Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Batman Begins (2005)

        Back in 1939, a young man named Bob Kane created a new hero for Detective Comics (now known as DC Comics) after their largely successful first superhero Superman.  Kane decided to go in the opposite direction of Superman and create a hero who had no powers and was centered in humanity.  Kane was highly inspired by his childhood heroes such as The Shadow and the legendary Zorro, so he took his new creation in a similar fashion.  Bob Kane saw a painting by Leonardo De Vinci that looked like a bat and decided to call this new hero The Bat-Man.   Batman became a massive success and really capitalized on various real life issues that were happening during the '40s such as World War II. During those times, Batman appeared in a series of short black and white serials at the movie theater and on various radio shows. In the '60s, Batman made his way to television in the form of the cult classic live action television series BATMAN starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo Batman and Robin, who would fight a group of super villains that consisted of Batman's most popular rogue's gallery.  Although the television show was campy and comical unlike the more serious comic books, there seems to be a lot of fans who still love this version of Batman even today. Hell, some folks even claim that this is the true image of what Batman should be.
      The camp fad soon died down after various cartoon spin offs of the live action series.  For over a decade, a young comic book geek named Michael Uslan was determined to find a way to get a serious and dark Batman movie made. In the '70s and early '80s, movie studios didn't take comic books seriously. Having a "serious" comic book movie made was unheard of and nobody wanted to give it a chance.  Uslan pitched the idea around Hollywood after acquiring the film rights to Batman and had no luck in finding a company to distribute the movie that he wanted to make.  In the late '80s however, Warner Bros. who had previously distributed the iconic SUPERMAN movie franchise agreed to finally give Batman a chance (probably because SUPERMAN III & IV sucked ass and they needed some serious cash!).  So in the summer of 1989, WB released BATMAN to theaters internationally that starred Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.   BATMAN was a huge success and shot off a Batman craze.   The major success of BATMAN meant that a franchise was definitely coming.  While BATMAN was a huge hit, director Tim Burton wasn't really happy because he didn't have total creative control.  Warner Bros. told Burton that he could have full control on the sequel if he was interested in directing it. In 1992, BATMAN RETURNS was released that separated itself from the first film and was more of a Tim Burton film. It had Batman ( Michael Keaton reprising the role) pitted against The Penguin played by Danny DeVito and Catwoman played greatly by Michelle Pfeiffer.  Many people, myself included, enjoyed and appreciated BATMAN RETURNS, but some concerned parents however disapproved of the film. At the time, WB released Happy Meal toys at McDonald's that capitalized on BATMAN RETURNS. Parents apparently said that the film was way too dark and gothic, so they didn't feel it was right that Mickey D's was selling children toys to cash in on the movie.
    Warner Bros. decided to then switch from the dark and serious tone of BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS and go with a lighter tone that was obviously inspired by the '60s television series for the definite third installment. Tim Burton was dropped from directing and just came on as a producer. Warner Bros. hired Joel Schumacher to direct as well as a new creative team. In the summer of 1995, BATMAN FOREVER was released that this time starred Val Kilmer as Batman with Chris O' Donnell coming on board as Dick Grayson/Robin, and pitting the dynamic duo up against Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones and The Riddler played by Jim Carrey. Instead of a gloomy and dark Gotham City, Schumacher filled it with neon lights and dressed his heroes up with tight rubber suites.  While inferior to the first two films, BATMAN FOREVER still made a pretty decent amount of cash at the box office.   Warner Bros. decided to rush the fourth Batman film into production just as BATMAN FOREVER came out on VHS.  Joel Schumacher returned to the director's chair for the second and thankfully the last time.   In the summer of 1997, BATMAN & ROBIN was released that starred George Clooney as the caped crusader this time and Chris O' Donnell reprising his role as Robin. Joining the dynamic duo was Batgirl played by CLUELESS star Alicia Silverstone. The three caped "heroes" were pitted against Mr. Freeze played by The Terminator himself, Poison Ivy played by Uma Thurman, and that Hulk/Frankenstein abomination that is supposed to be Bane. Needless to say that BATMAN & ROBIN bombed horribly at the box office and was flamed by outraged Batman fans and critics. The Batman movie franchise laid dead.
   Since the beginning of the 21st century, the comic book movie craze had kicked off beginning with Marvel's successful 2000 hit X-MEN and again in 2002 with SPIDER-MAN.    Soon, Warner Bros. had decided that they had held off making another Batman movie for long enough and were aiming to restart the Batman franchise. Originally, they were going to do a straight adaptation of Frank Miller's popular graphic novel BATMAN: YEAR ONE, but that was canned. Talk even came up of having a cross over film with Batman and Superman. Again, that never took off.  In the early '00s, a young and upcoming talented filmmaker named Christopher Nolan had done a very successful psychological drama/thriller with WB called INSOMNIA.  Nolan decided for his next movie that he wanted to take a superhero story and treat it in a realistic fashion.  Chris talked to WB about possibly restarting the Batman franchise and explained to them what he would do. WB liked Nolan's vision and brought him aboard to produce and direct the new Batman film.
   Chris Nolan needed someone who knew the comic book world really well and hired David S. Goyer to help him with the story and to co-write the script.  In the summer of 2005, Christopher Nolan unleashed his vision of Batman and Gotham City with BATMAN BEGINS.  The film starred Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and  Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. The film also starred Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, and Cillian Murphy.   BATMAN BEGINS not only was the movie that hardcore Batman fans had been waiting for and faithful to the comics, but it was a pretty good success that opened more doors than WB had ever imagined.
   Billionaire Bruce Wayne is in search of learning how to fight corruption, injustice, and  to strike fear in the hearts of the criminal underworld.  While locked up in a prison somewhere in Asia disguised as a common criminal, Wayne is greeted by a mysterious man named Henri Ducard.  Ducard offers Bruce the chance to join The League of Shadows that is ran by Ra's Al Ghul, who is greatly feared by the criminal underworld. Bruce is released from prison and travels to the top of the mountain where The League of Shadows waits for him.  Ducard takes Wayne under his guidance and trains him to become a better fighter as well as all of the techniques that come with being a successful ninja.  During this time, Bruce reveals his reasons for wanting to fight corruption.  When Bruce was a child, his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, were shot and killed in an alley in front of him during a mugging after the three of them saw an opera together.   At the age of 22, Bruce returned to Gotham after attending college to attend the trial of Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents.  Bruce's childhood friend Rachel Dawes is now an Assistant D.A. and tries to talk him out of going.
    Bruce goes to the trial with a loaded gun in his coat pocket and aims to kill Joe Chill. Luckily for him, Joe is shot and killed by a woman working for Carmine Falcone, Gotham City's mob leader and drug dealer.   Bruce reveals the gun to Rachel and she tells him that his father would be ashamed of him if he saw him trying to get revenge like this, which causes Bruce to realize that he doesn't want to go down the same road as the criminals and tosses the gun into the ocean.   Bruce decides to disguise himself as a criminal to observe the criminal mind.  Bruce has proved himself an accessible apprentice under Ducard's guidance and it is now time for him to prove himself worthy to Ra's Al Ghul and The League of Shadows by executing a prisoner with a sword.  Wayne realizes that his mentor Ducard, Ra's Al Ghul, and The League of Shadows are willing to kill those they are fighting against and aim to destroy Bruce's hometown of Gotham City.  Bruce burns down their fortress and rescues an unconscious Ducard after Ra's Al Ghul is accidentally killed when the roof collapses.
   Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after a seven year absence.  Wayne develops a friendship with the head of the science division named Lucius Fox at his family's company Wayne Enterprises. Fox reveals to him some gadgets and armory suits that the military didn't buy. Bruce talks Fox into letting him "borrow" various gadgets, armory suits, and the vehicle known as the Tumbler.  Wayne spray paints the suit black and his trusted butler Alfred helps him put it together. Bruce decides to explore the cave underneath his home of Wayne Manor and uses it as his lair after overcoming his childhood fear of bats.  Bruce Wayne then unleashes his vicious alter ego to crusade around Gotham at night known as Batman.  Batman soon develops an ally in Police Sgt. Jim Gordon and sets out to shut down Carmine Falcone and the creepy Dr. Crane aka The Scarecrow. What Batman doesn't know is that there is someone else who's behind Falcone and Crane's plans. Someone from the past that aims to destroy Gotham City and all who inhabit it. Someone who knows Batman's true identity.
     BATMAN BEGINS is a very refreshing film since it takes the character of Batman seriously and took the movies into a darker direction that we have never seen before.  I really like BATMAN BEGINS and feel like many others fans that this is the movie that Batman truly needed. Sure, I think the Tim Burton Batman films are highly enjoyable movies, but at the same time they weren't accurate portrayals of the comics.  Like I mentioned in my review for THE DARK KNIGHT, everybody has their own preferred vision of what Batman should be like. Some like the more gothic/mythic route, some enjoy the more campy and funny Batman, and then there's lots of us that prefer Batman and those who surround him to be as realistic as possible. After all, Batman is based in humanity and is in fact a human being like you and me. So, therefore, he should be in a world just like yours and mine.  That's why I truly believe that Chris Nolan is the right person to make a Batman film. He gets the character and mythology and finds ways to make them as believable as possible.  Batman is not Superman or any of the other DC characters. He doesn't have super powers, but he does have high tech gadgets and a very advanced suit that is made to appear like a ferocious bat creature to scare the piss out of criminals.  Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the more comic booky takes on the characters, but Nolan's vision of Batman is more grasping to me.
    The story and screenplay written by both Christopher Nolan and David Goyer are fantastic.  I love that Nolan and company decided to develop Bruce Wayne into Batman rather than just making a Batman movie and showing the origins of his villains. They did something completely different that had not been done in the live action movies before.  We see Bruce Wayne grow as a character and gradually become Batman.  I like that they didn't rush the transformation and let it build up to the moment where he first appears as Batman.  That's another thing I love about Nolan's Batman movies, character development. No more is it just the villains, but now the hero and those around him are developed. James Gordon, a character that was basically wasted in the Burton/Schumacher franchise is an actual MAIN CHARACTER! Alfred, who was basically just a sweet old man in the first four movies is now even more of a father figure and actually SAVES Bruce's life!  Lucius Fox, who was an important character in the comics and animated series, yet abandoned from the Burton/Schumacher franchise, helps tribute to creating Batman's gadgets and suits.  Every Batman movie has a love interest, so Nolan gave Bruce one who he has known since before his parents were murdered named Rachel Dawes, who's mother used to work for his parents. 
       I love that we get to see the real version of Gotham's future Police Commissioner James Gordon. Gordon is the only honest cop just about and it helps contribute with him finding Batman to be an ally.  Alfred usually comforts Bruce by giving him advice and being there for him as a father would be there for his son.  Some of my favorite scenes with Bruce are those between him and Alfred. There are times throughout the film where Bruce almost gives up or has low self esteem. These are moments where Alfred reminds him of what being a hero truly means and that he should not let the murder of his parents ruin his life and to rise above it to make a difference. We can see how much Alfred thinks of Bruce as his own son and is there for him just like Thomas Wayne was there for Bruce as a child. Alfred even reminds Bruce of his father's old saying, "Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up."  Alfred also constantly lets Bruce know that he will never give up on him no matter what.  I thought the relationship between Alfred and Bruce was handled extremely well in this movie and continued in THE DARK KNIGHT. 
      Like I said before, I love the portrayal of Jim Gordon in this film. Here's a guy that wants exactly what Bruce/Batman wants, a cleaner and safer Gotham. Even though the Police are supposed to bring safety, they are mostly protecting the mob and drug dealers. Even Gordon's own partner is pretty shady and working for Falcone.  Commissioner Loeb seems like an okay cop, but he's not doing anything to clean up the city and is out to stop Batman from taking the law into his own hands. Loeb was a corrupt Police Commissioner in the graphic novel BATMAN: YEAR ONE, but is played out more as an asshole who doesn't approve of Gordon and Batman's strategy to clean up Gotham City.   Gordon's partner Flass was also in the BATMAN: YEAR ONE graphic novel as a corrupt cop.  James Gordon sees Batman as the hero that Gotham truly needs to shake them out of the filth that the city has plunged into for the past like ten-fifteen years.  It even reveals a young James Gordon comforting Bruce as a child after his parents were murdered.  I think it was then that Bruce sort of realized that Gordon was one of a very few good cops left in the city.  
     Nolan created the character of Rachel Dawes exclusively for the movie because he wanted Bruce to know someone who knew him before his life was altered by his parents' murder.  While his intentions were good, I'm just not a big fan of the Rachel character. I much prefer Vicki Vale or Selina Kyle like I mentioned in my review for THE DARK KNIGHT.  I do admit that I liked the character better in THE DARK KNIGHT because she was totally miscast in this film, which I will get to later.  I also think the purpose of Rachel is to show the humanity in Bruce. When his parents were murdered, it kinda opened up a black hole in him that left him angry and bitter. Rachel is the one thing that gives Bruce hope to someday overcome his determination on fighting crime and actually live a normal life. After all, he may be the caped crusader, but his heart can still love.  Rachel to me is Bruce's soul mate. A young woman who he has known his whole life and has a strong relationship with.  I look at it in the DAWSON'S CREEK logic, which is ironic since Katie Holmes happens to be playing Rachel in this film.  In DAWSON'S CREEK, Dawson and Joey had been best friends since they were kids and were soul mates. They tried an actual romantic relationship twice in the series that didn't work out, yet Pacey and Joey ended up together romantically in the end.  It doesn't show it here, but in THE DARK KNIGHT, Rachel falls in love with Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) while waiting for Bruce. She ends up realizing that while she still loves Bruce that she has to  keep their relationship as just friends because she knows that his desire to be Batman is way beyond them and that the day won't come when he no longer needs to be Batman.  Of course, Bruce will end up meeting a certain woman that too has an alter ego that loves to jump off rooftops at night.
     Lucius Fox starts out in the film working in the science division of Wayne Enterprises.  When Bruce first returns to Gotham after travelling the world for the past seven years, he stops by his family's company to check out their applied sciences department where he meets Fox.  Lucius used to be on the board at Wayne Enterprises when Bruce's father was still alive. After Thomas Wayne was murdered, Bill Earle took over the company and kicked Fox down from the board. Mr. Earle plans to take the company public and go against Thomas Wayne's original plan for Wayne Enterprises.  Bruce takes various equipment that his family's company has designed for the military and uses it to create the masked crusader known as Batman.  Fox shows Bruce how to work the gadgets and what everything does.  Later in the film, Bruce buys out Earle and makes Fox CEO of the company. 
       Henri Ducard in the comics was Bruce Wayne's martial arts trainer on his quest to become Batman. In the comics, Bruce finds that Ducard is willing to kill his enemies instead of just fighting them and turning them over to the justice system.  Nolan has basically taken elements of Ducard from the comics and mixed them with the popular Batman villain Ra's Al Ghul. In the comics, Ra's Al Ghul who's name is Arabic for "Head of the Demon" was the leader of a vigilante group known as The Society of Shadows. Ra's was actually over 600 years old due to bathing in the regenerating waters of the Lazarus Pit, which can turn someone who is old and dying back to being young and healthy.  Ra's basically sees a great warrior in Bruce Wayne and offers him the chance to join The Society and take over for him. Ra's also has a beautiful daughter named Talia who is in love with him and wants Wayne to marry her and carry on his legacy.  Batman rejects the offer, which causes Ra's to declare him an enemy. Ra's Al Ghul's idea of justice is to wipe entire populations clean to start over. This of course not only kills those who commit crime and corruption, but also takes out countless innocent lives. Killing is something that Batman will never do.  In this film, Nolan of course takes away the more supernatural elements of Ra's Al Ghul as well as the character of Talia.  Now, it can be a bit confusing with the whole Ra's Al Ghul story, so let me clarify. The Asian guy claiming to be Ra's Al Ghul in the beginning of this film is not the real Ra's. He is obviously a decoy in case something were to happen and somebody were to try to kill Ra's Al Ghul.  Henri Ducard is found out near the end at Bruce Wayne's birthday party to be the real Ra's Al Ghul and used a cheap trick to conceal his true identity.  Nolan still gave the character the same major goal of the Ra's Al Ghul from the comics and BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, which is to destroy Gotham City or any place he feels has been overrun with criminality.
           Dr. Jonathan Crane aka The Scarecrow is a doctor at Arkham Asylum. Crane is working for Ra's Al Ghul and with Falcone.  Scarecrow from the comics and animated series is just obsessed with fear's gripping power and uses a fear toxin that causes those who breathe it to hallucinate and see their worst fears come to life.  In the comics, Crane wears an entire scarecrow outfit to make his appearance look frightening to whomever is exposed to his fear gas.  In this film, Crane is usually seen without wearing his mask.  Crane took a panic inducing substance that can be found in rare blue flowers that Ra's used to help his trainers confront their worst fears to conquer them and managed to turn it into a weapon that can turn even the sanest person into a mental case. The toxin unleashes fear and turns its victims crazy. Crane has a scarecrow mask that he loves to wear to torture those exposed to his gas because the mask turns into a frightening image.   Crane loves to move criminals that should belong in jail to his madhouse for further experiments. Long enough exposure to Crane's fear toxin that's in the form of steam can leave the victim's mind lost or could even result in death. By the way, I love The Scarecrow's mask!
          I was highly impressed with how Nolan took these extraordinary comic book characters and was able to find ways to make them all real.  The look of the bat suit was also fantastic. I will always love Michael Keaton's bat suit in the two Burton Batman movies, but Nolan's take on the suit looked really great.   I also really love the suspense in the sequence where we first see Batman for the first time. While I love the Batmobile, the Tumbler was awesome! I loved the whole car chase scene where Batman is running from the cops to get Rachel the antidote to Scarecrow's fear gas.  That whole part where he just demolishes the cop car by running over it was so cool!
    One scene that truly sticks out to me is when Bruce decides to confront his fear of bats and finally enters the batcave for the first time. That whole bit where he is standing with his eyes closed as millions of bats are flying around him was fantastic.  Plus, I liked the whole ordeal of him being afraid of bats, yet ending up becoming a bat. Great foil for the character.  Another thing that Nolan's movies have done that no other film version of Batman has really touched base on is dividing Bruce Wayne into three characters instead of two. There's Bruce when he is just with Alfred, Rachel, or Fox. I like to call this private Bruce Wayne. Then there is the Bruce Wayne that the public sees who's just a self centered and spoiled playboy. And then of course there's Bruce as Batman.  Batman is different in this film and THE DARK KNIGHT than I've ever seen him before. He is a total ferocious beast who growls at the criminals and is pretty fucking scary I must say. I love the scene when he is forcing Flass to spill his guts on where Falcone's drugs are going. Batman has Flass hanging upside down with his foot tied on Batman's grapple gun and yelling such things like...
" Where were the other drugs going? SWEAR TO MEEEE!!!!!!!"
   Or my personal favorite...
" Do I look like a cop!!!"

   I've never seen Batman this pissed before and I have to admit, I love it! He grinds his teeth and snarls like a vicious animal who's getting ready to rip someone to pieces.  I know it may turn people off with his voice, but to be honest, it kinda works for me.  I understand that he is doing this to really scare the criminals and it definitely works.  The only problem that I have with it is more so in THE DARK KNIGHT when his voice gets a little too raspy in place and is still raspy when he talks to Fox or Gordon.  I love that Nolan took the sequence right out of the comics where Batman sprays Scarecrow with his own fear gas and Scarecrow sees Batman as some Hellish looking demonic creature and freaks out. I have to say, he did look scary and nightmarish under Scarecrow's fear toxin! I want to get an action figure of Demon Batman!! I also love that his cape can glide like a parachute where it looks like he is actually flying around Gotham.
Speaking of Scarecrow's fear toxin, I thought the hallucinations were extremely well done. I also love that Ra's Al Ghul took Scarecrow's fear toxin and had it dumped into the water supply underneath Gotham so that he could get the citizens of Gotham to rip each other apart through fear and paranoia.  There's also another sequence taken right out of the comics where a few people are scared of Batman due to the fear gas and try to attack him. I love where Batman is flying over Gotham and the people panic and his eyes glow red. 
  Another thing that I absolutely love about Chris Nolan's Batman movies is that the main villain is always a major threat to not only Batman himself, but to Gotham City too. Before in the Batman movies, the villain or villains were always portrayed as over the top and usually stirred up a little trouble and you knew that Batman would take them down every time. In Nolan's movies, the villain hits closer to home. Ra's Al Ghul and his League of Shadows burns down Wayne Manor and unleashes a deadly gas that could kill all of Gotham.  Ra's also releases all of Arkham Asylum's inmates and unleashes them to wreck havoc on the city. Scarecrow poisons Batman and lights him on fire.   In THE DARK KNIGHT, The Joker thrusts Gotham into anarchy, kills Bruce's love, and turns Gotham's White Knight (Harvey Dent) into a tragic villain that Batman is forced to face in order to be a hero.   The only person who can handle these deadly foes is Batman because he has what it takes to defend Gotham from the darkness that lurks around it.  Batman is the one thing standing in between Ra's and his mission to wipe Gotham City off the map and Batman finds a way to stop him. I love the scene on the train where the train is getting ready to crash because the track has been blown apart and Ra's tells Batman that he has finally learned to do what is necessary and Batman says, "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you." before ejecting out of the train and it crashing and killing Ra's Al Ghul. Also, I really like that we don't get origin stories of the villains except for of course Two-Face in THE DARK KNIGHT.  It just seems like these guys just arrive in town with some kinda gimmick and find ways to affect both the hero and those around him. Nolan picks the villains based on the particular story he is telling and not the other way around like Burton and Schumacher did.
   I love the ending where Batman is standing on the rooftop talking to Gordon. Gordon has set up the bat signal to shine every time that he needs Batman or in case of emergency.  The two talk about escalation and then Gordon talks of a rising criminal in Gotham who's robbed a bank and has left a calling card. Gordon hands Batman the evidence bag with the card in it. Batman turns it around and in his hand lays a Joker card, which obviously told fans that The Joker will be in the sequel.  This part was also what happened at the end of the graphic novel BATMAN: YEAR ONE. I thought it was a very nice homage and set up for what is now the best Batman film ever made, THE DARK KNIGHT.
  The direction by Christopher Nolan is brilliant. I love that Nolan builds up his characters through development and story. I also love Nolan's way of filming lovely atmosphere. BATMAN BEGINS has great atmosphere and I loved Nolan's grim and dark vision of Gotham City.  I can definitely tell that he was highly inspired by BLADE RUNNER when recreating Gotham. Nolan is certainly a brilliant filmmaker and it truly shows in all of his work. 
The music by Hans Zimmer works really well for me and is my favorite Batman music score since Danny Elfman and Shirley Walker.
 The acting was simply fantastic for the most part. I have come to love Christian Bale's portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bale is the only actor in the live action films to play both personas really well. Most actors have been able to capture one or the other, but Bale reached both and created two different characters that happen to make up the same man. Kevin Conroy is the only other actor to get both personas right, which he did as the voice in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and various other animated Batman projects.
  Michael Caine is my favorite portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth. Caine plays the character as both a friendly butler and as a concerned father figure. He helps Bruce in making the right choices and guides him in his quest.   Caine is the best portrayal of Alfred that I've seen since BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Michael Gough was decent in the Burton/Schumacher franchise, but played more of a nice old man who occasionally helps Bruce out. He felt more like a grandpa whereas Caine feels more like the father figure that Alfred should be.
    I highly enjoyed Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox in both this movie and in THE DARK KNIGHT. I've always enjoyed Freeman as an actor and he truly works as Fox.  A really great performance. That was a nice casting decision by David Goyer.
      Liam Neeson was amazing as Henri Ducard/Ra's Al Ghul. Neeson has been known to play the father figure and mentor type before, but had never really played a villain. I must say that Neeson played one hell of an awesome villain as one of Batman's most deadly enemies.  I knew from the first time I saw BATMAN BEGINS back in 2005 that Neeson's character was more than likely going to turn out to be the real Ra's Al Ghul just by the way he acted.  In the comics and BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, Ra's Al Ghul is not Asian and has a British accent. He was portrayed brilliantly by David Warner in the animated series and I thought that Liam Neeson truly brought that character to life in BATMAN BEGINS.  He has the same logic and personality of the comics and animated series, just with the whole Lazarus Pit and daughter character dropped from the story.  There is a moment where Ducard/Ra's mentions to Bruce something about that he used to have a wife and that she was taken from him, but other than that, we don't know anything about him except for his goals and that he is a very  deadly character. I love that he taught Bruce everything he knows and now Bruce has to turn what Ducard taught him against him in order to fulfill what he set out to do in the first place.  And I also love how Neeson was able to switch from being mentor to enemy with the drop of a hat.  He was a great first main villain for the Nolan Batman movie franchise.
   Cillian Murphy was great as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow. I've always loved Murphy as an actor and he definitely delivers a creepy performance and brings the master of fear to life. To be honest, he actually almost looked creepier with just the glasses on than he did with the scarecrow mask. That just shows how great of an actor Cillian Murphy is. It's funny that he was originally in talks to play Batman, but got cast as Scarecrow. Cillian Murphy would reprise the role of The Scarecrow in a small cameo at the beginning of THE DARK KNIGHT. Truthfully, I hope he shows up again in the third film! I do think the character is underrated and should get a bigger role as a villain.
      The only real complaint I have is the casting of Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes.  It's not that Holmes is a bad actress, but more so that she was just wrong for this particular role.  Rachel is an Assistant District Attorney, yet looks like she is still in college. Another problem I have is that when it shows a flashback of when Bruce comes back from attending Princeton that she is already an Assistant D.A.  How the hell did that happen when they are around the same age?  I personally thought that she was better portrayed in THE DARK KNIGHT because she was played by someone who could be believable as an Assistant D.A.  Other than Holmes, the rest of the cast was great.
     Gary Oldman is Jim Gordon and definitely brought that character the justice that he needed. Gone was the guy who just said things like thanks for saving the day Batman and now is a true friend for Batman.  Oldman who is more known for his villain roles definitely did well at playing Gotham's future Commissioner.  Gordon has a bigger role to play in THE DARK KNIGHT and Oldman does the character lots of justice.
  And then there are the other actors who played smaller roles. Tom Wilkinson was great as crime boss Carmine Falcone and was exactly the bastard he was in the comics.  Mark Boone Junior was great as the shady cop Flass.  Rutger Haur was awesome as Earle. Gus Lewis was fantastic as young Bruce Wayne.  Colin McFarlane  was good as Commissioner Loeb and returns in THE DARK KNIGHT only to be killed by The Joker so that Gordon gets the job.  Linus Roache and Sara Stewart were great as Bruce's parents Thomas and Martha Wayne. I like that Nolan let us get to know Bruce's father a bit before his parents were killed so that it would be more impactful.  All in all, great cast except for Holmes as Rachel.
Overall, BATMAN BEGINS is a really great and fresh vision of Bruce Wayne's quest to become Batman and how one man can make a difference. BATMAN BEGINS just proves that  it's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Dark Knight (2008)

    In 2005, acclaimed director Christopher Nolan resurrected the long dead Batman movie franchise with his fresh and more grim/realistic approach.  BATMAN BEGINS revealed the origins of the legendary caped crusader of Gotham City by showing flashbacks of Thomas and Martha Wayne murdered in an alley in front of their only son Bruce.  Several years pass and Bruce Wayne decides to travel the world and learn how to fight against corruption and injustice. Bruce returns to Gotham seven years later and unleashes a masked avenger in the form of one of his childhood fears, a bat.  Batman uses his strength and a variety of high tech gadgets to fight the sinister forces that threaten Gotham such as Ra's Al Ghul and his League of Shadows, Dr. Jonathan Crane aka The Scarecrow, and crime boss Carmine Falconi.  At the time of release, not many people paid attention to BATMAN BEGINS due to the atrocity from 1997 known as BATMAN & ROBIN that pissed off many hardcore fans and destroyed the hope for a good quality Batman movie. BATMAN BEGINS did however receive good business on DVD and in rentals, which gave it a decent success.
    Since BATMAN BEGINS was doing good on the home video market, Warner Bros. knew that a sequel would be in the works. Many fans who saw the film were excited for not only a well told and very good quality Batman movie, but that BATMAN BEGINS ended with a reference to The Joker in the form of the Joker card.  When news broke that the next Batman movie would have Batman pitted against The Joker, fans cheered for joy. It had been about 19 years since the last time The Joker fought Batman on the big screen in the 1989 smash hit BATMAN that starred Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.  The big question was, which actor would play Batman's arch nemesis this time around?  News finally broke in late 2007 that Heath Ledger would be starring as the clown prince of crime opposite Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne.  Fans immediately went into an uproar and bashed the hell out of this new Batman film. That is until the teaser trailer came out that featured Ledger's voice and laugh as The Joker. Then, pictures began to find themselves on the internet. Instead of a "permawhite" condition like the comics and the 1989 Tim Burton film, this Joker wore clown make-up and had his mouth cut, giving him a demented grin. Some fanboys hated it, but fans such as myself loved that Nolan was taking a villain right out of the comics and reworking him a bit to fit into our world.  Then, on January 22, 2008, Heath Ledger tragically died. It was and still is a major shock because nobody expected it and he was so young.  On July 18th that year, Batman fans and many other audiences around the world hurried to their nearest theater to see the new Batman movie titled THE DARK KNIGHT.  That day, the greatest Batman film of all time was unleashed after over 20 years of anticipation.  THE DARK KNIGHT is the ultimate Batman movie and has gone down in history as the greatest comic book film of all time.
  Batman has been cleaning up the mean streets of Gotham City and the criminals are running scared. There's also some wannabe Batmen that try to shoot the criminals rather than fight them and hand them over to the cops.  Meanwhile, some guy dressed as a clown and his goons have robbed a bank that is ran by Salvatore Maroni's mob family.  The mob meets during the day so that Batman can't bust them.  Desperate that the Police will get to the rest of their money, Maroni and his boys gets an Asian accountant named Lau to have their cash transferred out of the bank and to a safe place in Hong Kong. This way, the new District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lt. James Gordon can't track it to bring them down. Gordon and Dent decide to join together to bring down Maroni's mob. The problem is though that they need evidence to lock up the mob. Since Dent and Gordon can't go to Hong Kong to get Lau back to rat out the mob, they call on Batman.  Meanwhile, the man who robbed the mob's bank known only as The Joker offers them a deal in which he will kill Batman.   Harvey Dent begins to lock up the city's criminals by the hundreds, which causes billionaire Bruce Wayne to realize that Dent is the hero that Gotham needs more than his alter ego Batman. Also, he believes that he can finally live a normal life with his first real love Rachel Dawes, who happens to be working with and dating Harvey.
     Things get ugly when The Joker starts killing various people in Gotham City and tells Gotham that he will kill people unless Batman takes off his mask and turns himself in.   The Joker's murder spree gets more intense as he begins to thrust Gotham City into a city of chaos and anarchy.  Lives are lost, dreams are shattered, and Gotham's D.A. becomes a tragic mixture of order and chaos. This leaves The Dark Knight of Gotham City to make a decision that will affect them all.
 It's really no surprise to those that know me that I'm one of the biggest Batman fans ever. Don't believe me? Just check out my review for BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD.  The character of Batman has been a huge part of my life ever since I was 3 years old after watching BATMAN starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.   Batman has gone through so many different variations from when he was first created by Bob Kane in 1939 and all of the way to where he is today.  The thing that attracts me to the character Batman is the fact that he is Human. Here's a guy with no super powers whatsoever and yet he is larger than life.  Now, everyone of course has their own preference of what Batman should be like. Some people love the more gothic and mythic take such as the Tim Burton films BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS.  Some prefer the more campy and comedic Batman such as the Adam West television series from the '60s or the 1995 Joel Schumacher film BATMAN FOREVER. And then there's the fans who prefer the more grim and realistic take such as some of the '70s/'80s comics and of course the modern Christopher Nolan films.  Regardless, there's many different ways to tell Batman as long as you stick to his origin and his mythology.  The Batman movies have gone through many changes from 1989-2008. BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS told the mythic portrayal of Batman and was more about how Gotham saw the character as well as his villains that was taken from the early '40s and the early '90s comics. Then, Batman became more campy and comedic with the Schumacher film BATMAN FOREVER that took bits from the '50s comics with its over the top foes. The 1997 atrocity known as BATMAN & ROBIN was obviously taking bits from the '60s camp fad that began with the Adam West series and killed the profitable Batman movie franchise. Chris Nolan and David Goyer decided to go in the opposite direction of the original four Batman films and start a clean slate with their 2005 franchise reboot BATMAN BEGINS.  Nolan was highly inspired by the comics of Jepth Loeb from the '70s and '80s era, especially THE LONG HALLOWEEN.
      And now we are at Nolan's follow up to BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT.   I remember being highly excited to see this film two years ago when it was released.  I knew from all of the posters and trailers that it was going to be great, but I didn't realize until after seeing it that it was much more than just a great movie. I've never in my whole life have had a Batman movie hit me like this film did.  THE DARK KNIGHT is a film about order going up against chaos. It's a film about real people and what it takes to be a hero in a city full of corruption.  It's about the consequences that come with being a hero.  There's no question that Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan have written the best Batman film ever made. There's no question that THE DARK KNIGHT is the best Batman and comic book movie ever made. And there is sure as hell no question that the late Heath Ledger has brought DC Comics' most menacing and terrifying villain right out of the comics and onto film in a way that nobody has EVER seen The Joker before!
      The story and script for THE DARK KNIGHT is nothing short of brilliant.  While I still really like Tim Burton's two Batman films, I love that Nolan has Bruce Wayne/Batman as the main focus rather than the villains and those surrounding Batman or Bruce.  The way I look at Burton's two films is more of looking at Batman from Gotham's point of view. Nolan shows his movies from Bruce/Batman's point of view, especially in BATMAN BEGINS. With THE DARK KNIGHT, both Bruce/Batman and Harvey Dent are the main focus.  THE DARK KNIGHT really tests Batman and pushes all three men to their limits thanks to The Joker's reign of terrorism. 
 I was highly impressed with how well the characters were written here.  Bruce sees a great hero in Gotham's new D.A. Harvey Dent and wants Dent to take up his mantle and be the true hero that Gotham deserves. One who doesn't have to wear a cape and mask, a hero with a face.  Harvey Dent is determined to keep Gotham safe and believes in what Batman represents. Batman is a symbol of hope. Bruce Wayne took a symbol that used to represent a demon/monster and took ownership over it and turned it into the symbol of the Dark Knight. He became the crusader who used the night to inflict fear in the criminal underworld and stop crime. In comes a man who is just a D.A., yet putting away criminals by the hundreds that is actually by the law.  Bruce sees Harvey as the light that Gotham needs to get them out of the darkness.  And then there is Rachel Dawes, the love of Bruce's life. She has been his friend since childhood and he may actually be able to have a real relationship. The trouble is that she is currently dating Harvey. Truthfully, Rachel told Bruce that maybe they could be together once Gotham no longer needed Batman, but that was before she fell in love with Harvey. I think that she wants Bruce to believe that she will be there for him so that he will have the confidence to continue on as Batman.  I think she really does love Bruce, but more as a best friend. They're soul mates, yes, but a soul mate is not always the same person you end up in a relationship with. I truly believe that her love for Bruce goes beyond the romantic kind.  She loves Bruce, but wants to be with Harvey. Rachel and Harvey have more in common and the same goals. Plus, truthfully, I thought Harvey and Rachel made a better match romantically than Bruce and Rachel would.
       Lt. James Gordon is the only cop that Batman truly trusts. Truth be told, Batman is the only person in Gotham that Gordon trusts too until Harvey Dent comes into the picture.  I really think that Batman, Gordon, and Dent really worked well together as Gotham's true heroes.   Alfred of course helps Bruce by continuing to give him advice when he is down as well as helping him out with tracking down The Joker.
     The Joker is hands down Batman's most threatening and complicating villain yet. Here's a guy who has no desire for money and no rules whatsoever. The Joker is a character that is only after watching the world burn.  He's a character that has no morals, no conscious, and is the embodiment of chaos.  The Joker is disguised as a clown, but is a demon within. He is an anarchist, a terrorist, a narcissist, but most importantly, the complete opposite of Batman. That's why I believe Joker is the perfect villain for Batman. He's chaos. Batman is order. The character has been portrayed as a pranksterish villain with some murderous potential in past incarnations such as BATMAN (1989) and the infamous BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES.  As former comic book editor/writer Denny O' Neil said, "The Joker is the best trickster character ever."
  The thing that I've always loved about The Joker as a character and as a comic book villain is that he is totally unpredictable.  I can remember in THE BATMAN/SUPERMAN MOVIE when Batman tells Superman that with Joker to expect the unexpected and then Joker throws some marbles down that turn out to be grenades. Joker has a fascination with dynamite, guns, bombs, knives, and anything that will take lives. He is the man who will kill you with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.  Joker will gladly burn to death as long as he gets the last laugh and takes a bunch of innocent people to their graves.  He is the Devil in the form of a figure that is supposed to be happy and safe. While Bruce Wayne disguises himself as a bat, a demon, a symbol of darkness, he is really a symbol of hope, order, and good. The Joker does the total opposite. He takes the symbol of a warm and loving clown and turns it into a symbol of chaos, tragedy, and pure evil.  This is where that whole saying of them being the flip side of the coin comes into play. And that my friends is why the Bat and the Joker have always been the perfect hero and villain rivals. They represent the complete opposite from each other. You can't have Batman without The Joker and you sure as hell can't have The Joker without Batman.
I love all of Joker's sick and evil schemes in THE DARK KNIGHT.  The whole pencil magic trick was probably my all time favorite. I also love it where he cuts smiles into his victims' mouths and paints their faces to look like his own. He also loves to tell Gordon and Batman exactly who he is targeting by supplying clues much like one of Batman's other villains known as The Riddler.  From forcing mob members to kill each other with a broken pool stick, blowing up a hospital, manipulating our heroes and fellow Gotham citizens, killing the judge and Police Commissioner Loeb, killing an important female character, and being the cause of Harvey Dent's fall and transformation into Two-Face. Joker is a force to be reckoned with and the only person who has what it takes to truly stop him and match him is Batman.  I personally love the interrogation scene between Batman and The Joker. It was like right out of the comics. I also love it when no matter how hard Batman punches The Joker that Joker laughs in his face and is not scared of him like all of the other criminals have been.  Batman has finally met a villain that he can't intimidate with his aggressive use of violence or really deep monstrous voice.
    This is also the first time in any of the Batman movies that the potential love interest of Bruce Wayne gets murdered by his villain.  One of the most intense scenes for me as a movie goer was when Joker's goons kidnapped both Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes.   Both Harvey and Rachel are tied up in separate warehouses that are rigged with lots of explosives. Batman can only chose to save one of them. Anyway, Joker switches the addresses where Batman will end up saving Dent thinking he is saving Rachel and Gordon will show up where Rachel is at, but that certain warehouse is timed to go off a few seconds before Dent's. The two buildings explode, killing Rachel and blowing off half of Harvey Dent's face.   It's truly sad when Harvey finds out that Rachel died by seeing that the other half of his two sided coin is burnt after he gave it to Rachel for good luck.
  Harvey warned Gordon that he had some untrustworthy cops on his force, but Gordon didn't acknowledge it at the time. Now, Harvey blames Gordon, Maroni, Batman, and Gordon's cops for Rachel's death. The Joker pays Dent a visit and shows him that in a world of chaos,  everything can be fair. It is then that Dent decides to throw morality and being a good guy out the window and get cold blooded revenge for Rachel being taken away from him.  Dent now determines his actions by chance with the flip of a coin, giving him the nick name Two-Face.   Now, Two-Face begins to kill those he claims are responsible and ends up holding Gordon's wife and kids hostage.
         After Batman stops The Joker from blowing up two boats full of people, he arrives to stop Harvey from killing Gordon and his family. Batman ends up having to charge Harvey over the edge of the stairway in order to save Gordon's son, leaving Gotham's White Knight dead.   I love the ending where Batman decides to take the blame for Two-Face's murder spree to save Harvey Dent's good reputation since nobody except for himself, Gordon, and Gordon's family knew what he did. If Batman hadn't became a criminal in Gotham's eyes, then all of the hundreds of criminals that Dent helped put away would have been released, The Joker would have won, and the good citizens of Gotham would lose hope.   Gordon's speech at the very end where he explains to his son what he sees in Batman, why he has to chase him, and then crowns him The Dark Knight is both great and very heart warming. 
I love the music by Hans Zimmer for both THE DARK KNIGHT and BATMAN BEGINS.  I think both Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman (BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS) have made some amazing Batman scores that work extremely well.
 The direction by Christopher Nolan is absolutely stunning and leaves me speechless.  Nolan is great at showing atmosphere, tension, character development, and always amazes me with great stories.  The guy is definitely the kinda filmmaker you want to make a Batman movie.
The acting is absolutely amazing. Christian Bale is a great actor and has become a favorite of mine in both roles of Bruce Wayne and the caped crusader of Gotham City, Batman.  I know that many people hate his raspy Batman voice and I used to hate it myself. I guess after watching BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT about a billion times, the performance just grew on me and I adapted to his rough beastly voice. I do admit that it is too rough in spots, but it no longer bothers me like it used to.  Michael Caine is fantastic as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne's butler and quite frankly his only bit of family. Alfred has raised Bruce as if he were his own son and has guided him through his childhood and on through his adulthood. Alfred is the guy that Bruce always turns to for advice, help, and guidance. I think that Bale and Caine definitely represent the Bruce and Alfred relationship extremely well on screen in both films.   Michael Caine is the best actor in my opinion to play Alfred. In the first four films, Alfred was portrayed more as the sweet and nice butler. Here, he has acted more like a father to Bruce more than I've ever seen him. 
  Gary Oldman IS Police Commissioner James Gordon in my eyes. He is perfect as the character and actually looks exactly like Gordon from the comics and the animated series. I thought Pat Hingle was decent in Burton's two Batman films as Gordon, but he never really truly captured Gordon like Oldman does in BATMAN BEGINS and here in THE DARK KNIGHT.  Plus, Gordon has that great friendship with Batman and the two guys work well together. He's the only honest cop that Batman really trusts.
Maggie Gyllenhaal was decent as Rachel Dawes.  I thought she played the character a lot better than Katie Holmes did in BATMAN BEGINS. Personally, I'm not the biggest fan of the Rachel character. It's not that she is a bad character, but I just prefer the characters of Vicki Vale or Selina Kyle aka Catwoman as potential love interests for Bruce/Batman.  But, the character did serve a big purpose in this film. I do like that Nolan created a character that knew Bruce before his parents were murdered and he became Batman.
Aaron Eckhart was amazing as Harvey Dent in this movie.  I like that Dent is such a great guy for most of this movie, so that when he does in fact turn into Two-Face that you almost don't want him to.  That just shows how great Eckhart played Dent and how well the character was developed in the script thanks to the Nolan brothers.  I love Aaron Eckhart's take on Two-Face and that he just played him as a fallen hero who wants to get revenge for the wrongs that were done to him rather than the split personality ordeal from the comics and the animated series. Two-Face also looked fucking gruesome and totally awesome. That's one hell of a damn make-up job and the whole eyeball thing freaks me out. Plus, it was nice to see Two-Face justified so that we could forget that goofy Tommy Lee Jones version from BATMAN FOREVER. 
Morgan Freeman returns from BATMAN BEGINS as CEO of Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox.  Fox basically builds the bat suits and makes Batman's nifty gadgets.  I also loved it when Fox told Bruce that the new suit can hold up against cats. At first, I figured this was a Catwoman reference and now I'm sure it definitely was since it has been announced that Selina Kyle aka Catwoman will be in Nolan's next Batman movie titled THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
  And then there was Heath Ledger who played Batman's arch nemesis and most vicious villain yet, The Joker. Hands down, this is Heath Ledger's best performance of them all. It's a real shame that Ledger died because this was the performance of a life time and he nailed The Joker in every way possible.  He's one of a few actors that I can think of that totally disappeared into the role. There's a few moments where you almost forget that it's Ledger behind the make-up and smile.  He's THAT great!  From his body movements to his facial expressions and all the way up to his voice and laugh, he IS The Joker. I actually think him wearing make-up is creepier than having his skin bleached.   He was both scary and unintentionally humorous as The Joker.  That whole hospital scene and interrogation scene was nothing short of brilliant. He also had the best lines of dialogue in the movie. My personal  favorite Joker scene was when he's in the interrogation room and trying to get a rise out of the cop who's guarding him.
" Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can't savor all of the little emotions. You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So, in a way, I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them are cowards?"
 Heath Ledger deserved that Oscar and I'm more than happy that he got it. It wasn't because he's dead now, but because he gave one of the best fucking performances that I've ever seen in my life.  He is the definitive Joker. I still love Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill as the character, but Ledger is the true definition of what The Joker is all about. He is the clown prince of crime.
   I also enjoyed the performance of Eric Roberts as mob boss Salvatore Maroni. The cameo appearance by the great Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow was great. I truly wish that Scarecrow was a bigger character in this franchise and hopefully the character and actor possibly return for the next chapter, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  Everybody else was great too.
Overall, THE DARK KNIGHT is hands down the greatest Batman film ever made. It's a film that went beyond the hype for it in 2008 and has become a classic in many Batman fans' opinion.  With a great epic story of what a true hero is and one of the greatest villains of all time, THE DARK KNIGHT truly reveals that you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.