Monday, June 20, 2005


One of the bonuses to having a 9-year-old son (along with the fact that I'm crazy about the kid) is that middle-aged men like me can indulge in boyhood pastimes without appearing regressive or Comic Book Guy pathetic. "I'm doing it for my son," is the stated excuse, which is mostly true, but in my case, I get a huge kick out of being a boy, too.

Friday, he and I went to the first showing of "Batman Begins," and it was simply fantastic, which surprised me, though happily so. Now, I'm a big Bats fan to begin with. I've loved the Dark Knight since I was a kid, in all of his various manifestations (yes, Adam West included). I enjoyed Tim Burton's first two films, esp "Batman Returns," which I thought at the time was probably the closest a live-action Bats would get to honoring the original dark premise. No more. Christopher Nolan's film blows Burton out of the Batcave. It's serious, intense. It's the way the Batman should be shown, the way most of us Bat fans longed for him to be shown.

Christian Bale is by far the best Batman, making Michael Keaton seem mannered by comparison (and let's not address Val Kilmer and George Clooney). Behind the mask Bale has the psychotic stare of a guy so haunted by guilt and extreme anger that he dresses like bat in order to find whatever peace there is left for him to find. Bruce Wayne's a twisted guy, and Bale is the first actor to show how deep Wayne's mania truly runs. In one dramatic scene, where Batman is interrogating a corrupt cop by dropping him some 17 stories from a wire, then yanking him back up to receive more questioning, you really see this at work. I was thrown by how insane Batman is in this scene. He's actually frightening. Christopher Nolan shot it in such a way that Bats seems more like a demon than a man, and I thought, phew, this may to too much for my son. I softly asked him if this scene bothered him, and he replied with a smile, "No Dad. It's totally cool."

Yeah. It was.

Some critics, while praising the film, have complained that the fight scenes are too confusing, that you really can't tell what's going on. Not so. Again, Nolan outdoes his predecessors. If you've ever been in a fight, a bout or have simply sparred, you know how blurred everything seems. A flash of arm, brief slice of a kick, grappling, pushing, spinning, sweeping, it all appears chaotic to the eye. It's this sensation that Nolan beautifully captures. No Hollywood choreography here. In real life, Batman would fight with economy and employ the sparest, deadliest moves in his arsenal. I also liked how spooked the crooks get when hunting Batman (actually, it's more like he's hunting them). Even though they're armed, they feel at a disadvantage, shaking with fear, anticipating their punishment. One guy stalks an alley. Head darts around and up. Then two gloved hands emerge from the shadows and quickly pull him from sight. A scream, a thump, then silence.

That's how Batman operates.

There's so much more to "Begins" -- Bruce Wayne's training with the League of Shadows, the slow creation of his ultimate persona, the Scarecrow's hallucinogenic fear spray (the effects of which are like extremely potent LSD), the ragged edges of Batman's beginning, from the hazy, out-of-focus Bat Signal to the watery low-tech Batcave. Some of the dialogue is the standard black & white/good vs. evil comic book proclamations. But no matter. Overall, Nolan has re-energized the character, and there's a hint at the end of the film of who Batman will face next. Given Nolan's touch here, I expect this next foe to be even crazier than the Dark Knight.

Like my son said, totally cool.