Countdown to âThe Dark Knight Risesâ: Part 9 of 11 â âBatman Beginsâ
If you missed itÂ here is Part 1 of 11: Introduction to Batman âThe Giftâ
And here is Part 2 of 11:Â A look Back at Tim Burtonâs âBatmanâ
And Part 3:Â âBatman Returnsâ
And Part 4:Â ‘Batman Forever’
And Part 5Â ‘Batman and Robin’
Part 6:Â ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
Part 7:Â ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’
Part 8: ‘Batman: Arkham City’
Itâs more than clichĂ© to describe things as emotional roller coasters. Itâs a quick reference to get. You visualize the ups and the downs. Your heart and stomach seemingly temporarily lodged in your esophagus. Unfortunately, the roller coaster description doesnât take into account the thrills the ride is supposed to provide. What activity can simultaneously make you thrilled, then underwhelmed, then depressed, finally turning you toward ambivalence and apathy? If thatâs the way the Batman ride at Magic Mountain works (appropriately enough, itâs called âBatman: The Rideâ), then I guess the analogy is more than apt, because thatâs exactly how I felt through the stages of my Batman fandom from unwrapping my first Batman toy through Joel Schumacherâs Batman & Robin.
Once that film hit and it graced (probably not the word Iâd use to describe it, regardless of the fact that I just did) my sightline, I was ready to give up. My favorite character had been kicked to the curb by the film industry and I was happy to just let it happen. There was an X-Men movie coming to screens soon and I could just latch onto my second-place medal in the shape of Wolverine. Of course, that movie disappointed me before it was even released (I still hate the costumes) and maybe comic book movies just werenât for me.
As each year passed, fewer and fewer new movies excited me. I went to college and was taught the beauty held by older films. Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick became my super heroes. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly – my objects of affection. Actually, the sentence doesnât really work for Cary Grant, but heâs still a stud. Any desire to watch what could be deemed a âflickâ had been seeped out of me, much like the artificial butter on that proverbial popcorn youâre required to consume when taking in one of those films.
When Batman Begins arrived in 2005, I knew nothing about it. It was as much on my radar as the new Adam Sandler movie (which that year was The Longest Yard. *No, Iâve never seen it.*). I was still singing the hook from J. Timberlakeâs âCry Me a Riverâ from three years before (specifically the âbridges were burned partâ). Instead of a girl doing me wrong, it was a man named Joel Schumacher and a mastermind named Warner Bros. Like a jilted lover, I didnât want to dive back into the pool again. The movie arrived in theaters with nary a peep from me. But then something happened. Talk was positive. People started clamoring about the movie and how different it was from any previous incarnation.
At that point in time, Christopher Nolanâs name meant two movies to me. A perfectly fine film in Insomnia and the excellent Memento. Regardless of the latterâs greatness, it wasnât a paragon of action, nor could it be intrinsically linked to what Iâd imagine a âBatman filmâ to be. That was due to a lack of imagination on my part and I was happy to be proven wrong.
After much time and goading, I finally sat down in a theater to watch the film. It was a non-stadium-style-seating theater in a college town that was pretty packed by the time we sat down, so we sat close to the screen. I still wasnât particularly excited for the experience and definitely had whatever anticipation there was brewing within me diminished by the proximity of the screen to my face. Despite the issues, I was seeing a new Batman film for the first time in eight years and the sour taste from all those moons ago would slowly evaporate from my taste buds as each minute passed.
As a Batman fan, itâs odd to think how little I knew about the characterâs beginnings going into Nolanâs reboot of the franchise. Thereâs never been a true origin story covered by either Tim Burton or Schumacher in the previous films, outside of some brief flashbacks. And even then the only part of the story weâd ever been given was Bruce Wayne and his parents leave the theater and are mugged by a thug. The thug shoots both of his parents dead. Thatâs our heroâs humble beginning.
Outside of the murder of his parents, even âBatman: The Animated Seriesâ never truly filled in the gap between what brought Bruce from being an orphaned child to a cape-donning crusader. There are brushes with him learning the art of ninjitsu, but these are told via flashback as well, never really bringing the viewer up-to-date. And though Raâs al Ghul was involved in the show, they were in latter episodes I had either never seen or never bothered to connect from when I was younger.
Luckily, as Nolan says in one of the Blu-ray extras, the timespan between Bruceâs parentsâ death and his rebirth had never really been filled in anyway, so they were at liberty to do so and I was off the hook not being as hardcore a Bat-fan as I purported to be.
I found it initially difficult to get with the idea of Bruce Wayne being in prison and fighting with samurai swords due to my lack of knowledge about that period of the characterâs life. It was unfamiliar territory for me and as the typical reaction goes when you donât know about something, you fear it. Luckily, thatâs exactly what this movie is all about. Overcoming your fear. Then embracing it. In fact, though thatâs not a directly quote, itâs a decent paraphrase of what Ducard says to Bruce during their training together. Of course he then adds using that fear to combat those that prey of the fearful and that just doesnât really fit the theme of either this writing or my viewing.
After my initial reluctance and upon further viewings of the film, Iâve embraced the training sequences. Theyâre obviously a necessity to get you to believe how Christian Bale went from being a toothpick in The Machinist to resembling a stallion in this. However, thereâs little more joy had in the origin story than during the construction-of-the-suit sequence. I could have easily spent a half-hour purely on this spectacle. Batmanâs costume is the fetish of all his fans and the scenes of him selecting each piece is the pornographic footage weâd been salivating for. This is done with such perfection that Iâm convinced one of the reasons Iron Man is viewed to be so successful is because it took its costume construction cues from Batman Begins.
As mentioned above, the resounding themes within the movie are both conquering/embracing your fears and the ability to get back up after falling down (No, Chumbawamba did not make an appearance on the soundtrack).
The theme about fear pops up throughout the movie. Itâs initially verbalized by Ducard during his training sessions with Bruce. The trainings are all about bottling up the fear that brews within Bruce and channeling it into something else. Ducard would like it channeled into anger. Bruce just wants to overcome.
After the training, Bruce retreats to Gotham with dreams of becoming more than a man, and transforming himself into a symbol. Learning from Princeâs past mistake, he chooses one thatâs clearly definable. At the same time, it allows him to embrace one of his own fears â bats.
With the symbol concocted and the Batman costume created, Bruce is ready to rid the residents of Gotham of Carmine Falcone, the gangster who rules the streets with an iron fist of fear.
The Batman cadre of villains has a nice roster to fit any occasion and none of them satisfies the theme of fear (with the addition of never being part of a Batfilm before) than the Scarecrow. Dr. Jonathan Crane uses his burlap sack mask that could only be creepier if it was worn by a mute child (watch The Orphanage to get the reference, or just this clip: http://youtu.be/oXfHOY3CC0g) and his patented âfear toxinâ to induce terror in criminals in order to get them moved from a potential jail cell to a padded one.
Scarecrow uses his two-step fear combo on Batman, culminating in lighting the be-winged Bruce on fire. This merges the two themes into one as Bruce needs to shake off the fears the toxin induces and get right back up to continue fighting crime.
Dr. Crane is ultimately a puppet for Raâs al Ghulâs plans for destroying Gotham altogether. Â Itâs amusing the scheme theyâve hatched has to do with tainting the cityâs water supply, which I mentioned when talking about âBatman: The Animated Seriesâ seems to be a go-to Batman villain scheme as itâs done by Scarecrow in an episode of that show and by Joker in an installment of the â60s âBatman.â At the very least, Batman Begins differentiates himself from that âBatman: TASâ episode with the microwave emitter acting as trigger of the tainted drinking water.
The great divide between Batman Begins and any other filmed version of Bruce Wayneâs alter ego is Chris Nolan set out for realism. Bruce doesnât have super powers. He trained hard to get to where he is. Heâs grounded and woven in the fabric of the Gotham community. Even if heâs their richest citizen and not remotely included in their 99%, he represents them without being a card-carrying member.
The only times the film becomes a âmovieâ in the winking/nodding sense is with some of its buttons to finish scenes. Dialogue like âDoes it come in black?â after taking a joyride in the tumbler or âDr. Crane isnât hear right now, but if youâd like to make an appointmentâŠâ when Scarecrow suffers from a taste of his own medicine, caters to a certain type of moviegoer and brings levity to the situations. Iâm not saying those lines arenât amusing and/or chuckle-worthy, but I believe theyâd been stripped from any draft if theyâd existed at all in The Dark Knight. Iâd either blame studio meddling on being afraid to just embrace the realistic take or perhaps on co-writer David Goyerâs involvement (he only has story credit on the two âDark Knightâ films). Itâs obviously an easy thing to overlook in the grand scheme of things, but itâs one of the things that separates it from even its successor, The Dark Knight.
Batman Begins works as a great title in many ways. It signals the start of a new franchise. It triggers a rebirth of the character. It renewed my faith in what Batman could be. Iâm thankful people braver than I struck out to see the film before me and assuaged my fears by forcing me to see it myself. In the end, thatâs what the movie is all about.
Next week: Nolan provides us with perhaps the best superhero film ever made and without a doubt the darkest in âThe Dark Knight.â