Batman Begins ★★★★

I'm not a huge fan of Christopher Nolan's other movies and I was born and raised a Marvel man, but I absolutely love Batman Begins. In the glut of superhero movies to rise out of the late '90s and '00s, it stands head and shoulders above the rest (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future). It is an origin story, which is usually a safe bet for entertaining fare, but it is also much, much more.

It manages to cross genres without ever feeling forced to coddle to any specific one of them. In fact, it's less about crossing genres than it is about being multi-faceted - the entirety can be viewed from any of three perspectives and still work (one of the reasons TDK doesn't work as well and TDKR doesn't work at all). As a thriller, it's a convoluted tale of a man seeking revenge and atonement for his parents' death and his detective work in tracking down who really pulls the strings on the criminal underworld; From Chill to Falcone to Crane to al Ghul, Nolan provides flowing connections between them instead of presenting them as episodic 'who's the next bad guy to fight' sequences. As an action movie, it's a traditionally-arced story of a (relatively) normal man gaining a multitude of strengths and fighting an antagonistic force with wild set-pieces and an emphasis on special effects; I think ninja battles, cars with jet-engines, and runaway trains speak for themselves. As a superhero movie, it details the fanciful and near-supernatural origins of a heroic yet flawed costumed crusader fighting for justice against foes with impossible gadgetry (on both sides); although Miller's Year One might be better considered a 'noir' than a 'superhero story', the inclusion of Scarecrow and Ras Al Ghul as part of Batman's Rogues Gallery, as well as the basic Batman mythos firmly plant these aspects of the film in superhero territory. Three stories in one; not serial, but parallel.

Is the film perfect? Not even close. Some (a lot) of Nolan's pop-psy (while I somewhat admire his intentions to remain truthful to the semi-recent comic book trend of deconstructing long-established characters) comes off as pretentious and repetitive. The romance between Wayne and Dawes is forced and false, and the whole plot veers dangerously into over-complication at times. Smartly, Nolan works most of his wonky chronology into the first act because if he had tried to spread the density of the pre-Batman origin throughout the film, both the pacing and most audiences' patience would be stretched to the breaking point. Still, with the magnitude of villains both major and minor, and the ambiguous loyalties of the police and other infrastrucural offices of Gotham, it sometimes feels like too much to keep track of. While compared to other genres and audiences (most specifically in Nolan's previous experience with thrillers) those superficial points being too much to handle might sound laughable, but Batman Begins is intended as entertainment, not art, and the insistence of either should match its intent.

"Know your audience." Nolan treads the line between spectacle and pseudo-intellectualism here, but managed to keep the material accessible instead of overbearingly witty or melodramatic. As much as I am outside the 'Nolan' camp, I admire his tenuous restraint here from forcing the pop-psych interpretation of the Batman character - you can take everything at face value. Yes, the threads are there, and it's sometimes hard to miss what he wants you to pick up on, but he doesn't make it necessary to get inside Bruce Wayne's head, oedipal complexes and all, to enjoy any of the parallel stories. You can pore over this film for days if you care to, mulling over Nolan's psychological musings on fear, justice, and loneliness, or you can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Batman beating the everloving shit out of some goons to save the pretty lady - either, or both, are valid ways to enjoy the movie.

Not to damn it with faint praise, but Batman Begins is the least offensive, intellectually and emotionally, of the trilogy, and is both more complex and tighter than the superhero movies that preceded it. It takes an impressively convoluted script with some admittedly hokey dialogue and managed to reinvigorate the genre through its visual style and attitude. It took the semi-gothic style of (my beloved) Burton's Batman and modernize it while establishing a unique universe for the character. The Gotham of Batman Begins, more so than Spider-Man's New York or the digital dream-world of The Matrix, feels much more authentic, with its own internal logic and population. Above all, it does the admirable task of keeping Batman a man. It's always Bruce Wayne underneath that suit, instead of the other way around. Batman Begins made me realize the man is just as interesting as the bat. Unfortunately FOR ME, Batman Begins is the only one of the trilogy where the suit remains a suit.

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