Friday, 8 July 2016

A Review Of The "DARK KNIGHT" Trilogy [Part 1]: Batman Begins

Starting from a modestly budgeted origin movie, Batman Begins, that reshaped our facile, almost comedic, preconception of the Caped Crusader, to a record-breaking sequel, The Dark Knight, and then to one of the most riveting and acclaimed franchise-closer's, The Dark Knight Rises, the figure of Batman, as imagined by the Nolans, is now something of note: one of the greatest fictional characters penned and inked, and now realized in film. I'm a firm believer that what has been titled The Dark Knight Trilogy (DKT) is the best superhero franchise ever engineered. While the last seems to be hyperbole, I don't believe so. Really, it's only by some blasphemy that the DKT isn't reserved a seat as one of the greatest continuities of the last 10 years (might as well make that 20, 40, 70 years). But, in case the man needeth persuasion, I'd like to make a case by scoping the three individual installments of the DKT, and find that they are given due justice--a well deserved "Because He's Batman!"

Batman Begins

Pain, anxiety and searching are the arcs of this debonair but highly intoxicating film. Everything from what has previously been shot of Batman has been ushered to the door of oblivion. Behold, a re-classed version of something wonderful and violent. Add the grace of a few actors and the genius of a British director to the idea of Bob Kane, plus an advanced musical component, and you have the inception of a great--no, downright redonculous--hero franchise.

Welcome to a prison in Tibet.
     This film decides, from the get-go, that it won't be compared with anything (contrary to what I've done a decent amount of already). So feel free to forget my first paragraph.
     Bruce Wayne, given life by a shredded Christian Bale, steps out into the quieting cold in an introduction to the character that few have appreciated--the privileged inheritor of a ludicrously powerful family brought deep into a life of taking for the sake of knowing his opponent's mind, the criminal mind.
     The day-time coin-flip to Batman, Wayne, struggles to know what it means to be desperate as he has spent nearly seven years in east-Asia as a poor thief. Caught, he passes his time fighting criminals within his captivity until he meets the insightful Henry Ducard, played by Liam Neeson's badassery, who is later discovered to truly be the more devilish and legendary Ra's Al Ghul.
     Trained to fight like a ninja, Ducard teaches his pupil patience, to strike unhesitatingly against those deserving, and that the anger he harbors against his parents' killer is a great asset in fighting injustice. Knowing true justice is distinct from petty retaliation, the ideology of Ra's Al Ghul's League of Shadows turns Wayne away from taking part in their company of vigilante's. He returns to Gotham.
     What can be appreciated about the film, right away, is the world in which we're immersed. From a visual stand-point, everything that is big is great, everything that is small is magnified so that while we are interested in everything we see on screen, the right details come out.
     Atmospherically, realism is the air we breath. From costume design to dialogue to action, the picture is advanced, not whittled down, to the physically comprehensible. This makes sense though not everybody agrees. Some would rather see Batman as the superhuman who vaporizes his foes' strike attempts as per the Arkham games. However, if the heroes and villains we're entertaining are fundamentally human and not magically supercharged, then would the world of Batman not be more Earthly than fantastic? I would think so. Thus, Nolan's rendition seems logical. Throughout the series, the humanness of the Batman universe becomes something to cherish, as opposed to regret.
     A key distinction between the Nolan trilogy and the hazy realm of superhero movies is the involvement of philosophical discussion. Villains that fight 'roided soldiers and telekinetic wizards seem to be just play-mates, or rather school-yard bullies that evoke all the typical messages and bring out all the great qualities you'd hope would be absorbed and exhibited by preteen nerds. They come and go with each passing episode. Here, however, in the universe engineered by Nolan, the villains don't just come to threaten the protagonist. They come to threaten the audience.
     Ra's Al Ghul represents a fear-worthy extreme of fanatic utilitarianism. His concern is the flourishing of humankind (to which we all say "Great!"). His means to achieving this end is to remove the cancer, severe the infected limb, purge the forest grown too wild. Fueled by his own past upset, he channels his anger into revenge and dismantle the system indifferent to evil. It's not just about stopping criminals. It's about stopping the men and women who let criminals be. Apparently, the solution is extermination.
     As we sympathize with Bruce Wayne as he navigates his own upset, we see how much is lost in Ra's Al Ghul's moral framework. While he hopes to achieve an aggregate victory for mankind by removing the stain, he draws upon a number of false assumptions. He trivializes life to a false dichotomy of greedy and strong. The greedy are to be eradicated, while the strong should prosper. He sees himself as immortal (be it bodily or spiritually) and thus seems to boast a godlike command over the truth about human nature. His self-affirming piety is really only a cover-up for his deeper misunderstanding of human value and meaning.
     Batman/Bruce Wayne sees life as equal in each person. Each life is complex in its evil and its beauty and there lives a hope of restoring the formerly corrupted society which makes people worth saving. We clearly see this as the burgeoning motive for Wayne's return to Gotham and his evolution into Batman. There's a salvific presence made by his character which beckons comparisons to Christ (I promise not to promise not to revisit this).
     In a nutshell, the difference in the underpinning for the actions of Wayne and Ra's is that Ra's uses amputation to keep balance while Wayne aims at full human reconciliation and societal restoration. Batman prevails because his insight digs deeper into the truth of human nature and posits intrinsic worth instead of judging people either good or bad, which is a 'bad' in itself.
     Well, to be honest, Batman was just a bit beefier is all.
     In addition to the conflict between Batman and his old mentor, a wealth of characters, familiar and foreign, join the story. A few are worth discussing. Alfred (Michael Caine), Batman's butler, per tradition, is an emotional anchor for the film. He's the father figure in place of Albert Wayne and guides Wayne through many of his personal challenges. Wayne struggles inwardly with guilt over his parents loss, honor, fear (particularly that of loss and failure), personal conviction, hubris and his connection with reality apart from his Batman persona (the implication being his relationship with his budding love interest and life-long friend, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes)). Alfred would step in in timely fashion to assist in Batman's journey through the quiet pain while he achieves notoriety and fame.
     The movie sees few downsides. Evidently, the characters are reinterpreted to fit into Chris Nolan's realistic, cinematic picture and this means jettisoning some of the more surreal if not cartoon-ish elements of existing lore (i.e.: the Lazarus Pit, though that would've been awesome to see nonetheless). Other random remarks include that I think this movie excels the other two movies in two ways. The first is that the movie is paced extremely well and has some of the best character arcs and development. The second, is that Batman's voice is best in this movie. After this, it gets more and more gargly. Still not bad though.      

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