BATMAN BEGINS
THE BATMAN MOVIE YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR

Since his first appearance in 1939, there's been many incarnations of Batman in the comic books, from silent vigilante, to master detective, wisecracking goofball, and dark brooding bastard. The Superfriends cartoons and the 1966 TV series handled the campy side of Batman just fine, but the movies just never seemed to get the serious Batman right. I had high hopes for Tim Burton's 1989 crack at the legend, but the horrible casting of Michael Keaton, the unbearably awful Prince soundtrack, and major fucking with the core origin left me disappointed. Jack Nicholson's show-stopping performance as The Joker at least made it worthwhile. Too bad the sequels got progressively worse to the point where they became the same campy bullshit the film series tried to get away from. By the time the fourth installment came out, there was just no way they could continue making the films without wiping the slate clean and starting all over again.

Hardcore Batman fans could at least be thrilled by the incredible Batman The Animated Series, which as a cartoon, captured what many feel is the true essence of Batman better than any other moving media incarnation of the character ever did. But deep down, I always wished for more. Why couldn't they make a movie as good as those cartoons? Why couldn't the same thrill I got reading Frank Miller's "Batman Year One" or Grant Morrison's "Arkham Asylum" or the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams stuff from the 70s be translated to the screen.

I came to see Batman Begins with an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Too many years of hoping for a perfect Batman movie, only to walk out with a giant checklist of things they got wrong. I'm thrilled to say, the only thing on my list is a note to see it again as soon as I can.

The first hour of the film is essentially the origin story. We get the classic falling into a Bat-cave as a child, and the tragic murder of his parents, but with new angles and insights that even the comic books never presented. For the first time, you see Thomas Wayne as a real man who loves the hell out of his son, not some well dressed prop that takes a bullet to motivate his son to fight crime.

With continuity jumping flashbacks masterfully presented by a director (Memento's Christopher Nolan) that knows a thing or two about that sort of thing, we see a grizzled Wayne in an Asian prison purposely getting in fights to work on his combat skills. A giant ogre of a man, ready to kill Wayne, tells him, "You're in Hell...and I'm THE DEVIL!" to which Bale growls back, "No...you're practice". He's taken away to a holding cell, not for his protection, the guards stress, but for the other prisoners, who lie in a heap as he's dragged off.

Soon Wayne is on a quest in the mountains of Nepal which brings him to sanctuary where he is taught how to fight by Henri Ducard, played by Liam Neeson. I wasn't sold on this casting, as Neeson has played one too many wise mentor fighter characters in recent years, but this fresh and darker take on the master role works out nicely with truly unexpected surprises. After completing his training, Wayne takes his destiny into his own hands and returns to Gotham City to clean it up.

I love this version of Gotham City! Unlike the shadowy and monolithic version designed by Anton Furst in the Tim Burton original, it's shiny and amazing and glowing up top, like a full color version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The buildings are an architectural explosion of creativity with designs that somehow look new and familiar at the same time. But the ghetto area of "The Narrows" hides the crime and scum that eats at Gotham like a cancer, as the true depression of the real flesh and blood of the city exists. It's a jam-packed cityscape that is unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Michael Gough was a great Alfred in the original films, but Michael Caine has a sour and hilarious charm to him that makes you never look back. This is the wisecracking Alfred that Frank Miller brought to life so well in his "Dark Knight" series, and he had several lines that made the entire audience bust up.

Katie Holmes is actually pretty damned good as well, finally pulling off the impossible task of being a female lead in a Batman film that's got an interesting character. And hats off to Holmes for picking up the "Superhero Girlfriend With Gratuitous Pokey Nipple Scenes Baton" from Kirsten Dunst with some chillingly sexy shots.

If you loved Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, you'll love his take on Wayne. After getting coached by Alfred to start behaving more like a carefree playboy during his civilian hours, he turns Bruce Wayne into a cocky super pimp that brings to mind a twisted Adam West. In one scene, he needs to remove hundreds of guests from a party at his mansion, so he pretends to be drunk, and insults them in such a shocking and horrifying way, it's almost jaw-dropping.

In a rare turn as a good guy, Gary Oldman is perfect as the younger James Gordon, one of the only non-corrupt cops on the force. The relationship he establishes with Batman seems very solid and real, and makes me look forward to seeing them work together in the sequels.

This is the Batman you've been waiting for.

I was excited to learn that Christian Bale was going to play the role. After seeing him own every inch of the screen in American Psycho, the possibilities of bringing that twisted inner fire to Batman was intriguing. I thought the same thing about Val Kilmer, however, so I wasn't 100% sure it would work. Within minutes, all my fears were dispelled.

Cillian Murphy, from 28 Days Later, is equally well suited to play Jonathan Crane, who's alter-ego The Scarecrow, has a poison gas that can bring out your worst fears. When Batman is first exposed to this, The Scarecrow's already nightmarish face starts dripping with maggots as bats fly out of his mouth in a truly horrifying moment. Other nightmare visions throughout the film are equally scary, including one with a black face Batman threatening a criminal while black tar oozes from his hellish mouth.

The costume is still the all black version I'm not the biggest fan of, but there's a flexibility and fluidness to the getup that has been sorely missed in the previous films. There's even token beauty shots of him standing on the top of buildings with the dawn approaching that look like the best Batman pin-up artwork come to life.


The props and weapons are fun, and the crazy looking new Batmobile has a maneuverability and style to it that's very exciting to watch. And the Batcave itself, though still in its infancy, has the makings for being the coolest hideout of them all.

The story, dialogue, acting, and direction are all top notch, which means Batman Begins doesn't have to rely on CGI and stunts to thrill the audience. In other words, it aspires to actually entertain adults and doesn't rely on your love of a pre-existing legacy to enjoy the film. You could walk in to this film and know absolutely nothing about Batman, and it'd still kick your ass.

I can't wait to see it again.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

A HISTORY of BATMAN ON TV AND FILM

Lewis Wilson in the rare 1943 Batman movie serial Adam West in the 1966 classic TV show as a Super-Friend in the 70s cartoon Michael Keaton throws on the cape in 1989
Val Kilmer pouts in Batman and Robin And George Clooney gets bat-nipples Batman The Animated Series wows fans in 1992 And the new cartoon "The Batman" keeps the tradition alive

66 YEARS OF BATMAN COMIC BOOK ARTISTS

From Bob Kane's first sketches in 1939 to present day, there's always been a Batman comic for sale somewhere.  His appearance and characterizations consistently change with the times evolving from serious to silly to serious again.  Here's a sampling of the varied styles through all eras of Batman that paint a pretty diverse picture of the legendary character.

Bob Kane Jerry Robinson Dick Sprang Carmine Infantino
Neal Adams Marshall Rogers Berni Wrightson Jim Aparo
Frank Miller Brian Bolland Bill Siekiewicz Mike Zeck
Kelly Jones Jim Lee Bruce Timm Alex Ross

all Batman Begins photos are (c) Warner Brothers, comic illustrations (c) DC Comics


If you enjoy the new Batman movies, dressup in a batman costume this Halloween. With the largest assortment of Halloween costumes online, you'll surely find kids costumes or adult costumes to fit your Halloween needs.

 

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