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Long time readers already know that Cranky is just a couple of years away from the drooling fanboy years... well, a lot of years away but it's enough that we still collect comics to make the point that sitting for a comics-derived film like Batman Begins pushes our "we don't compare to source material" rule to the limit. We didn't think we'd have that problem, given the combo of iconic character and director of one of the Top Ten films ever seen in the eleven years we've been Cranky. So, accept that we're not going to cite issue, page and panel (though we'll honor certain creative types) and let us get on with it.
(and those humming "Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na BATMAN!" will not find little rubber nipples on Batsuit 2005. Tough.)
IN SHORT: Individually, nice parts. As a whole, Ponderous or Tedious. Your choice. [Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements. 140 minutes]
Comic books are soap opera for teen males and those of us suffering from arrested development. There are hundreds of heroes and villains in the four color world, but only a handful are star enough that the why and how of what "they" are is known to all, even those who don't line up at the local comic book store on Wednesday afternoons to grab up the new stash. We don't have to say much about the origin of the Batman that you probably don't know. The origin varies just a little bit depending on whether it was created by Bob Kane or restated by Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams or Frank Miller; it is as well known as, say, a planet exploding. Kidlet sees parents murdered. Swears to avenge their deaths because criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot. In the published stories of the past, the years between swearing vengeance and donning the bat cowl have been lightly trod upon. Though Miller and David Mazzuccelli put the first specifically titled "Year One" stories to paper, Batman Begins writes its own continuity, with a passing nod to Miller. For those that have been living on Krypton . . .
Gotham City is a large city, dark and dangerous with cops as crooked as the politicians that run it. It is a town where petty thieves will kill for a string of pearls and where a young Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis), first traumatized by an attack by hundreds of bats living in the caverns below stately Wayne Manor, is further traumatized by being stuffed into a tux and subjected to a performance of Mefistofele at the Gotham City Opera House. Fanboys can argue that it was really the movies but, for now, movie continuity is the rule. So, Gotham Opera Joe Chill Bang Bang Heavy Duty Trauma. Replacement father figure, butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) looks after young Bruce, as six generations of Pennyworths have looked after six generations of the Wayne family.
Several additions to the canon. First is the addition of a young femme friend for Master Bruce, one Rachel Dawes (Emma Lockhart), who becomes important to the story as a potential grown up femme friend (Katie Holmes). Second is the introduction of street cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) into the story line much earlier than has been done before.
Third, and new to film continuity, is the training of the bat-man to be. Before Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) can clean up his home town, he must be trained. He must learn to defeat the criminal element. To strike fear into their hearts, in the same way those flying rodents scared the crap out of him. He finds guidance in a mountain monastery run by big thinker Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe)., There, trained by one Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) in every esoteric martial art and Al Ghul envisions Wayne as a commanding general in an army he is building to take down and rebuild Gotham -- don't ask us to explain it, either you get it from the movie or you're like us and miss the point -- but, after some lovely scenery and martial arts/ fighting sequences, Wayne's decision to go solo sets the groundwork for a later confrontation.
Seven years pass. Back in Gotham Detective Sgt. Jim Gordon suffers a corrupt partner named Det. Flass (Mark Boone Junior). Alfred looks after the returned Master Bruce and aids in the development of the new caped crusader. Assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) is busy taking down the mob organization run by Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Arkham Asylum boss Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) is busy helping Falcone get his stooges acquitted of their crimes with insanity defenses. Crane has, on the side, used Arkham's patients to develop a biological weapon -- a "fear gas" whose name is self-explanatory, that he will use in the guise of a new villain called The Scarecrow. Finally, Wayne Enterprises' research scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) will be fired by the corporate suits. He will find new employ buried in a different division of Wayne Enterprises, when the boss man comes back to the company seeking covert aid for his bat-tle gear.
Sorry about that.
Writer David S. Goyer has done his work, for sure, with fully developed background stories for all the principal and supporting characters -- count the ones we've listed, that's a heckuva lot of extra stuff to cram into a film. That director Christopher Nolan has left all that material in is why Batman Begins fails. The background overkill stretches the film far beyond an enjoyable sit. The first hour feels like two, even with all the al Ghul stuff that should be entrancing, but isn't. Strangely enough, that means that an old friend is the "stuff" that kicks the film back into gear. That friend is named "batmobile," and she's a corker. The hour of story that follows its re-introduction is as good as anyone could want. That it salvages the disappointment of the first hour was best summed up by the reaction of our audience to the set up for this film's hoped for slash planned sequel. We're not spilling what it was. Our crowd went nuts when they saw it. Bale is fine as our Hero, with a moment or two that goes truly over the top and is a great surprise. This franchise will rest on its supporting characters -- and what we've seen of Michael Caine and Gary Oldman in their roles makes us very happy campers indeed.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Batman Begins, he would have paid . . .
We've seen it at least once before with the starter films in hoped for franchises. It's the "you pay ten bucks for the next movie set up and you'll do it or else" programming philosophy. We expect the next Batman film to be a real corker.
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