Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: Batman Begins (2005)

I do recall that when Batman Begins was released, it wasn't really an event.  I certainly didn't rush out to the theater to see it, and when I finally did catch it, the theater wasn't packed.  I believe the common mythology is that Batman Begins did fine at the box office, but nobody would mistake it for a spectacular game changer.  Then the movie hit home video and cable, and people sort of freaked out about the movie at that point.

Honestly, I remember a lot of people I worked with in Arizona asking me about the movie around Christmas when the DVD hit the market.

We're the franchise you need, not the franchise you deserve.  Or something.
In anticipation of Saturday's viewing of Dark Knight Rises, Jamie and I are re-watching the first two Chris Nolan helmed Bat-flicks.  If you'd like to join us Friday for Dark Knight, we'll be here with bells on.

The bottom line is that I think this movie is really a pretty darn good Batman movie, especially in 2005 when the last Bat-flick I had seen at the time was Batman and Robin.  However, I'd argue that once Nolan was able to cast off the shackles of WB studios and make a Batman movie without producer notes, their "help" casting the film, etc...  He made a movie that a whole lot of people liked better, and that stands up a bit more strongly upon review.

In many ways, you can feel the fingerprints of a studio all over Batman Begins in a way that some of Nolan's other work - both before and after this film - doesn't demonstrate (Memento, The Prestige, Inception.  I've not seen Following.).   While you can feel the strong story ideas in Batman Begins, the dialog is so often clunky and unnatural.  Characters drop lines which can be ridiculously on-the-nose as they explain the scene for the viewer (see Batman and Gordon discuss al Ghul's scheme in Act 3).  The actors speak in platitudes and echo those made-up axioms back to one another at every opportunity, be it "why do we fall, Bruce?" to "It's what I do that matters!".  And, of course, the all-purpose action flick/ super-hero movie wacky one-liners, such as the one "I gotta get me one of these!" Gordon is forced to drop when seeing the Bat-Tumbler.

All those things are fine in moderation, but it's hard to ignore that virtually half the dialog from Act 1 has resurfaced and bounced back out of the mouths of another character at least once by the end of Act 3 or form a belief that everyone in Gotham must speak constantly in expository declarations.

All these things The Dark Knight seemed to have shaken off.  Inception failed to play by the studio's dialog handbook to such an extent, we suffered from people so confused by the movie they were making up scenes that didn't exist in order to try to make sense of the film.  So, I dunno.  Maybe there's something to that.

And, of course, the casting all feels largely pitch-perfect in the movie with the exception of the startlingly bland performance of Katie Holmes.  I didn't recall her "Rachel" as such a pill, but after the second film, she just sticks out like the TV actor she is in a sea of more accomplished talent.  In my opinion, re-casting the part did nothing but improve the sequel, and that's not just because I have a preference for angular girls with high cheek bones.

I don't know.  I do know often directors suggest who they want, but the studio has ideas who they believe better serves their calculus for how the most tickets will get sold.  And, yes, a wonderful thespian Michael Caine might be, but he's not going to get in the Dawson's Creek audience.

And that's really it.  Studios most definitely run their equations for profitability, and it can mean any number of things.  Tilt it too far one way, and you can end up with a boutique picture that set the studio back $300 million (see: John Carter), or you tilt it too far the other way, and the movie becomes a laborious hack job with no life of it's own (Green Lantern).   Included in that math are actors and their perceived "up and coming" power, perceived audiences, etc...

Anyway.  There's a fairly significant narrative leap from Batman Begins to it's sequel, and for that, I think we're all grateful.

All of this is to say, it's still a pretty good movie, I'm glad I own a copy and I enjoyed watching it again.  I still get stoked about the Tumbler, too.

It's interesting that neither this movie nor the previous quartet of movies ever really did anything to influence the comics at the time.  Batman is still very much on a continuous line from where it's been for a long time, and it's in such a totally different place from the movies, it's truly remarkable.

Also, since I have the floor:  fanboys who think this take on Batman should have anything to do with Superman, the Justice League, etc...  why?  I don't get it.

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