Directed by Christopher Nolan. USA. 2005.
Venue: BFI Imax, Waterloo, London
All beginnings have an end; this version of Batman ends with Wayne Manor in ruins and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) saying to his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) he will rebuild his family’s home brick for brick with some alterations in the south-west tower. Eight years ago, a combination of Joel Schumacher, Akiva Goldsman and (unfortunately for him) George Clooney, left the Warner Bros. franchise in its own state of ruin, seemingly beyond repair but with all manor of destruction there is hope from an unlikely source. For Warner Bros. and DC Comics the divine intervention of adaptation came from Britain and the sought after director, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) who in only his fifth feature film grabs the rein of a billion dollar franchise and turns it on its head by starting from the beginning instead of continuing what went before it.
Like Superman who will return to our big screens next year under the helm of Bryan Singer (X-Men), Batman is a hero who is always free to interpretation and can be set to any era or cultural climate. But unlike Superman or the band of X, Batman does not have any super powers, he is a vigilante who seeks justice against the people who have ruined a once great city. Bruce/Batman has the benefit of intelligence and unlimited finance to buy the technology he uses, but with a weakness for women and self-angst. Tim Burton focused on the technology and the art deco set design, while Schumacher went against Burton’s dark, gothic city to create a city where the hero is secondary to the colourful set design and over the top villains.
Which is why Nolan’s film must be deemed a success, he takes us back to the start exploring the complex character of Wayne and his thirst for revenge; going from the death of his parents to guilt, his understanding of the criminal mind and the training to make him a nocturnal guardian. The script works in jokes (‘Does it come in black?), establishing future characters (Gary Oldman as Sgt. Gordon), red herrings played by capable characters (both Rutger Hauer and Tom Wilkinson play them with enough menace and know-how), but importantly the main focus is Bruce/Batman and him alone, a veritable walking split-personality - the oppositions are all there day/night, justice/vigilant, bureaucrat/killer.
What works well are the villains that Batman has confronted and here are all humans just with the need for power, greed but all suffering from worse psychological problems than our hero who is able to keep hold of his true self long enough. All the villains are the equal of Batman - intelligent, mind of a criminal and use technology to avoid being physical.
Nolan has created a Gotham closer to a Manhattan than Burton did (Schumacher turned it into a day-glo bastard Vegas location); the use of setting up the monorail early on especially as spectacle and venue. We know the director can do psychology on film and that is where he is in his element early on attempting to gain the answers for Bruce’s transformation but at times he seems less certain of his ability in fight sequences - every punch and movement is met with a cut in the edit - though the car chase is effective positioning it as a myth-making journey for the man and the vehicle, putting the chase on live television a la OJ prompts this myth to the city and their inhabitants.
Bale continues his good work of late giving enough edge to the role without being psychotic or neurotic and he fits the suit well indeed. The rest of the cast enjoy their roles bringing their experience to it in abundance - Caine and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), the confidant and Q role respectively, deliver their mostly flippant lines with relish; Oldman as a good guy sets up his future role effectively but Liam Neeson, who is enjoying a purple patch of late, excels as Henri Ducard, both mentor and tester. Katie Holmes brings integrity to her assistant DA role/love interest (herself a dual role) and is strong until she has to play the damsel in distress which ends her positive involvement in the film, but like most of her generation (Elisha Cuthbert, Neve Campbell) she can play it better than most.
All in all one of the better superhero comic book films of recent years, the best since X-Men 2 in my opinion, confident in its production and the integrity of attempting to use as much non-CGI camerawork is a credit to a director who comes out with his reputation in tact as does everyone associated with this fine piece of entertainment. Batman has risen again from his ashes and beginning to build for the future with certainty and purpose, and no guilt of the past (damn you Schumacher).
I saw this film on the IMAX screen in Waterloo, the film will be released simultaneously on the big screen and even bigger IMAX screen, on Thursday 16th June. The non-assured action sequences did not pass well over on the IMAX a victim of quick editing, but the spectacle is something to behold. Tickets are available now; £12.50 Adults, £11 Concessions and £6.50 Children. Call the IMAX Cinema on 0870 787 2525 or go to the website www.bfi.org.uk/imax
One query I have in terms
of using point-of-view angles of those who see Dr. Crane/Scarecrow with
the mask and hence face their fears, for the victim of Scarecrow they look
at him directly making us the audience look at him so we feel the fear.
However, when Crane must face his fear of threatening power in Batman (genuinely
unsettling horror shot by the way) we do not see it through Crane’s eyes
but instead take an off-angle third-person shot. Granted the shot
of Crane’s fear is unsettling but why do we not see his point-of-view,
is it because we would see Batman in that point-of-view and we are not
meant to fear him but resign ourselves as spectators of the winged one
and admire the view?
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