Sunday, June 24, 2012

Batman Begins – The Ascension

I still remember that Sunday morning when I was a ten year old, Sunday mornings were something we eagerly awaited, but that was a day I was looking forward to with much anticipation for that was the day when Batman – The Animated Series was to be premiered on National TV at 10.30 am if my memory serves me right. When compared to other comic book heroes that we have grown up watching and reading, Batman comes with a darker tone much like his Bat Suit– a brooding crime fighter, with a scarred history of watching his parents die in front of him, he is no superhero like Spiderman or The Hulk, who possess superpowers that are acquired owing to a scientific experiment gone wrong, nor is he from another planet like his DC Comics counterpart Superman. What he does possess are the resources, he is a billionaire with an inherited wealth, much like Tony Stark/Ironman but only less cocky and arrogant. Yet he is reduced to a comical and asinine vigilante in the Adam West starring TV series of 1960s which was punctuated with Pows! Booms and Kapows! 

Earlier Batman adaptations to the big screen by Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton stuck within the pages of the comic book, Batman was morose and Bruce Wayne was more businesslike, Gotham looked gothic like any of those settings from a Tim Burton movie which only made me wonder why Batman would risk his life to save such a ugly looking city. The villains were more of a caricature–the bigger and established stars such as Nicholson, Schwarzenegger, Devito and Jim Carrey were nowhere near threatening as the bad guys. We as viewers had no emotional investment to the characters, we knew Batman would save the day, the villains were less maniacal and more dependent on their histrionics, much like Loki from The Avengers. It would be a walk in the park for Batman and we would walk out of the theatres with the perception of our hero tainted and nothing to take away from it. It would be unfair to blame Burton and Schumacher for having underplayed Batman’s aura on screen, nobody expected much from comic book adaptations those days after all. And in the year 2005 it all changed.

Christopher Nolan changed the whole template of how comic books had to be made into a movie. Sam Raimi had started with Spider-Man three years earlier by giving us a closer look at all that Peter Parker had to lose to become Spider Man, the curse of being a Hero which the whole city looked up to, the baggage that came along with it. Although Spider Man was well made by Raimi, it was still bound by the confines of Marvel comics. Maybe that was what Sony Pictures wanted–to veer off as little as you could from the comic books and to stay true to its source. When the Batman reboot was handed over to Christopher Nolan, he along with his writers Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer did not just show us Batman, but also showed us the philosophy that had went into making him “The Batman”. In Batman Begins they went deep into his past, they showed us what it took Bruce Wayne from being a Princeton dropout to being The Batman, the Prince of Gotham who watches over the city while it sleeps. 

They also gave more defining roles to the multitude of characters from DC’s Batman universe, we were introduced to Lucius Fox who heads the rundown Applied Sciences division in Wayne Enterprises, and now is to Bruce Wayne what Q was to James Bond, the wise Alfred is not just limited as Bruce’s butler but is also his voice of reason and sanity during times of distress, like a father he guides Bruce Wayne with his sage like discourses. There is Rachel Dawes Bruce’s childhood friend and love interest, who was never a part of the DC universe but was specifically created by Nolan to give a straight-forward, honest and by-the-book attorney whose mantra “It’s not what you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you” motivates Bruce Wayne to become The Batman.

The story begins with Bruce still reeling from the death of his parents at a young age, trying to come to terms with their demise while misusing the rage building within him to take vengeance against Joe Chill, the man who killed them.  When admonished by Rachel for being self-centered and mistaking revenge with justice, he leaves Gotham to learn the ways of the criminal underworld, and the skills necessary to fight against it. His journey leads him to Henri Ducard who takes him under his wings and trains him as a ninja amongst the crime fighting outfit League of Shadows headed by the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul. Things only sour between the two when Bruce’s principles clash with that of Ducard, when he is asked to kill a man as a way of exacting justice for the crime he has committed, a method he does not believe in since his eyes were opened by Rachel. After much carnage at the home of the League of Shadows, having left it in shambles, Bruce returns to Gotham to only find it in a sorry state of affairs where the cops are in bed with the criminals. Poverty and injustice run amok as there is no one to stand up against the dreaded mafia kingpin Carmine Falcone, who secretly deals with Dr. Jonathan Crane of Arkham Asylum to help him procure a drug that causes severe mental psychosis and hallucinations.  

Bruce Wayne who once suffered from his fear of bats overcomes those fears and uses the winged creature as a symbol to fight crime. Expert in the art of deception, master in theatrics, and laced with a hoarse voice that strikes fear within the hearts of criminals The Batman takes it upon himself to clean the streets of Gotham, albeit never acting as the Judge, Jury and Executioner but only delivering criminals at the doorstep of the Law with his methods. Batman Begins also focuses on how the Caped Crusader goes on to be allies with Jim Gordon, then lieutenant of Gotham City–a cop who helplessly watches his colleagues cut deals with criminals. Batman Begins has a modest beginning in terms of the set pieces when compared with The Dark Knight and the soon to be released The Dark Knight Rises, also it is the only film in the trilogy to not have a single scene shot in IMAX, it although is rich in content with enough time given for Batman to make his first appearance, solely focusing on the life of Bruce Wayne till then.

With a dark and realistic setting Nolan had given us a Gotham city to care for, it no more looked like an archaic and crammed city like how it was portrayed in previous Batman flicks–having shot in Chicago and parts of United Kingdom it more or less resembled a real city, with the poverty stricken and crime affected part of Gotham, the Narrows, modeled on the slums of Kowloon in Hong Kong. The score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer gives an epic feel for a movie that dealt with the birth of a much revered and enigmatic Hero, and even today listening to the intro theme “Vespertillo” gives you a feel of witnessing something larger than life. 

When Henri Ducard explains to Bruce Wayne about what differentiates a vigilante from a legend, he says that a legend is he who devotes himself to an ideal that makes him more than just a man, there are many such axioms that go into being a hero. In Batman Begins Christopher Nolan had shown us the principles which went into the making of a Hero, and it is in the gripping and adrenaline filled sequel does the Hero grow on to become a Legend. But then, I have saved that story for another Sunday morning.

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