fear.
ANYONE who complained about stiff dialogue in the Star Wars prequels but didn’t complain about it here should have their Complaining License revoked. At least in the SWprequels it made some sort of sense—it was all in this sort of faux-Shakesperean milieu. Here, on the other hand, the filmmakers brag and brag about how real-world this version of Batman is, and they’re all speaking in the most unbelievably wooden shitty hackwork Batman-comic-from-1993 self-serious fashion imaginable. “How long are you planning on staying in Gotham, Master Bruce?” “As long as it takes. I want my enemies to feel my dread.” Good Lord. Rachel’s constant little speeches–”The good people do nothing, blah blah blah”–are almost unlistenably bad. And don’t even get me started on Thomas Wayne’s Basil Exposition imitation on the monorail into the city.
There’s no theme music. WTF? How can you have a Batman movie with no theme music?
This is difficult to articulate, but every character seems to display a totally unearned level of familiarity with every other character. Not thirty seconds after Bruce is introduced to the concept that Falcone runs the city, he’s sitting across from Falcone facing him down, and Falcone knows exactly who he is and is lecturing him on his psychological shortcomings. Alfred has seen Bruce for all of a few hours in seven years and he’s instantly simpatico with Bruce’s desire to become a costumed vigilante. About a minute after he meets Ducard he’s ready to climb the Himalayas to meet a total stranger. This is such unbelievably lazy writing.
Apparently two minutes is enough time for every last socialite to clear out of Wayne Manor, for their limo drivers to pull into the driveway and pick them up, and for them to get completely clear of the grounds before Ra’s al-Ghul’s thugs burn it down.
Holy moses did the jokes seem out of place and out of character! “Excuse me,” he says to the criminally insane inmates as he blasts a hole out of their cell and into the streets? Argh. Lines like that worked in the first movie, but not here.
Not to mention the fact that Batman essentially does what Ra’s and the Scarecrow do later on, which is let inmates out of Arkham Asylum.
Alfred’s near tears when he discovers that Bruce wants to tear down Wayne Manor, but then later when it actually gets destroyed he’s all “ah, no big whoop.”
“Your nice personality is just a mask. The man I loved never came back, Bruce, and I will only love you if that changes. So now let’s hold hands while I tell you how proud I am of you. Because that makes sense.”
The only character with any emotional depth is the guy who killed the Waynes, who at his parole hearing seems genuinely contrite, and therefore calls into question the notion, drilled home again and again, that compassion for criminals is a weakness. Though given the rest of the film that was probably a mistake on the filmmakers’ part rather than a conscious choice.
Speaking of which, our hero received all his training and indoctrination from what turns out to be an al Qaeda style terrorist network led by a madman. Just saying “I’m not like you guys” but then acting like them in every way save the use of lethal force (most of the time) does not exactly inspire confidence in our hero’s motive or methods.
Before he gets his Bat costume he breaks into Gordon’s office (which is stupid—once he’s decided he’s going to use a costume, he should use the Bat costume and the Bat costume only; only if he seized on the Bat as inspiration AFTER beginning his vigilante career would it make sense for him to ever go out without it) and has this whole coversation about what it would take to bring down Falcone—put pressure on the crooked judge, rely on Rachel the uncorrupt DA, etc. So what happens? He beats up Falcone at a drug buy that THE BOSS OF ORGANIZED CRIME IN GOTHAM CITY IS INEXPLICABLY ATTENDING PERSONALLY and ties him to a spotlight. I guess that’ll work too, but why bother with the meticulous explanation of what it’ll take to stop him if you’re not going to do a damn thing with it?
If you’re going to steal from Frank Miller—falling down the hole and discovering the bats, calling all the bats to help escape from a swat team, etc.–why not steal his greatest contribution to the Batman origin story and have a wounded, don’t know what to do with himself Bruce Wayne be inspired to become Batman by a giant bat that comes crashing through the picture window of Wayne Manor? Instead he’s just happily putting together his tech and is like “Oh yeah, I think bats are scary, why don’t I dress up like that.”
Also, if you’re going to have him talk in overly formal pronunciations all the time, why not actually go the whole hog and have him give the “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot…I shall become a bat” speech?
The “What are you?” “I’m Batman” exchange made sense in the first movie because the guy asking “What are you?” had just seen a giant bat creature materialize out of nowhere, kick his partner’s ass, take bullets square in the chest and keep coming. It does NOT make sense here because Falcone hadn’t seen Batman AT ALL yet.
Those were sure some boring, non-scary “scary” hallucinations at the end there, huh?
That’s all for now, man. I’m spent.
In retrospect I could get around a LOT of that if it weren’t for the fact that they made this HUGE deal out of the “I’m not an executioner” thing but then had him wipe out half the League of Shadows AND presumably the handcuffed prisoner too, and behave INCREDIBLY recklessly during that pointless thrillless car chase in which he was running policemen off the road, running over their cars, etc. All the smarts of developing Batman as this terrifying yet fundamentally just force went right out the goddamn window the second he ran over his first cop car and later on bragged about it to Alfred.
I’ll admit that Batman is the one character in superhero comics I’m a fanboy about (not in the icky, “Don’t call him Bats–that’s disrespectful” kinda way; I just really like the character), so I probably saw the film with a set of expectations that could only be completely fulfilled if I myself made the movie; but there you have it. It’s driving me nuts that people think this film did a good job, because the franchise is going to be continued by people who are saying to themselves “See, we really NAILED it there!” Me and my memories of how great Tim Burton’s first Batman movie was will be over here in the corner, brooding.