Why Batman Begins is Not as Nifty-Keen as It Should've Been

I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed with this movie, especially after hearing so much praise for it.

Yes, it's better than either of Joel Schumacher's films, and it's more focused than either of Tim Burton's, and it's certainly better than the camp-fest William Dozier gave us in the late 1960s (though that version is excellent for what it is).

But there's already been a movie that dealt with how Bruce Wayne became Batman and how he dealt with the early days of his career, and even had a love interest from his childhood. It was called Mask of the Phantasm, it was an animated feature released in 1993, and it's superior to Batman Begins in almost every sense.

This is not to say that BB is a bad movie, but it's not a particularly great movie, either. It's about half an hour too long -- I was looking at my watch as we got into the home stretch -- the action! filled! climax! is way too over the top, and the fight scenes are abysmal because Christopher Nolan decided to follow the same bad example of his two predecessors and use incessant jump-cutting during fights so you can't fucking tell what's happening!

Katie Holmes has come in for a lot of flak, and it's not entirely fair to her -- she does the best with the material she's given. The problem is, a) her storyline has little to do with the rest of the movie, b) her character feels tacked on in order to get The Love Interest, because all big Hollywood movies must have The Love Interest, even though Batman isn't a character that's at all suited to having one, c) if they had to give Bats a romance, why not have it be with Ra's al-Ghul's daughter, since they were already using Ra's anyhow, and that would give more meat to the romance, d) her part in Bats' life was taken in the comics by Harvey Dent, and if it had been Harvey Dent, it would've been almost exactly the same (okay, except for the kissing).

Christian Bale is an excellent Bruce Wayne, but his Batman sneers and snarls too much. The scene where he interrogates a corrupt cop is just embarrassing.

The rest of the acting is stellar, though, and a lot of why the movie does work at all is because of the truly magnificent performances by Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, and especially Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. the Scarecrow.

Still, I can't help but think that Mask of the Phantasm did this all better. For starters, Kevin Conroy's voice remains head and shoulders above anyone else who has done Batman on the screen (he's still doing it on Justice League). In addition, the love story was far more compelling, the villain was stronger (Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker is the best comic-book villain ever realized on screen), the Batmobile looked better (honestly, that monstrosity in Batman Begins made me want to spew), the gangsters were more convincing (BB's weakest performance was probably from the dull-as-dishwater Tom Wilkinson as Falcone; Phantasm used the vocal talents of Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller, and John P. Ryan to play Valestra, Sol, and Bronski), the climactic action sequence with the big splosions looked better, and the big reveal was an actual surprise.

(Okay, this is something that will only apply to anyone who reads the comics. They gave Liam Neeson the exact same funky beard that Ra's al-Ghul has in the comics. So it wasn't even a little bit of a surprise that "Ducard" was really Ra's. For folks that don't know the comics, this is an irrelevant concern, but why blow your reveal like that to at least part of your audience?)

Don't get me wrong, there's a decent movie in there. But it's not the best Batman movie. It's not even the best Batman movie with this plot.

[First posted in my LiveJournal on 21 June 2005.]

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