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Thursday, June 16, 2005

 

Batman Begins is the best superhero movie I have ever seen

In 1992, parental outrage over the twisted tone of "Batman Returns" resulted in McDonalds ending its bat-promo. There's no telling what this same crowd is going to make of "Batman Begins," which makes Tim Burton's sequel look like camcorder footage of a preschool play. It's amazing to think that a movie this dark has not only tie-ins toys lining the shelves of Targets across the country, but toothbrushes and DVD players too.

That said, I think it's safe to declare that "Batman Begins" is the boldest, if not the best, film of its kind. The only criticism I can come up with is that it isn't nearly long enough. It contains enough subplots and characters to fill four hours. Because so much material is stuffed into a 135 minute framework, at times, it feels rushed.

The movie's already been praised for its stellar cast, focus on character development and that it feels, looks and breaths a crime drama. Rather than repeat what's already been said elsewhere a million times already, and since I've got about an hour to kill until my shift ends, I'm going to make an argument defending "Batman Begins" as the new reigning champ of superhero movies.

Three other potential candidates immediately spring to mind. "Superman II," "Spiderman II" and Burton's "Batman." How do they stack up against this new Dark Night? Well, let's take a look.




1ST CONTENDER: Batman

Burton and the crew definitely had their hearts in the right crime-ridden Gotham alley. Bruce Wayne here is a tormented soul driven to vengeance by the death of his parents. The set design is brilliant, the Batmobile is about as iconic as a movie prop gets and Jack Nicholson gives a great, coked-up performance as the Joker...and, well, there you go. He ruled the movie to the point that it should have been called Joker. Nicholson received nearly the same amount of screentime as an obviously miscast Michael Keaton. And then there's the climax. Let me get this straight, the Joker storms the streets of Gotham on a parade float handing out millions of dollars as Prince blares over the soundtrack. After the bulletproof Batwing is taken down by a single shot from a handgun, a friggin' handgun, the movie concludes with a half-assed, poorly orchaestrated fist fight at the top of a cathedral. Aftewards, the Joker falls his to death like a generic Disney villian. And this was an improvement over the campy '60s show?




2ND CONTENDER: Superman II

Christopher Reeve was born, if not grown in a tube as part of a Cold War-era government experiment, to play the part and the film is littered with iconic scenes. The brawl that takes down half of Metropolis. The scene where a powerless Clark Kent gets his ass kicked in a truck stop. "Kneel before Zod." But the film's supporting cast is downright terrible. Margot Kidder played Lois Lane as a whiny, perscription painkiller-fueled nag rather than the intrepid reporter from the comic books. Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor is a goofball con man with a full head of hair (a wig but still...) and not a brilliant billionare with too much time on his hands. The film's climax is filled with ridiculously half-baked moments. Superman attacks a foe with a cellophane insignia inexplicably removed from his chest (as last week's Family Guy pointed out, "What's the deal with that?!!"). In one of the film's final scene, he "magically" makes Lois forget his true identity with a wave of his hand. Sure, the Son of Krypton can turn back time but his efforts to fill plotholes aren't quite as effective.




3RD CONTENDER: Spiderman II

It's been almost universally praised as the best superhero film ever made. Rather than roll out two hours of set pieces and action, the film focuses on Peter Parker's struggle to come to terms with his ability to spit webbing out of his wrists and walk on walls. But ultimately the film is too talky. Did it really need that scene with Peter Parker and the girl next door who brings him cake? Or the seemingly endless conversation between him and Aunt May as she prepares to move? That's ten minutes of celluloid that would have been better filled with Alfred Molina's "Doc Oc," who didn't receive nearly enough screentime. Or more scenes of Spiderman beating the crap out of people.




4th CONTENDER: Batman Begins

All the nuances of an Oscar contender. Plenty of character development. Great cast. Great performances. Plenty of action and scary imagery for the kiddies. All in all, a perfect example of what happens when you hand this sort of thing to the right people, give them plenty of money and then get out of their way.

I say "Batman Begins" wins this contest but decide for yourself.

UPDATE: On second thought, don't bother. I'm 100% right on this one.

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