Christian Bale

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Much of The Dark Knight Rises is rushed. The film runs over two and a half hours and director Nolan can’t find anything he wants to spend much time on. He’s got a lot of characters to occupy that run time; they occasionally intersect, but rarely long enough to make an impression. Nolan seems to think the Wally Pfister photography can sell any scene, whether it’s one of the most boring chase sequences in a big budget film (but it’s at twilight and Pfister makes it look great) or if it’s ostensible lead Christian Bale and his romantic interest, Marion Cotillard, letting the rainy afternoon bring out their passions. Passions can be in the script, but there’s no chemistry between Bale and Cotillard. Though, again, rainy afternoon passion? Pfister can shoot it. Competent photography doesn’t make something any good, unfortunately.

And there’s not much good about Rises. Some of the acting is fine, some of the acting is bad, some of it is good. But the script’s so lame, Bale never has anything to do. It sets him up as physically incapable of being Batman (set some eight years after the previous entry). Bale looks awful too. So what does he do? He becomes Batman again. There’s no logic to it, just like there’s no logic to all the corporate machinations going on with an extremely lame Ben Mendelsohn as another businessman trying to take Bale’s company. Rises seems like it had an outline, but no connective tissue between events. Anne Hathaway’s “Catwoman” is shoehorned into the film. She’s pointless. Hathaway gives a technically good performance, Nolan just doesn’t have anything to do with her. She’s scenery and the occasional plot foil.

Then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who pops in as Gary Oldman’s sidekick. Real quick–Oldman’s awful in the beginning of the film and better in the second half, though he’s no William Shatner when he needs to be–Nolan always casts the wrong kind of ham. Michael Caine’s real bad. His writing is bad here, but he’s also real bad.

Anyway, back to Gordon-Levitt. He’s fine–he and Bale are great together too, but they only get two significant scenes together. It’s dumb. The mistakes the film makes with its characters are dumb. The whole thing seeks to reimagine the previous entries in the Bale and Nolan Bat franchise to fit this one’s needs. But being out of ideas is no excuse, ditto Nolan’s utter boredom with the filmmaking. Rises is like a bad James Bond knock-off, complete with a Bond villain in Tom Hardy’s philosopher brute.

Rises is also a New York action movie, only one where Nolan wants to pretend it’s about “Gotham City” while winking about how it’s really “New York City.” There’s even the obligatory insensitive 9/11 reference–Nolan really goes for the Americana here. Usually to roll his eyes at it. At its core, Rises is supposed to be about heroism. It doesn’t fail at it because Nolan’s a cynic, necessarily, it fails because it has a really bad, stupid script. With awful reveals. And a lot of poorly edited montages set to bad music.

Technically, other than Pfister, Rises is a joke. Hans Zimmer’s score is terrible, Lee Smith’s editing is ugly. It’s not just a poorly edited film, it’s ugly. It’s not all Smith’s fault either, he’s got no coverage from Nolan and Nolan’s got no rhythm.

As for Hardy, like most other things in Rises, he’s lame. It’s not entirely his fault, but maybe some of it is his fault. Did he do his Count Dracula-impression voice? Then that one is his fault. His face being so covered he has no visual affect? Nolan’s fault.

Nolan hopes his cast will earn enough interest to keep the film going–the way he cuts between Bale, Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway, Hardy, Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Cotillard–there’s a definite attempt to engender concern for the cast. Not concern with Hardy so much, but everyone else. Hardy’s supposed to be the toughest mother on the planet and Nolan’s action direction is so bad–not to mention his direction of Hardy as an actor–Hardy comes off less threatening than a villain on the Adam West TV show. Nolan purposely removes Rises and its characters from reality and from danger. There’s nothing to get invested in.

So instead of the movie making it because of Bale or anyone else, it makes it because you feel sorry for them. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling sorry for Bale, but I clearly am, because Bale showed up for work–probably was going to yell at some caterer or whatever–and Nolan didn’t.

The Dark Knight Rises is a bunch of underwritten, short scenes strung together–usually stuck haphazardly together with crap montages. Even more than Nolan’s direction, the problem is the script. It’s atrocious and it’s too bad. It isn’t just Bale who showed up willing to work, it’s just about everyone except for Michael Caine.

It sinks. And it stinks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer; production designers, Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), Matthew Modine (Foley), Ben Mendelsohn (Daggett) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).


Henry V (1989, Kenneth Branagh)

Director (and adapter) Branagh splits Henry V into three sections. They aren’t equal, they don’t match the act changes (usually); Branagh lets photographer Kenneth MacMillan open up the film to (outdoor) light while Patrick Doyle’s score becomes essential. The first outside, daylight sequence–Branagh (as Henry) gives his troops a rousing speech–defines the rest of the film. Even when it gets dark and violent in the subsequent, breathtaking battle sequence, there’s still a lot of light. That light carries over into the finale, which is light comedy featuring Branagh bantering with his betrothed-to-be Emma Thompson.

The problem with that finale is it requires Branagh’s Henry to be a likable character in a way Branagh’s never been concerned about. He’s a king, not a bashful suitor. It’s an odd conclusion, with Thompson not speaking English and coming off like a possession to be had. With Branagh’s strange comedic handling, the whole thing is off.

Until Derek Jacobi, as the modern day chorus, guiding the audience through the film, gets in the last word, Henry is almost in trouble. Not a lot, but more than one would expect given how Branagh goes from being expert to sloppy in one scene.

Branagh’s excellent. Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Michael Maloney, Christopher Ravenscroft, all astounding. Branagh gets these beautiful performances in long, usually close-up takes. And gives a great one of his own with the same treatment.

The battle scene is an amazing intersection of artifice and reality.

Real good stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Branagh, based on the play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Kenneth MacMillian; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by Bruce Sharman; released by Curzon Film Distributors.

Starring Kenneth Branagh (King Henry V), Brian Blessed (Duke Thomas Beaufort of Exeter), Paul Gregory (Westmoreland), Nicholas Ferguson (Earl Richard Beauchamp of Warwick), James Larkin (Duke John of Bedford), Simon Shepherd (Duke Humphrey of Gloucester), Charles Kay (Archbishop of Canterbury), Alec McCowen (Bishop of Ely), Fabian Cartwright (Earl Richard of Cambridge), Stephen Simms (Lord Henry Scroop), Jay Villiers (Sir Thomas Grey), James Simmons (Duke Edward of York), Christopher Ravenscroft (Montjoy), Paul Scofield (King Charles VI of France), Michael Maloney (Louis the Dauphin), Emma Thompson (Princess Katherine de Valois), Geraldine McEwan (Alice), Harold Innocent (Duke Philippe of Burgundy), Edward Jewesbury (Sir Thomas Erpingham), Danny Webb (Gower), Ian Holm (Captain Fluellen), John Sessions (Macmorris), Jimmy Yuill (Jamy), Judi Dench (Mistress Nell Quickly), Robert Stephens (Auncient Pistol), Richard Briers (Lieutenant Bardolph), Geoffrey Hutchings (Corporal Nym), Christian Bale (Robin the Luggage-Boy), Michael Williams (Williams), Shaun Prendergast (Bates), Patrick Doyle (Court) and Robbie Coltrane (Sir John Falstaff). Derek Jacobi as Chorus.


The New World (2005, Terrence Malick), the extended cut

Historical fact, or even the attempt at paying lip service to it, is so inconvenient. If there’s a better example than The New World, I’m not familiar with it.

Malick struggles to make it all fit together and he can’t quite make it sync. He has to move from Colin Farrell being the protagonist to Christine Bale. Q’orianka Kilcher gets some focus too, but barely any once Bale arrives.

After Farrell and Kilcher’s romance, it’d be difficult for anyone to properly follow it up. While Malick does get Bale’s best performance from him, the casting is a misstep. Much like James Horner’s score, there’s something off with the casting. Lots of the “name” casting works—obviously, Farrell is excellent, but so are David Thewlis and Wes Studi. Third billed Christopher Plummer is barely in it enough to make an impression.

Much of The New World does not “wow.” It feels like a disjointed period piece from early on—and Horner’s music is an immediate liability—and it actually becomes more interesting in the last act, as Kilcher and Bale head back to 17th century England. Here, Malick starts using Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman before the Rising Sun as a direct influence for how he portrays Kilcher.

A lot of what he does is interesting—none of the Native Americans (including Kilcher’s Pocahontas) are ever referred to by name in dialogue—and the pacing is exquisite.

Malick nearly recovers at the end, but again, tragically, kowtows to the “non-fiction” imperative.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Richard Chew, Hank Corwin, Saar Klein and Mark Yoshikawa; music by James Horner; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Sarah Green; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Colin Farrell (Captain John Smith), Q’orianka Kilcher (Pocahontas), Christian Bale (John Rolfe), Christopher Plummer (Captain Christopher Newport), August Schellenberg (Chief Powhatan), Wes Studi (Opechancanough), David Thewlis (Edward Wingfield), Yorick van Wageningen (Captain Samuel Argall), Raoul Trujillo (Tomocomo), Janine Duvitski (Mary), Michael Greyeyes (Rupwew), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas’s Mother), Kalani Queypo (Parahunt), Ben Mendelsohn (Ben), Noah Taylor (Selway), Ben Chaplin (Robinson), Eddie Marsan (Eddie), John Savage (Savage), Billy Merasty (Kiskiak) and Jonathan Pryce (King James I).


3:10 to Yuma (2007, James Mangold)

Another remake where they credit the original screenwriter as a contributing writer in order not to call it a remake.

Halsted Welles wrote the original 3:10 to Yuma’s screenplay… not sure why Mangold and the producers thought Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, writers of some vapid action movies, would match him.

I assume Brandt and Haas added the stuff where Logan Lerman (as Christian Bale’s kid, who tails along while Bale takes prisoner Russell Crowe to catch a prison train) is horrified to see how Chinese laborers were treated.

Yuma’s actually—with the exception of Marco Beltrami’s awful score—rather well-produced. Mangold composes the Panavision frame well. It’s not a significant film, but a competent one.

With the exception of the acting, of course. There’re so many people around Bale and Crowe, it barely feels like the two are supposed to be acting off each other. Worse, Bale’s terrible. The film opens with Lerman acting circles around him.

Mangold casts about half the film well and the other half awful. Gretchen Mol is Bale’s wife (and the only time he’s the better actor is in their scenes together). Peter Fonda’s weak, so’s Kevin Durand. However, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk and Vinessa Shaw are all strong. Mangold’s got a surprise actor at one point and it livens things up. Yuma’s boring and not in a good way. Without a dynamic performance to match Crowe’s, it drags.

Well, Ben Foster’s pretty dynamic… but he’s not opposite Crowe.

It’s nearly decent.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, based on a short story by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Andrew Menzies; produced by Cathy Konrad; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Ben Foster (Charlie Prince), Dallas Roberts (Grayson Butterfield), Peter Fonda (Byron McElroy), Gretchen Mol (Alice Evans), Alan Tudyk (Doc Potter), Kevin Durand (Tucker), Vinessa Shaw (Emma Nelson) and Logan Lerman (William Evans).


Terminator Salvation (2009, Joseph McGinty Nichol), the director’s cut

Ok, no joke, what idiot thought adding Christian Bale to Terminator 4 was a good idea? Was it McG? Without the dumb connection to the previous films–if it had just been the adventures of Anton Yelchin’s Young Kyle Reese–it might have been fine. Nichol’s direction isn’t anything spectacular (it’s solid enough, surprisingly), but he doesn’t fetishize the Terminator world. The callbacks to the originals are at least amusing, since they’re trying for subtly.

Sure, it’s a knockoff of Road Warrior with a little Return of the Jedi thrown in but whatever, it’s not complete garbage. It’s at least diverting, more than Terminator 3, in fact.

However, then there’s Bale. Oh, wait, no way. Bale’s got the goatee to look tough (and less like a date rapist?).

Sam Worthington’s wasted. If I hadn’t seen Rogue, I’d have no idea he was good. Though he can’t hold his accent.

The script’s awful, but Nichol’s shoots it so large scale (studio franchise pictures with establishing shots, I’d missed those), it’s like Terminator‘s less about its actual content than that content’s presentation. Brancato and Ferris probably don’t have the writing chops of a good “Days of Our Lives” writers’ room and have some of the most lamely predictable “surprises” I can remember. But I suppose the script’s better than their Terminator 3 script, even if the nonsensical items–the Terminator base, the networked machine base, having manual, physical overrides.

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, this post’s going to be double length, just because there’s so much to talk about. Not the content, of course, but the film as an example of the decline of popular filmmaking.

Helena Bonham Carter is really bad. Laughable. She just gets worse and worse, doing some kind of impression of The Emperor from the Star Wars series.

Common’s awful. Michael Ironside’s embarrassing himself here.

Watching Bryce Dallas Howard act opposite Moon Bloodgood is pretty funny too. I’ve never seen Bloodgood in anything before and haven’t seen Howard in years–I figured the former would be bad and the latter okay. I was wrong. Very wrong.

Still, whoever did the special effects went cheap on the big “old” Terminators, which are clearly guys in costumes. And the thing when Worthington’s walking around half-Terminator or whatever, it looks awful, cheaper than a Halloween mask, even if they are doing some idiotic CG composite thing with it.

Terminator Salvation comes after The Matrix, so there are plenty of lifts from it (though the giant Transformer-like robots are not)–the whole prophet thing with Bale feels directly copied and pasted from The Matrix 2.

Unexpectedly first-rate is the Danny Elfman score. As much of a Brad Fiedel fan as I am, Elfman’s pure action score is great. There’s nothing playful to it, which is somewhat non-Elfman (at least the Elfman I know), but it’s such a solid piece of composing, it doesn’t seem at all lacking.

Maybe most offensively, they dedicated this crap to Stan Winston.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol; screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Shane Hurlbut; edited by Conrad Bluff IV; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Martin Laing; produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek and Jeffrey Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (John Connor), Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright), Moon Bloodgood (Blair Williams), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Serena Kogan), Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese), Jadagrace (Star), Bryce Dallas Howard (Kate Connor), Common (Barnes), Jane Alexander (Virginia), Michael Ironside (General Ashdown) and Ivan G’Vera (General Losenko).


The Prestige (2006, Christopher Nolan)

Oh, good grief. The Prestige is in IMDb’s top 250 movies? It’s so bad, I’m actually going to say something nice about Christopher Nolan in a second here. I’ve never heard of source novelist Christopher Priest and no one I know has ever mentioned him to me, so I’m guessing he’s pretty godawful, which probably means the atrocious, idiotic plotting of The Prestige isn’t Nolan’s fault. The terrible writing of the scenes, well, that defect is surely Nolan & Co.’s, since it’s a stable of all his cinematic endeavors, but the asinine, illogical plotting… maybe not his fault.

The best performances in the film are from Rebecca Hall (big shock), David Bowie (ok, a little surprising), Andy Serkis (again, surprising) and Hugh Jackman–well, Hugh Jackman with a caveat. With The Prestige being Nolan and Nolan apparently being the twist ending zeitgeist with M. Night Shyamalan falling on hard times, the twist ending makes it impossible for Jackman, in his role as the protagonist, to actually give a good performance (imagine Jack knowing he was Tyler the whole time), but there’s a little bit where Jackman gets to do this humorous impersonation (with a fake nose) of himself and he’s hilarious. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Christian Bale’s terrible (he’s not supposed to be a psychopath in every movie, is he?), Scarlett Johansson’s atrocious, Michael Caine’s not as bad as I figured. Johansson’s English accent is occasionally hilarious.

Nolan’s composition isn’t bad but the fragmented narrative is, as always, pinheaded.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by David Julyan; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Aaron Ryder; released by Warner Bros. and Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier), Christian Bale (Alfred Borden), Michael Caine (Cutter), Scarlett Johansson (Olivia), Piper Perabo (Julia McCullough), Rebecca Hall (Sarah Borden), David Bowie (Tesla) and Andy Serkis (Alley).


The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

Before I get into the meat of this response, there are a few things I want to get out of the way. First, I was really glad when I heard some guy talking about how he didn’t like the movie as everyone filed out. Second, I have a problem with showing movies like this one (which feature inventive psychopaths) to morons like the one sitting next to me. This guy thought the Joker was just so cool for the ways he killed people. It made me a little sick (sort of like seeing a five year-old in line for the movie did as well). The last bit… The Dark Knight is leagues better than Batman Begins and a wholly watchable–albeit exceptionally boring in parts–movie. It’s not a worthless narrative. It’s not worth much, but it’s not worthless.

I also need to mention, once again, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer steal part and parcel from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One without crediting Miller. Here it’s a Bruce Wayne, motorcycle-man, a SWAT team fight and Gordon’s family in danger. But Nolan also lifts–and updates for modernity–quite a bit from Batman Forever.

One thing keeps The Dark Knight going and it’s Heath Ledger. He’s unbelievably good. Nothing you can read in a review can prepare you for his performance. It’s singular and exceptional. Simply, Ledger makes The Dark Knight–as absurd a prospect as Alice in Wonderland–pass for legitimate. Seeing what he’s going to do, how he’s going to deliver a line, move his eyes, makes the movie worth the rest of it.

Let’s just go through the performances, actually. It’s probably the easiest thing… first the actors, then the production.

Christian Bale is, once again, perfectly fine. He’s not so much the protagonist in The Dark Knight as a supporting player. At times he even comes behind Gary Oldman in narrative importance. There are some real problems, however, mostly with his voice. Bale’s Batman voice is awful (had they brought in Michael Keaton to dub over it, the movie would have been significantly better). He’s also not visibly fit enough to be Batman. Nolan makes a point of showing off Bale’s physique and it’s not one of a guy who drops fifty stories without twisting his ankle. But Bale’s kind of perfect for Nolan’s Batman movies. I wouldn’t want anyone particularly good to embarrass himself in them.

I’m trying to stay moderately positive (hey, it’s the biggest hit of all-time or something, right? That means it must be good… not just a side-effect of American high school graduates getting progressively less educated every year), so I’ll mention Morgan Freeman. Freeman’s shameless with what he’ll add to his filmography these days and The Dark Knight is no different. He turns in his standard, wise but still sharp old guy performance and it’s fine.

Michael Caine’s character is still poorly written, but he’s in this one less and is, therefore, better than he was in the first.

Cillian Murphy’s funny in his cameo. If Nolan had given his scene more weight, the movie would have been better. But given what Nolan thinks he does well, it’s no surprise he doesn’t actually recognize when he has a good scene going.

Maggie Gyllenhaal isn’t awful. She’s not any good, but a lot of it has to do with her scenes. The Dark Knight‘s approach to the American legal system is sillier than the Adam West television program would have portrayed. Gyllenhaal’s in the middle of that setting for the first act, when she’s not trying to do the love triangle stuff (with Bale and Aaron Eckhart). Gyllenhaal has zero chemistry with either. The only time she’s believable is when she’s talking to them on the phone. All gossip aside, it’s no wonder Katie Holmes didn’t come back for this one. The character isn’t just the worst written in the movie, it’s one of the worst written female characters in a long time. After–in the first movie–being a strong female character, here Gyllenhaal plays second fiddle to Eckhart. It reminds me of a professor telling women to become lawyers instead of paralegals… Nolan takes the character from being a lawyer and demotes her.

Now to Eckhart. I haven’t seen a worse performance out of someone since Nicole Kidman in Malice. Similar to her performance, here Eckhart’s hair does most of the acting. He’s exceptionally bad. In fact, he’s silly. If it weren’t for the overbearing music and the constant, weighty pretension, I would have laughed through every one of his line deliveries. Luke Perry would have been better….

Gary Oldman, on the other hand, actually ruins the movie. It’s not all him–Christopher Nolan’s (hang on, I need to check a thesaurus) putrid dialogue helps. I can’t figure out why the Joker writing is so much better than the rest of the material. Maybe someone good did a rewrite. But seriously, Oldman does ruin the movie in the end. He’s never for one moment convincing. Not just as a police officer or police lieutenant–Oldman’s cop wouldn’t be taken seriously on “Barney Miller”–but as an American. Oldman affects a strange, semi-Southern accent and it’s clear he’s just cheaply covering his own. He’s also revealed to be, at best, a drooling idiot (thanks to Nolan’s cavernous plot holes).

Suffering through Oldman and Eckhart for Ledger basically sums up the experience of The Dark Knight. Nolan’s choice in cameos is bad–Eric Roberts is particularly bad, but Anthony Michael Hall isn’t much better. The Tiny Lister cameo at the end is just funny. It sort of shows off The Dark Knight for what it really is… a movie with Tiny Lister as a big mean black guy in it.

Nolan’s a lousy director, incapable of filling a Panavision frame with any content. Oddly enough, there are some great action scenes in the movie. I don’t know how Nolan managed to conceive of such great set pieces–probably from reading Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One–but there are a number of them. Those excellent action scenes make the movie a lot more watchable, even though Ledger’s present in most of them so they’re covered. There’s one particularly good car sequence he isn’t in though. Most of the credit belongs to Lee Smith, who does a great job (a look at his filmography reveals he’s worked with good directors on occasion).

The much lauded opening bank robbery scene is moronic, however. And that idiocy is the real problem with Nolan and his Dark Knight. It’s not realistic. Trying to make it realistic just makes it seem stupid. The court room scenes play less realistic than “Night Court.” The mayor’s wearing eye shadow for some reason. The city is completely overrun with crime, on an inconceivable scale. It’s ludicrous, made far worse by Nolan’s pretentiousness. My wife’s only seen this one so I had to tell her it was actually less pretentious than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is probably the most pretentious movie I’ve seen since I saw Begins. Nolan’s totally and utterly full of shit.

Luckily, he’s got Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard back scoring the movie and, wow, is their collaboration terrible. One of the worst side-effects of 28 Days Later is everyone mimicking the way that film used its score. Zimmer and Howard’s score seems like it’s for the video game version of 28 Days Later. Calling it derivative doesn’t begin to cover it–The Dark Knight uses the music to drown the viewer in its self-importance. There isn’t a single subtle note in the duo’s score.

When I got done with Batman Begins, I figured that film would result in a better sequel. And it has. The Dark Knight is idiotic, but it’s still not as dumb as the first one. Ledger’s performance will likely get me back to the theater see it again; probably get me to buy this dumb movie on disc. But–again stealing from Frank Miller, I think from Dark Knight Returns–the film’s conclusion is a bit of a pickle for a sequel. Can the next one be even better–maybe even approach being good? It might… there’s still some of Batman: Year One to plagiarize. But will Nolan recognize the good material and curate it?

No, he won’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer and DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Michael Caine (Alfred), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Monique Curnen (Detective Ramirez), Ron Dean (Detective Wuertz), Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow), Chin Han (Lau), Nestor Carbonell (the mayor) and Eric Roberts (Salvatore Maroni).


Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan)

Well, now, I’m surprised. Batman Begins is not terrible.

It’s not good either. Not good at all. It has damning faults in three areas, and since this film is the first critically praised one I’ve thrashed–at least the first critically praised one currently still in the theaters–this post is going to be a little more “formal” than we’re used to around here.

I’ll get the good stuff out of the way. Christian Bale is good. Now, that’s not actually the biggest surprise–though I imagined it would be since Christian Bale has long been my candidate for the worst working “serious” actor (Hayden Christiansen or someone like him doesn’t count). For evidence, I offer Velvet Goldmine and Shaft. Still, I’m not surprised, since I thought as much from the trailers. Bale might belong in this sort of film–something big and emotionally empty. Whenever he tries to act “real,” he as convincing as … oh, Samuel L. Jackson. No, the big surprise of Batman Begins is Katie Holmes. She’s good. She has some terrible lines and the way she says “Bruce” is annoying, but she’s actually quite good.

Nolan’s direction is adequate. The “epic” shots of Bruce Wayne in China are between annoying and stupid. Never knew so many Chinese people spoke English, I guess those recent college graduates who go over to teach English really get into the boonies. There are a few excellent shots in Batman Begins, but the direction is in no way superior to Tim Burton’s take on the material and I don’t even like Burton. Nolan shoots Batman really well. The costume, in the publicity shots, is incredibly silly. It might not have nipples but it obviously has limited motion. Nolan hides it in the dark.

Now for the damning faults. I made notes during the film, so let’s see if that provides any structure (I doubt it).

Firstly, the guy who plays Bruce Wayne’s father. He sucks. The kid who plays young Bruce Wayne, he sucks too. I hated him. I wish the mugger had shot the little British twit who couldn’t keep his accent. And what was the deal with the mother? She had three lines. For the entire movie, it’s all about Papa Wayne. Apparently, Bruce didn’t love his mother very much. Oh, and there’s some awful exposition explaining Gotham City to young Bruce and the audience (in the film’s only incredibly offensive CG portion). If the Adam West TV show did an episode about the death of the Wayne parents (it didn’t, but if), it would have done a better job.

Damn, I wanted to segue into the next point from that one, but I got all caught up in Adam West’s tighties… Basically, Gotham City is the most important city on the face of the globe. Everything that’s anything is all about Gotham City. And, conveniently, Wayne Enterprises or Industries or whatever the movie calls it, is the world’s most important company. Batman Begins has no concept of scale. Robocop took place in Detroit, but managed to convincingly set-up the huge corporation effecting the film’s world. Batman Begins doesn’t do any such convincing. In fact, it goes so far to tell the viewer Wayne Inc. is the huge corporation that effects everyone. In dialogue.

But for such a huge metropolis, again, Gotham City seems to have only one neighborhood, just like in the other movies. There’s the skyline, of course, which looks a lot like Chicago on a bright day, but the only neighborhood where anything ever–visibly–happens is called the Narrows. And it’s small. But Batman actually doesn’t need that much space to play with. Because he doesn’t actually fight crime. He fights corruption and he fights masterminds, but only if it’ll further the plot along. Batman’s first fight is the drug importers who clue him in to the larger scheme at work, his next fight is to save Katie Holmes, who he makes his wary ally–who’s being attacked by agents of said importers’ boss. I think the next fight is with the film’s only supervillain, the Scarecrow, a psychologist gone evil.

There’s no “first night out,” which shows the audience the hero doing all sorts of heroic shit. Superman is the perfect example (and where the name for the sequence comes from). Batman doesn’t show any concern for the people of Gotham themselves. He doesn’t beat up any spousal abusers or average muggers, it’s all got to be about furthering the lame story. And it is a lame story. Batman Begins is all about Bruce Wayne “becoming” Batman. Well, we all know he’s going to become Batman. Somewhere along the line, shouldn’t it be a choice? Shouldn’t we think, oh, not everything is predestined, that there’s a living, breathing, thinking character at work here? Not just someone who can be an action figure and be slathered on underwear… But there’s not and that’s one of the major reasons Batman Begins fails. It asks the audience to take the character seriously, then refuses to do so itself. Would Bruce Wayne have become Batman if he didn’t have body armor or finding the “batcave?” The film never convinces us he would. It’s all about synchronicity.

Did I mention the annoying little kid he meets in the bad neighborhood who reappears later in the film? Because Gotham City–though the world’s sparkling jewel and the only place a serious terrorist would attack–has a limited number of SAG card-carrying citizens.

Now for the actors. Let’s call them the Pork Pack. I though the Ham something or other, but couldn’t think of a second H-word. I didn’t want to give this one away at the beginning, but Bale and Holmes turn two of the five acceptable performances in the film. Liam Neeson is awful. Michael Caine is slightly less awful. Gary Oldman (who’s got terribly written scenes) is bad too. These three suck, nicely put. They’re silly. Neeson in particular is giggle-inducing. Morgan Freeman is fine but has nothing to do. Rutger Hauer does good. He has shit to do, but he spins it interestingly. Mark Boone Junior (anyone else remember this guy, he was great in Trees Lounge) has a small role and is a welcome breather. Cillian Murphy (Christopher Nolan’s great discovery) sucks. Tom Wilkinson sucks too. Most of the Brits in the film playing Americans can’t hold their accents the whole way through, I think Bale is the only one who does…

The film has some nice sequences. I’m not wild about the entire car chase, but some of it was good. There was no weight to it, of course, it was just an excuse for them to use the Batmobile. The end is particularly hilarious, because the whole thing boils down to an over-the-top Steven Seagal Under Siege movie (just without the good acting). There’s a bomb on a train business. What else… Oh, the DC logo at the beginning. This addition is the saddest. Warner’s is doing it to counter the familiarity of the Marvel logo before their movies. Warner is doing it, not DC. Batman belongs to Warner Bros. From 1989 to 2002–with that first Scooby-Doo teaser–audiences around the world have associated Batman with the Warner Bros. logo. And now they’re supposed to associate it with the new DC logo? Why, because the DC logo will be on the underwear? Because no one who sees Batman Begins and is unfamiliar with the comic books is going to find anything they like in the comic books. If you want to read a Batman comic book, you’ll have to spend a few hundred bucks just to understand what he’s talking about–reborn Robins, brainwashing and whatnot. Batman Begins has little to do with the comic books and nothing to do with the spirit of the current Batman character. Anyone who says otherwise is either stupid, a salesman, or an deliberate liar.

Batman Begins tries to present the audience with a Batman we can identify with. A “realistic” Batman to identify with. Because the whole thing about identifying with Michael Keaton’s pains and human struggles, well, to hell with all that, he can’t compete with Tobey Maguire. And there are moments when Batman Begins almost succeeds. Unfortunately, none of them are when Bale’s in costume (though he’s fine as Batman too) and most involve Katie Holmes being around.

Except, it’s not called Tom Cruise’s Fake Girlfriend Begins. And, yeah, the title is lame. At best it’s a sentence fragment, at worst it’s a grammatical offense to the language Coca-Cola’s ad department (the people who said that the average American doesn’t understand the difference between “everyday” and “every day”) would appreciate.

Oh. I forgot to mention the shitty music. It’s really shitty.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Larry J. Franco; released by Warner Bros.

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


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