Friday, June 17, 2005

Did I see 'Batman Begins'? Is the Pope Catholic?

©2005 Mark Tatulli/ Dist. by Universal Press Syndicate

Sure, I wanted to see Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, but the movie I've been most looking forward to this summer is Batman Begins. So I caught a late show Wednesday night (yes, even though I could've stayed home to watch Dancing with the Stars), which - according to my latest poll results - surprises absolutely no one who knows me.

In the past, I wouldn't have been able to look at a movie like this objectively. I would've been so excited to see one of my comic book heroes on the big screen that I wouldn't have cared whether or not the movie was crap. It might be a sign of actual maturity (says the man declaring his love for men in capes and tights) that I now look at the previous Batman films and feel ill. (Whomever coined the phrase "gay fantasia" to describe Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and Batman & Robin - with its fetishistic ogling of Batman's ass and nipples - was right on.) Even Tim Burton's 1989 original doesn't hold up very well anymore. Two words: Prince soundtrack.

(Okay, I liked Batman Returns. Mostly because of Christopher Walken. "Bottom line, she tries to blackmail me, I'll drop her out a higher window. Meantime, I got better fish to fry." Love that line.)

But Christopher Nolan's version of Batman has given us Bat-fans what we've always wanted:

1) He's translated the Batman from the comic books onto the screen. He's standing on rooftops, with his long cape blowing in the wind, immersing himself in the city, not just looking at it from the Batmobile. He's scaring and intimidating criminals, lurking in the shadows, not just jumping out and beating the crap out of them. He drives a tank instead of a sports car (which makes so much sense it's hard to believe only Frank Miller thought of it once before).

2) He's erased the memory of those four previous films (though there's definitely a nod to the 1989 film) with a movie that not only takes the material seriously, but is also really, really good. Look at the frickin' cast Nolan's assembled! Michael Caine (Yes, Mom, Michael Caine), Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, and Gary Oldman? Oh yeah, and Christian Bale plays the guy in the Bat-suit. How can your movie not have serious gravitas when these guys are in it? (And how can Katie Holmes not look completely miscast when she's surrounded by all that talent? Sorry, kiddo. Sing along: One of these actors is not like the others...)

Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer (Ann Arbor in da house!) have taken this story (with many points taken from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One comic book) and placed it in as real a setting as possible. (Okay, until, say, the last 1/3 of the film when all kinds of $#!+ is blowing up.) Bruce Wayne isn't just some guy who's inspired to dress up like a bat to avenge his parents' murder. He's a man who carries guilt over what happened, grapples with his inner fears, and is looking for his place in a world that doesn't make sense to him. Wayne is a much fuller and more believable character here than he's been in virtually any of the Batman comic books.

The story is all about the how and why of the Batman story. How did Bruce Wayne learn to fight like that? Where, as Jack Nicholson once asked, does he get all those wonderful toys? How did Bruce Wayne discover the cave underneath Wayne Manor that becomes The Batcave? And what is his deal with bats, anyway? What was James Gordon doing before he was promoted to Commissioner? How did Gotham City suddenly turn into a place where freakos like the Joker hang out? It's all in there.

I could go on and on. (So could these new Batman movies. There's enough stuff in there to drive at least two sequels. Yet the movie isn't completely obvious about it, either.) And maybe I will, if I see Batman Begins again this weekend, which I'm currently jonesing to do. But you've been kind to stick it out with me, especially if you read last night's Pistons live slog, er, blog. Have a great weekend.