The Batman Project: 2005′s ‘Batman Begins’ Revives The Bat, Loses The Broads
1 Comment »Jul 19, 2012
The first thing I felt when I hit play on Batman Begins was a tremendous sense of relief. Yes, this was largely in part, because I had just suffered through two back-to-back late night viewings of films that, upon further consideration, really ought to be labeled as some of the worst ever made – Joel Schumacher’s contribution to the genre, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Upon viewing the latter, I may have penned a brief note, explaining to those who found my body that Alicia Silverstone’s inspired tones had left me with no other alternatives than to end my life. Thankfully, it did not come to that. After all, we’re in the 90s in New York, and I would not a pretty corpse have made.
My reaction could have stemmed from other external forces as well. Having made a decision – one I will no doubt discuss further on this site – to lose a bit of weight (I know, I know, we’ll discuss) last night found me on day three of a new way of eating and not having done a good job of factoring that into my day – which is a fucking fancy way of saying that when I got home, it was ten, and I would have eaten a baby arm sandwich, carbs be damned! Knowing I was in no fit state to watch the first of the brothers Nolan’s foray into the Bat-Genre, I replenished myself with a well-seasoned slop trough of boiled greens, and so sated, was, it must be admitted, euphoric enough having had my basics needs met that it is quite possible I could have found redeemable elements in say, Ishtar.
Having taken all of this into consideration, the relief – followed quickly by immediate engagement – as Batman Begins unfolds is not due to any external forces, not even my delight at finding myself home after a long hot day, propped in front of an air conditioner, merrily chilling me to Mr. Freeze levels of frigidity. Batman Begins, is, quite simply, a well-made, wonderful film that certainly handles that Batman Mythos was the reverence it is due. As such, like with so many other living beings, well-loved stories counted in this number, the film rewards such deft treatment and reveals itself to be a relatively quiet, realistic, meditation on the nature of fear. AND THEN I CAME IN MY PANTS.
I mean, what? Somber, intellectual writing. Now that I have been terribly inappropriate in expressing my appreciation for the film, I’m sorry to say that I’ve got to work my way over to its blind spot. It is one made all the more glaring by every other aspect – with the exception of the sound because you guys I had Gladiator levels of difficulty hearing this bad boy – the film is nearly without flaw. That’s probably because Nolan decided against having a second unit crew on set, choosing instead to supervise quite literally every frame of the flick. This is why I love control freaks. This is why I have a hard time working in groups where I am not in charge – because I am a control freak. Nolan’s attention to detail and story is another reason why this big-time flaw is so inexplicable.
I am, of course, talking about Rachel Dawes. Wait, wait, wait, wait – let me be fair. In this instance, I am talking about Katie Holmes. Dawes (Let the record show that I totally typed Dawson and that that shit is hilarious.) in theory, is not a bad character. Created by Nolan and his writers, she is not one who existed in the comic world of Gotham, but she is not one who would be out of place there. Her opening gambit, as a young girl, the daughter of a maid at Wayne Manor, is a fascinating one, as it places her as a figure in Bruce’s emotional center – she like Alfried, knew him before the events that would fracture him. As an adult, becoming quite literally a force for justice while working for the DA’s office, it is Rachel’s disgust with Bruce’s admitted plan to kill his parents’ killer that sends a shamed Bruce all the way to Tibet where he learns the gray areas of criminality, gives Liam Neeson a flower, trips balls, and then kills everyone when they tell him he has to kill a criminal.
When I write it that way it sounds unspeakably dumb, but it absolutely isn’t. That said, Liam Neeson’s facial hair is questionable.
Theoretically, Rachel’s disgust and her speech about the state of Gotham – reminding Bruce how much the city meant to his parents – and the slap she gives him, must carry enough weight to literally drive Bruce from his home for seven years. Unfortunately, Dawes lacks weight, gravitas, and believability. She is little more than a mouth piece, and while a pretty one, it is hard to fathom her self-righteousness, especially in the face of the all consuming anxiety, grief, and depression eating up her childhood friend and erstwhile paramour.
It is a puzzle to me how the film works around this inconsistency. Rather than beef her up in the script, they seem to have caved in the face of Holmes’ milquetoast abilities. Thankfully, the story has strong roots, and does not need to rely on romantic love to drive this, Bruce’s defining journey – from a fractured mentally anguished and doomed man, into the three compartmentalized versions of himself necessary to sustain his survival. The story of young Bruce falling down the rabbit bat hole, we have seen only two films previously, with Val Kilmer’s young Bruce plummeting down a rain soaked crevice with his father’s journal. We did not care. Nolan’s Bruce’s fall is a far more dangerous one, especially as it finds its beginnings so innocuously – in the mode of most psychological traumas, fear does not exist only in frightening weather.
Whereas Kilmer’s Bruce speaks of a grief broken by a fall broken by a realization that he would become the Batman and that is would save him. In Nolan’s universe, it is the fear that is the cause, and the only solution. Here, young Bruce takes him tumble while at play, and while laying awaiting help, is swarmed by wakened bats. Resulting in a fear of them, in spite of the consolation of his BEST FATHER EVER. It is this fear that makes Bruce insist on leaving the opera early. Here is where I narrow my eyes but only slightly. Why you wanna take your phobic son to a production of THE FLEDERMAUS? That shit is literally a bat opera. Like, an opera about bats, ya heard? It is upon leaving this opera that his parents are killed, making the dual symbolism of Bruce’s grief, and the identity he assumes contain that much more resonance.
The movie does not ultimately find itself lacking for want of a strong woman – and by that I mean, a well-drawn three-dimensional broad, not the preaching set of puppy eyes that are Katie Holmes. Man I feel like a dick right now hating on her what with the divorce and what have you, but facts are facts, and the main fact I want this here rumination to put forth is that the former Mrs. Cruise was not good in this film. To be fair, any actress plunked into the role would’ve still conjured this feeling of something fundamentally missing.
But perhaps her out of focus characterization is a deliberate attempt to pinpoint Bruce Wayne’s identity in a new way. In past films we only ever truly relate to Bruce through his grief for his parents, and his romantic bliss and subsequent crisis. The best thing about the Nolan films is that they attempt to make Bruce Wayne, the real, third Bruce Wayne, not the playboy alter ego, someone substantial, and if not relatable than incredibly human and incredibly specific. This move absolutely works, and it makes Bale – a guy I have a hard time with – incredibly compelling. But still, he’s not Michael Keaton. In an effort to show us this third Bruce’s point of origin, the Nolans focus on the training of Bruce and his obsession. Maybe we’re seeing the woman of the film in the same way he does – thinly, broadly, lacking substantial qualities other than to use. Or maybe I am being really kind – because after all, who says a woman can’t be a ninja? (Cue everyone on the internet explaining to me why women cannot be ninjas, and cue me Prince Giffing the hell out of them.)
I guess then that I have to end on a bittersweet note. After the horrors of the Schumacher age of the late 1990s, it is a relief to bare witness to the gritty realism and respect of Nolan’s initial offerings. (That said, there is a trade off – gritty realism gave us some lame innovations to the technological oeuvre. Nolan’s toys have never wowed even in an of-the-moment way- I mean, the tumbler has a Chevy engine, Chevy, you guys.) I console myself with the long story, with Michael Caine owning all over the place, because he does you guys – but I can’t shake the sadness of no powerful women in this reboot of a franchise that has always had space for women as complex as the man behind the mask.