‘Batman Begins’? (2005)

‘Batman Begins’ (2005) **possible spoilers**

Too fucking long.

The good? The first hour – the mythic stuff of murdered billionaire parents and quests for self in the Far East. Liam Neeson and Christian Bale did a great job there. At their serviceable best were Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in the now-split role of Alfred. Where the Butler once did double-duty as Manservant and Armorer, Alfred is now split across Caine’s Alfred and Freeman’s Lucius Fox.

The bad? The gratuitous car chase and the plurality of its villains. There’s the guy that murdered young Bruce’s parents – who may have not been a person, but only a symptom of city-wide corruption and the inevitable crime-boss; then there’s Ra’s Al Ghul – real and fake – and his lackey, the sometimes psychiatrist, sometime supervillain Scarecrow.

The movie was bloated. Writers David Goyer and Christopher Nolan may both be fanboys, but the movie really didn’t need to be 2 hours and 20 minutes long. The movie didn’t have to have all of the Wangerian overtures that it did, and everything DIDN’T have to amount to a massive conspiracy cooked-up by the principal villain. Really, it didn’t have to be that way.

Somewhere into the 2nd half-hour, I found myself wishing for a grittier film about Batman’s training and the Kung fu -like trials that he no doubt had to face. But this was NOT that movie. Instead, the Archvillian’s Far Eastern mountain hide-out (China? Tibet? Khandahar?) was suddenly in the exurbs of Gotham City, and within shouting distance of Bruce’s faithful LearJet. Segue into the 3rd Act of a 4 Act play.

This gives way to the inevitable board-room dramas and the IPO that corporate custodian Rutger Hauer wants to pursue, given the 20 year absence of a Wayne family member to run the company. The corpo-drama was like the car chase, and could have been cut from the final draft, just like the ‘End of Days’ Strum und Drang that brings Gotham to its knees, the survival of which the writers never fully explain.

The promising bits of this film were the Memento -like Nolan signature bits, where he breaks up the timeline, and flashes back and forth between Bruce Wayne’s past and present, between his childhood, young adulthood and the present. A better film could have emeged from further play on that ambiguity – there’s a key moment, somewhere during the 2nd Act that could have taken place anywhere along Bruce Wayne’s timeline, though it’s supposed to take place before Bruce’s Eastern training sessions. If Nolan had been given greater control over the story, I suspect the film might have pursued that arty uncertainty at greater length, but alas, not.

What we got was 70 minutes of promise and 10 minutes of Gary Oldman playing against type.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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