Saturday, June 25, 2005

batman begins because

"'Because' is not an answer." I heard this quite a bit from my dad when I was a kid. I always figured that "because" was a good enough answer to bide some time until I could fabricate something more plausible. Dad's retort has had a long-lasting affect on me--specifically on my cinematic willing suspension of disbelief. Particularly with superhero movies. When it comes to plot-lines, "because" is not an answer.
"Why can Superman fly?"
"Because, he is from another planet."
"Why does that matter? Do gravitons work differently in the Delta Sector?"
"um, because. . . "
Not an answer.
There are a couple of ways to extend an audience's willing suspension of disbelief. One is to lay out detailed exposition as to why the superheroes can do what they do and why they wear the funny costumes. The other method is maintain the flashy comic book style and delight the audience so that they don't worry. "The Matrix" did the first, while Tim Burton's "Batman" did the second. Burton offered up a thin plot and lots of eye candy making it clear that physics and motivation simply worked differently his comic purple Gothom.

Jaime really wanted to see the new "Batman." I whined a bit, but she persisted, so we tethered David to the crib and went to the cinema.

It's good.

Unlike Burton's "Batman," this one has taken the task of laying out as realistic a story as possible with excrutiating exposition as to why and how things are as they are. It is more than an hour of careful development of Wayne's character--punctuated with lots of scary bat flash-backs--before he finally makes the decision to dress up like a giant bat. By this point the audience is either "ok, I'll buy that" or "fine, just get on with it." While the story contains nothing particularly original, it makes up for it with lots of great fisticuffs. Wayne's parents die--Wayne is bitter-- sets out to find himself--travels to the Far East--climbs to the top of the mountain--finds a teacher who can show him the path he must journey. There was actually a moment where I was positive that his master was going to call him "grasshopper" and tell him that he couldn't leave until he snatched away a pebble.

Then we have a "James Bond" presentation of great gadgets and we're off to fight bad guys. After some bad guys, the archvillan, and curtain. Gary Oldman shows up at the beginning as a cop, so I assumed he was the bad guy. Turns out not to be so, which was very confusing. Oldman+cop=bad cop, right? No, he is sergeant Gordon and does a pretty good job.

This Batman is scary. The baddies use a fairly terrifying drug-induced hallucinations that gave me bad dreams. Then, towards the end, "holy walking stiffs, Batman, we're in a Zombie movie."

Some of the plot-points intersect Burton's Batman and change things around (Joker doesn't kill his parents). Jaime is a huge fan of Burton's, so that really peeved her. For both of us, the main detracting was the writing. The script sounds like the writers dug around in the ashcans of every man-against-the-odds morality tale ever written, pulled out the pithy monologues, and strung them together. We begin with "Why do we fall? So we learn how to pick ourselves back up." From there the script keeps falling and can't get up. Wayne gets lectured on ethics, power, and the meaning of life by every single other character in the film. I would have dressed up like a giant Bat just to be rid of all of them. It really could have used some of the humor and insanity of Burton's tale.

Oh, and the Scientologist that now has to follow Katie Holmes' 24/7 kept getting in the shots. That was annoying.

Of course this is not the first movie I have seen this summer whose main character is a chronically conflicted guy who's mother's death leads him to dress up in a big black suit with a mask and a cape. Nope, I am looking forward to "Batman vs. Darth Vader" in 2007.

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