17 June 2006

Batman Begins

Holy crap, this movie was so unbelievably bad. I mean, I'm straining to think of a worse movie. Daredevil. That was worse. But then again, Daredevil starred Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, not Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson... seriously, how on Earth did so many excellent actors manage to make such a horrifically bad movie?

Let's start with the biggest problem - it was boring. 140 minutes, and you felt every single one. About an hour in, I started shifting in my seat, and at two hours, I was twitching and begging to turn it off. I didn't give a shit how the movie ended (not like I couldn't guess) - there was no chance of redemption. Even a random zombie attack couldn't have saved this movie, and I LOVE zombies.

Second problem - the dialogue. It was painful. "Why do we fall down? So we can pick ourselves back up?" "It's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you". Excuse me, I think I just threw up into my mouth a little bit. I can't stand trite, bullshit, pseudo-profundity like that. It's obnoxious, and goddamnit, it's NOT profound. It's not that I'm jaded, it's that if you're really the kind of person who can say that kind of tripe with a straight face and find it inspiring, you are... not someone I'm interested in watching a movie about, to put it mildly. Action movies should not preach the wisdom of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Cheesy dialogue is fine - when the Scarecrow tells Batman to lighten up, and promptly sets him on fire, THAT'S funny. That's cheesy, and totally appropriate. It's super. But this voyage of self-discovery garbage has got to go.

Which brings me to the next point, the ridiculous attempt to add depth to the movie by making it about Batman's process of self-discovery, how he learned to conquer his fear, face his fear, figure himself out, whatever. It's stupid. And it contributes nothing to the plot. First off, it's never really made clear what Batman is actually afraid of. He does seem to have some kind of bat-phobia, but it's not clear how conquering that fear - emblematized by him standing in the middle of a swarm of bats - really makes him a better person. It provides him with a convenient cover for escape, sure, but so would an explosion, a smoke machine, a less conspicuous costume... whatever. The fact that he frightens other people doesn't really drive in the point that he's apparently turning his fear against others, whatever that means - it's just what a badass ought to do. The Transporter sneaks up on people too, and he doesn't back it up with a load of bullshit. Wolverine can slash you to fucking pieces, and he doesn't need to conquer his inner demons to do it. The whole psychological portion of the movie is totally superficial, and completely unnecessary. It happens entirely through trite dialogue, but doesn't have any real bearing on the action. The folksy wisdom espoused by Batman is mostly common sense veiled in pretentious, pop-psychology language. Ugh.

Final problem - the plot is ridiculous. WARNING PLOT SPOILER. So they want Batman to end up having to fight his former mentor - fine. So they need to give this mentor some kind of evil project that will necessitate his destruction. This is tricky, given that he's supposed to be a good guy. So what do they do? They create this bizarre scheme whereby Liam Neeson and Co. are unleashing an ungodly shitstorm in order to purge the city and start anew. Huh? That's so painfully stupid, it's not even funny. Not only that, but their plan, while quite evil, is totally ridiculous. Making everyone in the city insane isn't going to help them in this goal at all - it's just going to leave them with a city of quivering schizos. Why not just nuke them and be done with it? It's not like they're going to be of any use once you've melted their brains. The idiocy of the endeavor, alas, obscures its bad-assness, in that their panic drug is actually pretty sweet, and the first time you see it in action, it really is fucking terrifying, and very awesome. It's the one good thing about the movie, really. The whole water mains plus vaporizer thing is a bit whack, but whatever, I can suspend some disbelief. I'd be willing to go with it if it weren't such a totally counter-productive plan.

Incidentally, what in the fuck is Wayne Industries supposed to do? It's never made clear in the movie. It seems to be some kind of creepy organization that makes the Wayne's very rich, basically. Oh, and they have some really awesome toys in the basement. And a water vaporizer kicking around. So perhaps they sell such products, but on the other hand, all the ones that they have, apparently nobody wants to buy. So where's all the dough coming from?

See, the thing is, I've enjoyed plenty of movies that have gaping plot holes. I even enjoy movies with trite, cliche dialogue. Why not this one? Well, for one thing, the action wasn't all that hot. The fights were pretty blah, the car chase was boring, I wasn't even that impressed with the body armor or the batmobile. I was watching the shit on a gigantic plasma screen tv - it's not like I was straining to see it on some tiny tv, where I couldn't really appreciate it because I couldn't see it. No no, I could see it all with absolutely gorgeous, sparkling clarity. For another thing, the movie didn't really invite you to laugh at it's shitty dialogue - there was no subtle wink, or sense of campiness. It was in deadly earnest. But then again, so was the final Matrix movie, and I still managed to laugh my way through that. So I dunno. Maybe I was just in a bad mood, or feeling uncharitable. Still though, man did that movie suck.


Oscar said...

I'm not sure if I'm with you here. I also agree that this is a terrible movie, but i feel like it is primarily crappy because it fucks up the psychology of Batman- not because they try to include it. I would argue that Batman's origin and motivation is actually quite compelling and could make a really interesting movie- this just isn't it.

Batman is a unique super hero because he draws all of his power and ability from a form of personal weakness, and that conflict has the potential to be quite compelling. He is at heart a normalish (albeit insanely wealthy) person who has undergone a profound trauma and created himself again as.... something. This is what is so cool about him- he is a highly dubious protagonist who (usually) does good things (crimefighting, righting wrongs) for the wrong reasons (vengeance, anxiety, fear). This is why Batman could be, if executed properly, an Ahab-scale character that comments on the nature of obsession, passion, violence, and a whole lot of other things in a really ambitious way.

And boy, he sure isn't in this movie. What a fucking loser. There is virtually no interiority to the character whatsoever, and a strikingly multidimensional person is reduced to a do-gooder goober. Everything formative that happens to him, as you mentioned, feels cliched and irrelevant.

Traumatized by bats? Apparently it's scary until you grow a pair.

Parents murdered? Feel shitty about that and become a crimefighter.

Train with ninjas? Sweet man. I bet that kicked ass.

Someday someone will figure this out and make a truly great batman origin movie. Originally, Darren Aaronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) was slated to direct this film, but they decided on this douche (whoever he is) and the world is poorer for it.

culture_vulture said...

Good point. I suppose the question is how much psychological depth a superhero movie can sustain. I mean, Spiderman does a decent job, but it walks a fine line. I could see Aaronofsky balancing it well, but still, I think that superhero movies are ultimately going to be about watching some asswhooping, not exploring tortured psyches. The character's interiority is probably always going to take the back seat. In the Batman case, it's all the more difficult, because Batman just isn't a sympathetic character. A guy who does great things despite being a prick is rather unappealing, because one likes to believe that doing good things makes you a good person.

Whit said...

Are you kidding? Batman Begins was incredible and saved the franchise from falling into some cartoonish hell. Bale gave the character the strength and borderline insanity that was missing from all of the others that have donned the cape and cowl.

Daredevil, however, was awful.