Der Batman, wie er in die Welt kam
By now, you've probably noticed that everybody loves Batman. "Batman Begins" was intended to jumpstart the superhero series run aground by Joel Schumacher (who will spend the rest of his career living that down, whether or not he deserves to). And boy, has it ever. Suddenly the whole world is up on Batman's leather codpiece again. The reviews has been ecstatic. The box-office receipts have been hearty. The fanboy response has been practically orgasmic. What does all this mean? It means that it falls to humble ol' me to stand up and point out that our cowl-clad hero is in reality as naked as a porn star on a coke bender.
Yes, sadly, "Batman Vee" is not nearly as interesting as many, many people would lead you to believe. The main thought running through my head while it played out in front of me was "What the hell happened to Aronofsky's 'Batman: Year One' anyway? That probably would have been far more interesting than this." As the title so cleverly hints, this chapter of the Batman saga is intended as Chapter One. It's an origin story. That's all well and good, but isn't the Batman origin well-covered ground by now? If you're going to cover something that's been done so completely, you might at least want to think about adding a few new wrinkles. Alas, this here be wrinkle-free. Try as it might, it can't help but feel like a punch-press assembly-line product.
Most of the blame, I feel, lies with screenwriter David S. Goyer. Goyer, in recent years, has proven himself to be a faithful comic book nut. Unfortunately, fanaticism and devotion to a certain subject does not automatically make one a talent, and he's also revealed to the world that he is an atrocious writer. ("Blade: Trinity". I rest my case.) Beyond the problems with characterization (which I can write off to this being a comic-book movie, what with comic books generally trading in extremes and not ambiguities) and convenient plotting (which I can write off to this being a comic book movie, what with comic books only having so much space to tell a story), there's the emphasis problem. Now, I imagine that this project was of great importance to Goyer. I also imagine that Goyer wanted us to understand the gravity of it all. I can think of no other reason why every significant line of dialogue is repeated three, four, six, twelve times. I mean, I understand that there are going to be teenagers and younger kids in the audience. Some of them may very well be denser than month-old pound cake. But when the climax repeats the line about not watching your surroundings twice within ten minutes, even the dumbest audience member has to be thinking, "Okay, you made your point. Jesus." That's typical of Goyer's ham-handed approach, though: Nothing is allowed to be hinted at when it can be underlined, circled and italicized. It's like Goyer thinks everyone who is going to watch this suffers from anteriograde amnesia and must be reminded of every little plot point and character quirk every fifteen minutes or so.
Speaking of amnesia... director Christopher Nolan is a long way from "Memento" here. And while, unlike Goyer, he may be a sharp screenwriter, he's a functional director at best. He's good with actors and he can keep the pace up. But visually, he's not much to brag about. This being his first project of such magnitude, he must have been nervous. So he watched Tim Burton's "Batman" a couple of hundred times until he felt comfortable with the brooding Goth(am)ic atmosphere that any serious treatment of the Batman material seems to demand. Then, while struggling with that visual gimmickry, some drug-addled producer mentioned that, hey, Ridley Scott's films have won a bunch of acclaim in the last few years, and the action scenes in those movies favor chaos over coherence, so why don't you go on and try to imitate that? The point that got missed, though, is that Scott's films generally only use the shaky-cam technique in the midst of hectic melee battles, where the point is that no one participant really knows what is going on. Batman's fights aren't quite that splintered, and yet here we are with the rapid cuts (what happened to Dody Dorn? was she busy?) and the epileptic camera and the blurred motion. If we're not allowed to see our crimefighter fight crime, why the hell should we care?
I guess, though, my main problem with "Batman Begins" is that it feels so dispassionate. Burton's films may have been flawed, but at least it felt like he was trying to give something of himself to the production. I never got that here. It seems like everyone involved was aware that this was an important film in that it could result in many money-making sequels, so everyone played it as safe as possible. There's no sense of adventure, no sense of discovery. (What would it feel like to just up and decide to be a superhero if your only real superpower is a limitless bank account? Don't ask David Goyer -- he doesn't know or care.) I mean, Christ, people complain about Batman being a supporting character in the Burton and Schumacher films. But here, Tom Wilkinson is allowed to walk away with the film in his pocket, and he's in a nothing role. So it turns out that AOL Time Warner got the franchise flick they wanted. Pity they didn't get anything else out of it.