Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Holy Non-crap Comic Book Movie, Batman!

First off, I have to say I absolutely did NOT like Tim Burton's Batman. Of course, Joel Schumacher's Batman movies were even worse, but I always thought the 1989 Batman was totally miscast and just plain not Batman. People rave about Jack Nicholson's Joker, but c'mon, the Batdance? Big name actors with their own huge onscreen personas have no business being in comic book movies (or most adaptations). That said, I could stomach watching Batman Returns. At least it had close to the right tone. Still all wrong with the movie star casting in my opinion.

Those flicks were emblematic of how bad comic book movies were (especially Schumacher's camp exploits) before X-Men got it mostly right. Sure they were no Captain America or Dolph Lundgren's Punisher (again, except for Schumacher's), but it wasn't even close to Superman II, what I considered the best comic book adaptation up until very recently. And I think Tim Burton can do some great work (Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, etc.) But he can also do Mars Attacks, Batman, amd Planet of the Apes.

For the record, I didn't totally love X-Men, but I thought they finally got close to doing a comic book adaptation right and fixed just about everthing that bugged me w/ X-2. I was never a big Spidey fan, but Sam Raimi did a great job making a Spider-Man movie. Basically if you didn't like the movie, you just didn't like Spider-Man. The Green Goblin suit did really annoy me, but Spider-Man 2 did the comic character even better justice.

Which brings me to Batman Begins. I wasn't sold on it after seeing the trailers, but I had to go see it. And, basically, this movie rips all kinds of ass. If you don't like this movie, you do not like Batman. They hit just about all the right notes with every single character. I thought Katie Holmes would just be annoying while I was waiting for her inevitable entrance in the movie, but she was fine. I would rather have seen a young Harvey Dent in this movie, but I was never a big Two-Face fan, so maybe it's cool w/ me they aren't setting him up yet. The Scarecrow, on the other hand, is probably my 2nd favorite villain (next to the much maligned Man-Bat--which I never expect to see on film). So, I was pretty intrigued when I heard Scarecrow would be in it. Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) was perfect for the part. Gary Oldman: low-key and perfect for Gordon (although his accent reminded me at times of the one he used for Hannibal as Mason Verger. Liam Neeson picked up his Jedi master baton and carried it well. They messed a little w/ the Ra's Al Ghul character, but I was fine with it. Any movie w/ frickin' NINJAs is great.

And, of course, Christian Bale. THE MAN. Channeling his American Psycho Patrick Batman character as playboy Bruce Wayne and just owning Batman, well, he was the right guy for the job. He's been great in all kinds of stuff, from the flawed but under-appreciated Ring of Fire and Equilibrium to his DeNiro-like weight loss method acting in the Kafka-esque The Machinist. Always thought he was a good choice, and he didn't disappoint.

Some complaints I've heard about this flick are 1. the fight scenes are shot too close and 2. the Batmobile is weak. To address the first one, I say the fight scenes were perfect. In/out, wham/bam, Batman ninja-style. Exactly how Batman should be. And, more importantly, there is no way to make the Batsuit look cool if you see it too much. No one is going to look right fighting in that thing. So what they did, a la Bruce the Shark in Jaws (i.e., the shark didn't work so they couldn't show it a lot, and by doing so created a much better movie) is just show flashes of Batman doing his Batman thing. Perfect way to do it.

Second, the Batmobile. I like how they grounded Batman's gadgets in some kind of reality. The Batmobile looks like a mutant stealth HumVee and doesn't look too far-fetched from the stealth plane, boat, and other vehicle designs of the modern era. So, it worked ok for me. Crashing through rooftops was a little much, but only a minor quibble. And why the hell wasn't Batman carrying around some of that antitode in his little utility belt there? That didn't make a whole lot of sense.

This is the best telling of Batman since the animated series on Fox. They did most things right in that cartoon, too. But where that was an art deco Batman, this is more Frank Miller/Long Halloween Batman. The visions the people of Gotham have of Batman while on the Scary Juice were just plain cool. And that Legend of Sleepy Hollow Scarecrow horse from the trailer makes a lot more sense within the context of the movie.

So, to sum up, best Batman adaptation by a long shot, quite possibly the best comic book adapation ever done. Good job, Nolan. Now don't fuck up the Joker. There was a rumor that Sean Penn was being considered for the part in the next movie. That just might be more frickin' genius. Mark Hamill (yes, Luke) created a great Joker in the cartoon, but I just don't see him pulling it off on screen.


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