Film Reviews

BATMAN BEGINS

By • Jun 15th, 2005 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures / A Syncopy production
PG-13 / 150 minutes

QUOTE: The curse is lifted, but who cast blank slate Katie Holmes? The bottom line is Batman isn’t gay anymore, but the homoerotic tradition lives on in Scarecrow.

Who is the genius who gave Christopher Nolan the de-sanctified Batman franchise to resurrect? We praise the daring thrill of toying with a vaunted, yet abused icon, and breathing life into it. Director Nolan presents a dark, knotty superhero rife with psycho-sexual underpinnings and a father-figure displacement syndrome. This insecure hero has no interest in girls, power, and money. Yet, he looks good in a tuxedo.

There will be no Robin sidekick cavorting in Gotham City next to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), but there is a homoerotic evil-doer ,Dr. Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy, who is much prettier and more seductive than Bruce’s ‘girlfriend’ Rachel Dawes (very tall, short-nosed Katie Holmes, looking very tired and in need of better lighting).

Here is how I imagine this project was pieced together: Screenwriter Nolan, with co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, took every Batman gay trademark and dumped it. They stripped the character down to a raw thread. First to go was the silly notion that Bruce Wayne was a lazy heir-apparent to a fortune with time and money on his hands and a vague idea about ‘doing good.’ Batman used to be a clumsy mortal with gadgets. Now we find Bruce is a quarrelsome troublemaker thrown into a prison in Bhutan. Lifted out of the cold muck, he is trained in brutal martial arts by some dude named Ducard (Liam Neeson, with distracting facial hair), chief henchman for Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, with distracting facial hair), the head of a sinister group called the League of Shadows.

Was boy Bruce to blame for his parents’ death? Well, he should have stayed in his damn seat, the pampered crybaby! Wayne Sr. should have been less indulgent and, when faced with a mugger, perhaps a little bit tougher. However, Wayne Jr. feels inadequate to run Wayne Enterprises, and takes off to find himself (and, supposedly, the nature of evil in men) by brawling in foreign countries.

Though rescued and trained by Ducard, Bruce is a good man and refuses to fight evil with evil according to the vengeful, slippery principles of the League of Shadows. In an ensuing melee, al Ghul’s hermitage is completely destroyed (Damn you Bruce! I’m going to Bhutan in December and al Ghul’s winter palace was on the tour itinerary!) and al Ghul and Ducard have no where to live.

Returning to sea level and his parent’s Buckingham Palace-sized country estate, Bruce is once again cuddled by loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine). While Bruce was off ‘finding himself,’ Wayne Enterprises was being run quite masterfully by CEO Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer, back after spending time in Hollywood Purgatory).Bruce’s childhood friend Rachel has become an aggressive assistant D.A. out to nail Gotham’s all-powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Rachel’s chief nemesis is psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) who keeps criminals out of prison by testifying they need therapy in his League of Shadows-financed institution. Crane is tiny, pouty, and feminine. He is much cuter than Holmes and better dressed. He struts the catwalk.

Dr. Crane subliminally represents the nipple-tugging Batsuit.

Nolan’s Batman is too straight to actually sit down and design a costume or fancy a phallus-like Bat-mobile. Or run around building a Bat-cave/S&M dungeon. The man behind Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences division, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), has already built muscular gadgets for crime fighting. The tech wizard, now banished to the basement’s Cemetery For Useless Stuff, once helped Wayne Sr. implement an arsenal of non-lethal weapons. Fox shows Bruce the prototypes. Yes, Wayne Enterprises was a philanthropic colossus, but it also wanted some lucrative government contracts.

Bruce, spray painting the shiny Bat-suit a dull black, foregoes a cape? The apparatus is more glider than ‘capote de paseo’. The Bat ears are almost imperceptible. The Bat-cave is a wet dump (with bat guano everywhere). And the Batman logo? Hell, they even blurred that! You need a sign from Heaven to figure it out. All’s right however. Since when did a real man with a righteous purpose require a trademark and a theme song?

With Bruce’s team nearly in place, Batman finds a comrade in frustrated, honest cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, reaffirming that straight men wear some sort of facial hair.) That’s everybody accounted for. Rachel goes off without spending a night with Bruce and The Joker leaves a card.

Bale has the grave temperament needed to make Batman a complicated figure. He’s virile and easily conveys a troubled man trying not to publicly expose his barely-suppressed demons. Nolan and Goyer add the dimension of fear – fear of bats, fear of sexuality, and fear of senseless crime, to give BATMAN BEGINS a mature gloss of intelligence. Only Katie Holmes weakens the movie and thankfully, she will not be back. Thrust into the League of A-List Celebrities, Holmes has a limited range clearly on display here reaffirming that talent is not required. After toiling through the rough terrain of Hollywood for 10 years, at 27 years old, Holmes is nobody’s pawn.

Joel Schumacher, don’t you dare make a phone call! And Tim Burton? Your libido is best served de-sexualizing Johnny Depp and making your leading ladies look creepy. And, Mr. Nolan, I still cannot figure out that damn MEMENTO DVD. How about a few tips?


Cast:
Bruce Wayne/Batman: Christian Bale
Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Caine
Henri Ducard: Liam Neeson
Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman
Lt. Gordon: Gary Oldman
Ra’s al Ghul: Ken Watanabe
Rachel Dawes: Katie Holmes
Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow: Cillian Murphy
Carmine Falcone: Tom Wilkinson
Richard Earle: Rutger Hauer

Credits:
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Story by: David S. Goyer
Based on characters appearing in: DC Comics
Batman created by: Bob Kane
Producers: Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Larry Franco
Executive producers: Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan
Director of photography: Wally Pfister
Production designer: Nathan Crowley
Music: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Costumes: Lindy Hemming
Editor: Lee Smith

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