The final conclusion – up front, newspaper style: When it comes to Batman on film, there’s no pleasing me.
I finally got around to watching Batman Begins, after hearing over and over, from everyone from Olivia to the video store clerk what a great film it is.
I can’t say it sucked. I really didn’t suck. But it sure didn’t rule either.
The last half of the movie’s great fun. The Batmobile kicks ass, some of the effects are cool, and it’s got a nonstop pace. It looks pretty good, though it lacks the design brilliance of Burton’s Batman.
But honestly, I think I just want to see my vision of Batman on screen, not Hollywood’s. I’ve talked about the Tim Burton Batman before, and as much as I like Burton, I think his Batman sucked. There were several reasons, but it basically comes down to casting. Michael Keaton as Batman makes about as much sense as Jerry Seinfeld as Superman; Keaton’s a moderately funny guy but can’t sell a dramatic role well on the best of days, and can’t sell Batman at all. There are other problems, the whole thing has the feel of a director overwhelmed by his project. Star casting instead of actor casting, too much effort on marketable design and too little on script. Though the film’s watchable. It looked good.
The second one was marginally better but you’re never getting Keaton to work as Batman, not in a million years. The second one turned up the camp, which is the only way to save Burton’s vison of Batman, but it’s the wrong answer.
The third – Batman & Robin – was awful, but at least Val Kilmer was a better choice that Keaton. Not a great choice, but a better choice. He’s a much better actor, and better sells the fact that Batman is scary. But he’s too good looking.
I can’t say I even recall the fourth movie. Maybe I never saw it.
This latest one tries to go back to the original concept. Dark and scary, something with an edge of horror. The angry vengeful Batman. It tries really hard and gets nowhere near.
The ‘scary’ is all accomplished by turning up the sound really loud and having a lotta cgi bats fly around. It makes you jump but isn’t the least bit scary unless you find bats terrifying, and even then you don’t really see bats, just flappy shapes in a huge cloud. It’s about as scary as a bridge in Austin Texas at sunset.
Christian Bale as Batman? Hell, once again we have the same problem. They go after casting Bruce Wayne as a leading man, and forget that he’s got to inhabit the Batsuit. So we get a lot of soulful looks (oh I’m in such pain, pain, do you hear me!) but nothing that says bad scary crazy. Bale looks like a a sensitive cop, not like a semi-psychotic vigilante. He makes no sense at all in the Batsuit, doing an odd voice that makes him sound like he’s got laryngitis. The mask looks WAY too big for his head and his face looks pinched in the mask, so it has the effect of an ill-fitting costume. He looks silly which is the kiss of death for Batman.
The story makes no sense at all. It might work in a comic book but live on screen it’s about as believable as the old sixties teevee show plots without a campy villain. Scarecrow is a nice idea but they do so little with him; Liam Neeson as the Big Bad behind the Big Bad is cool – he’s Liam fucking Neeson, how can he not be – but the whole Gotham is a stain upon the world and must be erased thing never actually gets sold. And there’s part of the trouble, with all the work they put into making the city look cool, you never get any feeling that it’s a fallen, broken city. It looks like any city with slightly cooler buildings.
And finally, it suffers from one of the worst failures in action movies – the fights are that in-too-tight, cuts-too-fast style so it’s like, fight start, blur of action, cut to reaction shot. It gets old, and it’s obvious they’re covering the fact that no one could fight in Batman’s silly suit.
I dunno. I enjoyed it, at least the last half or two thirds. But I was still left thinking, why can’t anyone make a decent Batman? With so much potential, why does everyone make the same mistake?
I visualize Batman as done by Robert Rodruiguez – Frank Miller’s Batman.
My Batman looks more like Marv in Sin City than like a matinee idol. He’s big. He’s burly. And he’s angry. Not soulful, hurt angry, but dead-eye, empty-soul angry. He’s all that’s wrong with the forces of justice. He’s your nightmare made real if you’re a criminal. he’s a fighter, a killer. He will torture you to get information, he will kill you to make an example. He’s stripped away most of his own humanity. If there’s anyone in there, you can’t really see it.
We don’t know exactly how he got the way he is. Sure his parents died, but that’s not the whole story. He’s lost in a hell of his own mind, torturing himself and fighting his own demons and taking that fight to the enemy. The crime he fights is his own soul, projected out.
He’s a villain. He’s not a hero. He just happens to be a villain on our side. Women don’t fall in love with him because he’s sweet and handsome, they fall in love with him because he’s scary and dangerous, and even as Bruce Wayne, they sense it.
Bruce Wayne is a mask. Batman is who he is. This movie talks about that, but it’s talk, we never see it. We see a sensitive man in a funny suit, not a demon who walks as a man by the light of day.
That’s my Batman. That’s the movie I want to see. And I bet it never happens.