Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Watcher Retrospective - Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

July 20th is the release date for The Dark Knight Rises and damn it can’t come quick enough! Having already watched every trailer and the preview footage (at the huge BFI IMAX!) I’m really starting to salivate at the thought of another Christopher Nolan Batman film.

In the meantime join me in taking a look back on the previous two installments in this epic trilogy, starting with Batman Begins.

When released in 2005 most people still had a sour taste left in their mouths by the extremely over-the-top Schumacher Batman films. Eight years later and I still couldn’t shake the image of bat-nipples, lucky for me none to be found here! It's a fresh start, cleansing the world's palette ready for a new Batman. The idea? Re-introduce us to the character, go back to his origins - where did he actually get those wonderful toys from and why the affiliation with flying rodents? We get to see this and much more.

After the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is raised by his childhood butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Now an adult he seeks revenge and the means to fight injustice, but his childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) disagrees with his plans. Bruce leaves to travel around the world trying to gain a better understanding of the criminal mind. While locked in a prison within Asia he is approached by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and offered the chance to join the League of Shadows, where he can gain the training and knowledge he seeks as long as he can prove himself to their leader Ra’s Al-Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Bruce learns to be more than just a man; to become an idea which can never be forgotten.

Returning home Bruce discovers that Gotham is now decaying and overrun by organised crime. Using fear to his advantage to bring down the mob and its boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), he begins his transformation into The Batman. All the while, Wayne Enterprises CEO William Earle (Rutger Hauer) is planning to force Bruce out of his inheritance by bringing the company public. He meets Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who helps supply his tech and detective Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), one of the few good cops not on the mob's payroll.

Things seem to be going to plan but then a spanner is thrown in the works in the form of the crazy doctor Jonathan ‘The Scarecrow’ Crane (Cillian Murphy) who works in Arkham Asylam and has some very unorthodox work ethics. A mysterious force reappears in Gotham who seem to be very familiar with Bruce’s new skills.

A movie jam packed full of big names, all of which were perfect for the characters they portrayed - I even didn’t mind Katie Holmes though she was ultimately replaceable (and was!). A script which paid attention to its roots and was highly inspired by Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween graphic novels. I personally loved how the world Nolan created was rooted in reality much more than its predecessors - for instance, all of Batman’s gadgets are based on realistic technology which the military were then working on.

At the end of Batman Begins we see a single playing card in a evidence bag - a joker and from that point onwards the impossible thought of bringing Batman’s most loved enemy back to the big screen filled my mind. Three years later, the impossible thought became possible with The Dark Knight!

Set a year after the first movie, The Dark Knight shows Batman’s continuing efforts to clean up Gotham. Still assisted by Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox, Bruce is also joined by Gotham’s newly appointed district attorney, ‘White Knight’ Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). This partnership proves successful as they continue to put more of Gotham’s underworld behind bars. Rachel Dawes (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is still on the scene but is dating Harvey, causing strain on her and Bruce’s relationship.

The rise of a new psychopathic criminal called the Joker (Heath Ledger), whose scarred grin, manic laughter, and lack of morality make him more dangerous than anything Batman has come across yet. Batman realises he must stop this madman at all costs, both of them being different sides of the same coin. One seeks order while the other just wants chaos. As the Joker introduces more and more chaos into Gotham, Batman struggles to deal with the madness.

Harvey Dent and Rachel unfortunately become collateral damage in the Joker's games, Dent being transformed into the character known as Two-Face. Burnt down one half of his body and being swayed by the Joker's madness, Dent blames Rachel’s death and his disfigurement on Jim Gordon and the Batman.

The best performances in this movie are by the late Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, the latter being my personal favourite as I felt his performance was rather overshadowed by the hype around Ledger's unfortunate death. It has to be said though, Heath did bring his all to the role and make it his own, so much so that he managed to make people forget Jack Nicholson’s brilliant version of the character in the 1989 Batman movie.

This movie felt very different to its predecessor, almost not like a Batman movie. What with the lack of a Batcave (destroyed by the League Of Shadows in the first film), the amazing antagonists and a lighter tone to much of its cinematography. Some of the shots were shot with IMAX cameras and even at home on the TV they look stunning. I will say that I feel the movie is rather too long, no matter how much I love it and the performances therein. I do feel that the The Joker and Two-Face stories could have been separated into two separate movies.

Overall these movies are quite different, but both brilliant in their own way. This also gives me high hopes for the possibilities of what there is to come.

Stefan Harkins is gearing up for Prometheus and trying to find time to watch The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy

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