Thursday, 8 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 296

82 - Batman Begins - 4 stars
For those who have grown up with Batman, watching the Adam West TV series on C4 on a Tuesday night after school or the Tim Burton films, this film could really have been called Batman Begins... again.
But this is the first time that we have really seen the origin story of Batman.
Drawing upon some great source material like Frank Miller's Batman Year One, it definitively answers the question of why someone would dress up like a bat and just how he manages to get all those "wonderful toys".
For me, Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne/Batman since Adam West. He manages to switch between three different personas: the Bruce Wayne who is filled with guilt and vengeance by the death of his parents, the playboy billionnaire public persona of Bruce Wayne (that Bale plays very similar to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), and finally Batman the costumed vigilante.
A lot of people have criticised Bale's gruff Batman voice (which has now spilled into other roles like John Connor in Terminator: Salvation), but I personally don't mind it. At least he is making an effort to disguise his identity beyond just wearing a mask. Peter Parker/Spider-Man puts on a mask but doesn't change his voice, Clark Kent just removes his glasses to become Superman. Surely those people close to them would recognise the voice at the very least, let alone any physical resemblance.
The true hero of Batman Begins however is not Bale but director Christopher Nolan. After small films like Memento and Insomnia, Nolan proved that he could deliver an exciting, action-filled blockbuster.
Batman is one of those superheroes where you can debate just how "super" he actually is, because he doesn't have any of the regular superpowers like flying, x-ray vision, super-strength, etc. Instead he has tons of cool gadgets and some martial arts training.
One of the successes of Batman Begins was how Nolan grounded everything in reality. It goes into detail on how they create the costume and how he gets the gadgets like the grappling gun and Batmobile, it just helps to be a billionnaire. Everything can be explained and would work within the real world, making the film more believable than your average comic book film.
It would have been easy to automatically give this film 5 stars as it rescued the franchise after the abysmal Batman & Robin... but I'm not going to do that. It only receives 4 stars because of the time spent focusing on the origin story, it lacked an iconic villain (something that comic origin stories suffer from but make up for in the sequel), and Katie Holmes seems miscast an out of place compared to the quality of the rest of the cast.

15 - The Dark Knight - 5 stars
"And here... we... go!"
Right from the start, you know you are watching something special. Filmed in IMAX ratio and looking crystal clear on BluRay, Nolan kicks off the film with the greatest bank robbery since Heat.
Michael Mann's Heat has been a huge influence over the The Dark Knight, and the film manages to actually transcend the comic book/superhero genre and join Heat in being considered as one of the best crime films of all time.
The famous McCauley/Hanna conversation over coffee about how similar they are is mirrored by The Joker explaining to Batman that one can't survive without the other, "you complete me". Everyone involved in the original, stepped up their game for the sequel and were working at the bext of their ability and it shows. What was great about this film is that they didn't just sit back and repeat what worked in the original but did something new.
Where Batman Begins was set in the dark and gloomy nightime of Gotham City, The Dark Knight shows it during the day, showing the crime doesn't rest when The Joker is involved.
Also for the first time in Batman movie history, Batman leaves the confines of Gotham City and travels to Hong Kong. It was fun to see it on the big screen as I went to Hong Kong in 2007 and actually had cocktails at a bar at the bottom of the IFC building that Batman jumps off of during the film.
The casting also improves on the first film with Maggie Gyllenhaal providing more weight and toughness to the recast role of Rachel Dawes, and Aaron Eckhart was also terrific as Harvey Dent, even if his story arc as Two-Face is a tad rushed as it would have worked better being the main protaginist in the next film.
"How about a magic trick? Ta da, it's gone!"
And so began the greatest performance in a comic book movie. Ledger is absolutely electrifying as The Joker, taking it in a completely different direction from Jack Nicholson's ghoulish clown.
It is a completely committed performance of a dangerous and disturbed individual built up from months of research into the character using comics like Killing Joke, Long Halloween. A great combination of make-up, costume, posture and voice that is full of glorious flourishes like his waddle while wearing the nurse's uniform,
Was his performance Oscar worthy? Compared to the rest of the nominated performances, yes. The closest that anyone came to him was Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder.
On the subject of Oscars, what was unbelievable was the lack of nominations in any of the major categories such as Best Picture, Director, etc. Even Hugh Jackman remarked on it during his opening song at that year's ceremony. "How can a billion dollars not be sophisticated?"
So those films like District 9 and The Blind Side that got a Best Picture nomination this year, you have TDK to thank as its snub directly led to the creation of the 10 nominee category.
Hopefully next year Oscar will make up for this terrible oversight by giving much deserved rewards to Chris Nolan and Inception.

Days remaining - 69 Films remaining - 68

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