Revisiting Batman Begins

Batman-Begins

Batman is one of the most iconic figures in popular culture. He first appeared in 1939, making him one of the earliest comic book characters. He has starred in numerous other media – from the campy, but beloved Adam West 1966 series, to 2017’s Justice League film. At this point, Batman may be the most popular comic book character. People always look forward to films with him in it. In 1989, Director Tim Burton gave Batman a new film for the big screen, which was arguably the turning point in the general public’s perception of the character. Keep in mind that the general audience at that point knew Batman from the 66 series – something not to be taken seriously. That changed in Burton’s Batman. Burton delivered a serious story, with a good take on the Joker. But, things went wrong two films later.

Batman Forever introduced campy elements into what was a serious film series. Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Riddler was a joke, and don’t get me started on Two-Face in that film. Next, Batman and Robin needs no introduction, but that is the film that killed Batman’s film career for awhile. I don’t personally hate Batman and Robin – I think it’s a superior film to Forever. But, it’s easy to see why Batman and Robin is despised. That film had ice puns, and a generally silly feel. It was in stark contrast to the 1989 film. From 1997 to 2005, there was no Batman film on the big screen.

In 2005, Batman Begins released to critical acclaim. Director Christopher Nolan has remained one of the most passionate of directors, and it shows in Begins. The quality of the writing, and directing, is evident throughout. This film isn’t perfect – it’s a little choppy during the beginning and Christian Bale is at times a mediocre Bruce Wayne. But, everything comes together so well for such a thrilling climax. Batman Begins remains a very important film, and an excellent start to a fantastic trilogy.

The film’s first act is interesting, as it shows Bruce Wayne in a foreign prison camp. We don’t know too much of who he is, or what’s going on. His history is told through flashbacks. Here, I need to make mention that Linus Roache did such a great job portraying Thomas Wayne. There are many notable quotes in this film, and one of the best was Thomas telling Bruce, “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Thomas was a man striving to do the right thing, someone a son could look up to. That’s why when Rachel later says, “Your father would be ashamed of you,” it hits home.

The opening act is a little choppy with its editing between present day and flashbacks. I think if the film had begun using all the flashback footage, and then cutting to Bruce at the prison camp, it would have been more effective. With that said, most of the film is excellent. Bruce’s training with Henri Ducard (who later reveals himself to be the true Ra’s al Ghul) was great, and Bruce’s assault on the temple was appropriately intense, as many scenes in this movie are.

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Upon my latest viewing of this film, I realized just how great of a character Ra’s al Ghul was. Liam Neeson delivers a perfect portrayal, delivering someone whom is passionate about his ideals, yet not overly eccentric, but subdued. Neeson is always calm, delivering fantastic dialogue. When facing Batman on the train, Bruce has the villain at knife point with a batarang. Ra’s calmly says, “Have you finally learned to do what is necessary?” Ra’s commands every scene he’s in. One of the best scenes in the entire film is when he reveals himself to Bruce at the latter’s mansion. Dialogue is brilliantly said again: “If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them… and stab them in the heart.” It’s a shame that Neeson’s portrayal of Ra’s al Ghul isn’t that discussed today. It’s probably because Heath Ledger’s Joker overshadowed him when The Dark Knight released. The Joker was excellent as well. But, Neeson’s portrayal should not be forgotten; he is easily one of the best villains of the 2000s. No version of Ra’s al Ghul has come close in quality to the one featured in Batman Begins.

Christian Bale is a good Batman, but sometimes a mediocre Bruce Wayne here. A rather odd scene is when Bruce is talking to Rachel at the hotel gathering. The dialogue, “It’s– not me. It’s… Inside, I am…I am more.” just seemed off and poorly said. As for Batman, it’s easy to forget that while serious, he does have some funny moments here. When breaking through the asylum, he tells the two inmates, “Excuse me.” In one not funny, but sweet scene, he gives his periscope to a little boy, because the other kids doesn’t believe him about Batman. All in all, Batman is an effective character in the film. I won’t lie though; him saying, “I’m Batman” was executed in a cheesy way.

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I really enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Johnathan Crane/Scarecrow. The first scuffle between him and Batman was brilliantly choreographed. Later, the scene with Crane saying, “He’s here.” “The Batman.” was also well done. Overall, Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman’s rogues’ gallery has proved fascinating. In the trilogy, we had Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, and Bane. It would have been great to see more films from the director. I would have loved to see Nolan’s take on the Riddler, or Mr. Freeze. One more villainous character deserves mention in Batman Begins: Carmine Falcone. One really great scene was when Bruce confronted Falcone at the latter’s pub. Tom Wilkinson as the crime boss delivered such great dialogue; it’s almost a shame that Scarecrow put him out of commission later in the story. (Then again, Crane frightening Falcone was such a great scene.)

Alfred, James Gordon, and Lucius Fox all contribute to the story. These characters are portrayed by skillful actors. Morgan Freeman has a commanding presence as Lucius Fox, and knows how to deliver humorous remarks subtly. It’s hard to say which version of Alfred is the definitive one, but one can make the case that Michael Caine’s is. As for Rachel, she was an enjoyable character who stood up for what’s right. She had good dialogue, such as “Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better. Which is why we have an impartial system.” The scene where she held the little boy while holding a gun to inmates walking toward her was compelling. As for the soundtrack, Batman’s iconic theme comes from this film. It is powerful, and one of the best themes ever put on film. Though, one might say that the music themes are very similar to each other. I listened to the whole soundtrack as I wrote this review, and most of the music sounded the same. It’s not a terrible thing since the music is commanding. But, it should be noted that the soundtrack is not very diverse.

The action in this movie is brilliant. Every action scene is wonderfully directed. From Batman’s scuffle with Scarecrow, to the final battle in the train, this film has excellent, intense action. The climax is still one of the most thrilling in any comic book film 13 years later. Batman Begins, simply put, is a great movie. The battle against fear is a theme that is prevalent throughout the story. By the end, Bruce has fought his fear, and channeled it so he can bring hope into the streets of Gotham. Some films age well, others do not. 25 years from now, Batman Begins will still be a great watch.

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JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS REVIEW

I’ve always been a big fan of the comic book animated films. Sadly Marvel has seemingly given up on them, but DC has continued consistently. DC has a wide array of installments, some being completely original and others being adaptions. To better align with the comics, starting with Justice League: War the films have adopted The New 52 continuity. From a business standpoint, it made sense. Unfortunately as a viewer the films have been noticeably of lesser quality than pre-52 ones. The actual League is modernized, in a negative way. Is the latest film in this universe an improvement? Interestingly, Justice League vs. Teen Titans focuses as a sequel to both Throne of Atlantis and Batman: Bad Blood. It suffers some of the same ongoing negatives as previous entries but ended up being perhaps the best New 52 film.

We’ll get this out of the way first: Damien is still extremely annoying. Ever since debuting in Son of Batman, DC has been focused on making him a central focus in the films. Why? Who really knows. Surely they can see just about every line he has is terrible. He’s been doing nothing but disobeying orders and being rebellious since his first appearance, which is no different here. At the very least in the climax his character arc comes full circle in an admittedly well written sequence. In theory going forward he will be developed as a character, but time will tell.

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These movies usually start out with a great action sequence, and it’s no different here. We have the League battling the Legion of Doom. The actual fights are well animated, but Lex Luthor is written so cheaply. This wouldn’t be a bad thing too much if not for the fact the after credits sequence for Throne of Atlantis exists. There he apparently was enlisting Ocean Master to join with him in thematic fashion. None of that is mentioned in this film, instead making Luthor cannon fodder. One has to imagine if DC simply abandoned this plot point in favor of moving in another direction. At the very least, the Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight is probably their best encounter in animation.

Obviously the big draw is to see the team battle the Teen Titans. Like the Batman vs. Robin title, it’s a little misleading since the fight isn’t much of a focus at all. This could be a disappointment for those hoping to see a throw-down between the two teams. The next biggest draw then is of course the Titans themselves. This is their first major animation appearance since the show’s incarnation ended in 2006. (The slapstick comedy known as Teen Titans GO! doesn’t count.) It’s interesting seeing Starfire as the leader here, and she does an excellent job of it.

Blue Beetle was a bizarre choice to include. I suppose he was put there to be the Cyborg of the group. Besides rescuing Cyborg, he doesn’t do anything of major importance, but he wasn’t bad either. Beast Boy is pretty much lifted straight from the comics. Aside from one awful line near the end, he’s written as genuinely funny. (Perhaps the best line was when he said “awkward call to Batman” after Damien was literally fried.) Raven was a surprising highlight. One could say the story even revolved around her. Her backstory is somewhat similar to Damien’s, so it was interesting to see how the two connected. Her character arc was great to watch, and she had the best lines showing that she doesn’t have to give into evil. Taissa Farmiga did a terrific job voicing her.

Superman unfortunately spends most of the movie looking like a joke. This is consistent with his previous New 52 film appearances, which is a pale representation of the character we admire. Thankfully, the writing picks up with him in the climax where he actually feels like Superman. Batman is solid throughout, and the dialogue between him and Cyborg was fun to watch. Wonder Woman is very good, with perhaps her best appearance so far in the New 52 series. The League however appears rather unreasonable when they confront the Titans about Raven. Surely at least Flash would have objected to taking her by force.

The film has a few notable plot holes, the main ones which take place in Trigon’s hellish realm. Beast Boy randomly reacts to the environment, but goes back to normal some seconds later. The reason for this isn’t given and came off as rather odd. Another thing is that shouldn’t all these demons be working together? So why were they grabbing away Damien’s opponent when the latter was on the same side as them? This made no sense. Trigon like in his Teen Titans show appearance is a great antagonist to have around. His dialogue is perfect classic overlord fare. As basically the devil of DC, his taunting dialogue to Raven was very good, and of course the latter’s response even better. The climax offers a grand final battle. It’s not that fast-paced due to the large nature of the threat, but still gives a sense of climatic dread since the League members are getting thrown around. The soundtrack isn’t bad, though at the same time a little forgettable.

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Overall, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is a surprisingly solid entry in the DC animated film series. The story progresses nicely with the right amount of dialogue and action. The Titans were very good, (there’s a sense of thematic awe when we see the Tower for the first time) and hopefully they get to appear in another film. (Based on the mid-credits scene, it’s more than likely.) The story at the core however is not a vs, rather about a person defying her evil heritage. Raven was a fantastic focus and easily made the movie. The League mostly is solid this time around. Damien is still unbelievably annoying, and sadly it looks like he isn’t going away anytime soon. Still, if it’s one New 52 film you should check out, it’s this one.

8/10