Saturday, July 21, 2012

Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan)


And so it has begun 7 years ago. With Joel Schumacher's "Batman & Robin" leaving a bad, almost insulting taste in our mouths, a reboot is definitely due. And what we got here in "Batman Begins" is something much more than a revisionist superhero film. Instead, it has also become the perfect blueprint for succeeding superhero films dealing with origin stories. 

It stars Christian Bale in what may be the most canonical portrayal of Bruce Wayne on film and also explores the literal beginnings of arguably the most iconic superhero of all time. But of course, what separates this film from all the other "Batman" movies of the past is its distinct visual and thematic tone. Thanks to director Christopher Nolan's patented inclination towards realism, "Batman Begins" is quite effective in keeping its feet on the ground in terms of its borderline science fiction technologies and its action set pieces yet soaring with an almost philosophical take on justice, identity and destiny. 

With Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" serving as one of the prime bases for this film, it's almost a given that this one will indeed be a quality superhero venture. But no one has really anticipated "Batman Begins'" transcendental quality as an origin tale. 

And then of course, what makes "Batman Begins" even better and more easily involving is the presence of three (4 if you'll count Rutger Hauer) legendary actors in the form of Liam Neeson, Michael Caine and the irresistible Morgan Freeman. Looking at it, although their performances are based on pre-existing characters from Batman's established comic book universe, they are still able enough to give the parts that they're portraying the distinct trademarks of their own established personas. 

Oh, and then there is Gary Oldman, an actor that has always been on a league of his own. To be honest, I was quite excited to watch the film back then because I was intrigued when I saw Gary Oldman in the trailers. Being my typical ignorant self with little to no knowledge of Mr. Oldman's acting range outside typical villainous roles at the time, I immediately marked him to be the primary antagonist in the film. 

With Pat Hingle's Gordon still quite untouchable in my mind, it never even crossed my mind that Oldman is even remotely okay for the part. Yes, at first, I was skeptic if whether or not he's believable enough to pull off a mild-mannered and quite heroic role when he is in fact more at ease with over-the-top characters. As it turns out, it's his performance and embodiment of James Gordon that I have loved the most in the whole film. There's really something in his portrayal that evokes empathy yet also displays an unbounded sense of derring-do. This is the portrayal that Gordon deserves. This is the Gordon that we need.

As for the film's villains, well, for non-comic book readers, it will be quite difficult to grasp Ra's Al Ghul's (Ken Watanabe and someone else that I would not mention) and Scarecrow's (Cillian Murphy in an evidently insane yet subdued performance) villainous capabilities and backstories because they are not as well-known as the Joker or even The Penguin in terms of overall fictional popularity. But still, both antagonists were fleshed out quite well by director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer that they came out overwhelmingly menacing even when they're not that familiar to many non-comic book readers that may watch the film.

When put shoulder to shoulder with "The Dark Knight", "Batman Begins", in truth, pales in comparison in some areas. The 2008 follow-up, for once, has a much bigger scope and also contains heavier elements of both tragedy and the strains of duality. But despite of that, "Batman Begins" will always be that one film that has forever changed the landscapes of the superhero genre and has also set the bar quite high for superhero origin stories that may follow after it. It has also paved way for the said genre to loosen its limits in terms of characterization and to embrace a sense of grit and some brooding here and there. This is the superhero origin tale to end all superhero origin tales. Hans Zimmer's masterful musical score is still playing in my head.


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