think of as a comic book movie. It's more like an
action film about a crime fighter who also likes to dress up like a giant bat. One is the ultimate comic book film and the other is a great film that happens to use a comic book as it's source material. And I know that strictly speaking one is not a remake of the other. Actually they are both remakes of the comic book. But they both tell the story of the introduction of Batman to the world. So it works for me. Now let's do this thing!
PLOT: Batman - Story begins and Batman is already Batman. Crime Boss Carl Grism sets up his #1 guy Jack Napier, to get caught by the police. He doesn't get caught but instead is dropped in a vat of acid and becomes the Joker. He terrorizes the city as Batman attempts to thwart his efforts. Batman learns that the Joker is the same man that killed his parents years ago. It all ends in a showdown on top of Gotham Cathedral. Batman is victorious and the city accepts Batman as sanctioned crime-fighter.
Batman Begins - Bruce Wayne as a child falls into a well and is surrounded by bats. He is very frightened. He later forces his parents to leave a showing of the opera Die Fledermaus. His folks are murdered by Joe Chill. At Joe's parole hearing years later, Chill is killed by one of local crime lord Falcone's thugs, preventing Bruce from killing Chill himself. Bruce is slapped around by leading lady Rachael Dawes. He runs off to the criminal underworld to explore crime so as to better fight it. He is offered a position in the League of Shadows by Henri Ducard and is to lead the League in the destruction of Gotham. He turns the offer down. Bruce returns to Gotham and takes on the persona of Batman to fight crime and in the process earns the trust of Sergeant Gordon. He puts Falcone behind bars and learns that Ducard has come to the city to destroy it. He manages to defeat Ducard in the nick of time but we learn that other criminals are coming forward, including a man who calls himself the Joker (BTW I can't wait to see The Dark Knight). Batman Begins probably has the better plot. It hurts to concede that but it's well thought through and things unfold very well.
STYLE: Batman - I call Batman the ultimate comic book movie because of the way everything is presented both with visuals and story. Everything is in starkly contrasted colors. The city of Gotham is dark and grey because it is seeing hard times. Batman is in black. He is the mysterious, messed-up-inside hero. Vicky Vale wears almost exclusively white. She is the embodiment of good. Like Tess Truelove in the Dick Tracy series. Then there's the Joker who wears all sorts of outlandish colors as he tears across the story line. Also everything is exaggerated from the Batmobile to the Joker's gun with the 3 foot long barrel. It's all like a cartoon come to life.
Batman Begins - This film takes a much more gritty realistic approach. It almost has an industrial feel to it. There isn't much for me to say other than everything in the film makes me think that, yeah this could happen. Gotham is relatable and feels a lot like Chicago. All the gadgets Batman uses actually work. Batman wins on style. It's really hard to say that since Batman Begins doesn't try to have a comic book feel at all. But they are comic book films and, what can I say? I love Tim Burton.
BATMAN: Michael Keaton - I thought that Michael Keaton gave a wonderful performance as the caped crusader. He just has that quality where you know he's a good guy and he's level headed, smart etc. But you also know that he's a little nuts and he could lose it at any time. And then of course there's The Line: "Who are you?" "I'm Batman." His deliverance of that line makes it an iconic movie moment. I get chills.
Christian Bale -
He does a good job. But I can think of a few other actors that would have done as well. Not a standout performance but good. I think it bugs me a bit when he's Batman and he talks in his angry gravely voice. I'm pretty sure I laughed the first time. Michael Keaton wins this one because I can't think of anyone else who could have played the role. He WAS Batman, and I believe replacing his with other actors is a big reason the franchise started to fail.
VILLAINS: The Joker. OK anyone who has talked to me for more than 10 minutes knows that I believe that Jack Nicholson as the Joker is the greatest casting fit of all time. And I think he was robed for not getting an oscar nod. Go ahead and laugh. He plays an absolute creep as Jack Napier. But as soon as he becomes the Joker he almost takes over the film. He looks like he is having a blast and the audience can feel that. Not to mention his delivery. My two favorite lines are: "And remember. You! Are my number one uh-guy!" and of course the imortal "And where is the Batman? He's at home. Washing his tights!" I still use that line when people ask where someone is. In a very accomplished career I still see this as Jack's greatest work.
Ra's al Ghul/Henri Ducard - I really like Liam Neeson. And I think he does a fine job in this role. Again the idea was to go for a very human, very real villain. And this film produced it. He was cold, ruthless and deadly. But he wasn't very much fun. Maybe bad guys shouldn't be fun. Then our kids wouldn't emulate them etc etc. This is another case of a character that could have been played by several actors. Now I do have to give kudos for Dr. Crane/Scarecrow. That guy freaked me out. I think they used him because the villain side lacked theatricality. Batman wins this one. I don't even have to explain why.
Supporting Cast/Characters: Batman - This film has a host of forgettable performances. You wouldn't want to distract from the main show anyway. But the other big character is of course Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale. Yuck. I guess she's closer to Bruce's age but I've never really liked her acting in this or any film. I can't say much more than that.
Batman Begins has a great supporting cast. Michael Kane is a great Alfred. Morgan Freeman is great in anything so he's welcome in this film. Rutger Howard has a very small roll, but come on! He's Roy the Replicant! Gary Oldman is wonderful as Lt. Gordan. And Katie Holmes makes for a fine Rachael Dawes. Strong, smart and beautiful. Batman Begins definitely has the stronger cast. I guess when you have Keaton and Nicholson you don't need anyone else.
Conclusion: I really like both of these movies a lot and it is hard for me to see which is better. Batman Begins probably tells the story of how Batman came to be better. But Batman is just more fun to watch. So how to settle all this? Musical Score: Danny Elfman's imortal Batman themes stomp all over the sufficient and forgettable score for Batman Begins. Also, I just like Batman more. So there.
OK tell me what you think!
Now on to the May movie of the month. Steve Snow (who suggested the Batmans) has appropriately suggested that we reprise the category of Charlton Heston films. I whole heartedly agree. I am submitting Ben Hur, which may not be my favorite movie of Chuck's but I must say it's probably his best. So don't forget after you comment on Batman to suggest a Chuck Heston film. Remember that the person whose film is chose will pick next month's category. And Jon, I'm instituting a 2 movie per person limit.