12 December, 2008

Why Batman Begins was Better

Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish to take anything away from the outstanding work that Christopher Nolan is doing.  I really and truly appreciate the direction (sorry about the pun) in which he has taken the Batman big screen experience.  It is much closer to the graphic novels and, so, automatically closer to my heart.
I love a good comic book movie.  I love a good comic.  Comics are the mythos of this civilization.  Of course, some of them are just crap, but I bet it was the same in Ancient Greece or Rome.  Batman has always been my favorite of all the myths on which I grew up.
Nietzsche wrote about the Superman, but the comic book version of that character makes it unreachable.  If you were born here, on Earth, you can never be Superman; at least not in the way Siegel and Shuster envisioned him.  The Superman of Nietzsche, however, is within all of us. 
Nietzsche taught that it was our destiny, our supreme duty, to become the Superman; to create of ourselves the best we could become.  To use whatever gifts or talent with which we were born and hone them to as near perfection as we could drive ourselves.  The comic book version of the Superman took the easy way out by being born on another planet.  Slacker.
But the Batman; ah, the Batman; he is the real Superman.  His powers come from a lifetime of training.  His gadgets come from deep pockets, of course, but they are really quite secondary.  His analytical thinking skills, physical prowess, and unmitigated determination in the pursuit of justice are attributes that any one of us can develop if we but set our minds to it.

The backstory of Batman is so very important to understanding his character, and I was enthralled to see it so seamlessly woven into a modern tale.  They reduced the amount of suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy a superhero movie to almost nothing.  I am not saying there wasn’t an unbelievably high level of happy coincidence in the movie that served to drive the story; there certainly was.  However, I also believe that we, in large measure, are responsible for making our own coincidences, so this does not necessarily detract from the overall believably, in my opinion.
The writers of Batman Begins, Bob Kane especially, did a superb job of developing the character of Batman for the big screen.  But it wasn’t only the character of Bruce Wayne that made this movie great.  The characters of Alfred and Lucius Fox were some of the best supporting roles I have seen in a long time; but I would expect nothing less from Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. 
The dialogue of this movie was simply phenomenal.  Granted, Michael Cain and Morgan Freeman can deliver almost any line with Shakespearean eloquence, but their lines were very well crafted to begin with.  The undertone of humor (nod nod wink wink) in some of the things Morgan said was priceless:
Bruce Wayne: I wanna borrow it. For, uh, spelunking.
Lucius Fox: Spelunking?
Bruce Wayne: Yeah, you know, cave diving.
Lucius Fox: You expecting to run into much gunfire in these caves?

Bruce Wayne: Too expensive for the Army?
Lucius Fox: I don’t think they tried to market it to the billionaire, spelunking, BASE-jumping crowd.
Reading the dialogue still makes me laugh.  It was perfectly written and perfectly delivered.  There are many reasons why this is my favorite superhero movie.  But it is the dialogue, more than anything, that makes this movie not only my favorite superhero movie, but also one of my all-time favorites in general.
Nietzsche also taught that those who go hunting monsters should beware that they do not, themselves, become the monster.  Batman, as the Dark Knight  (in the graphic novels by Frank Miller), has always been the most human of superheroes.  Tortured and flawed, in ways that not even David Boreanaz could have pulled off, the Dark Knight explores the price Bruce Wayne had to pay to become the Batman. 
The Dark Knight also explores the philosophical concept that justice in the present does not cancel out injustice of the past.  Bruce had clung to the hope that by righting wrongs he could release the painful memories of his past.  The Dark Knight series began ten years after he had come to the mind numbing conclusion that the past still hurt, no matter what he did today.  Spiritual evolution, not merely action, was required to release the past.
There is a spiritual lesson of Samsara that I had hoped to see explored in the movie, The Dark Knight.  It would have required the same amount of character driven dialogue in this movie as they had in the last.  I had high expectations, and I was let down.  I didn’t feel the dialogue in The Dark Knight was up to par.  Perhaps it was because the director also wrote the screenplay.  I don’t know.  The movie seems shallow in many regards.
I am not saying that Heath Ledger did not deliver a superb performance.  He most certainly did.  But if it were not for him, the movie would have, quite frankly, sucked.  I do not think it developed the overall story at all and it did nothing for the character development of the Batman.  A few tossed off lines about how he felt he needed to be as bad as the people he fought were not suffiicient to explore the tortured soul of a hero, in my opinion.
And I felt that the whole episode with going to Japan was more of a distraction than it was worth just to deliver a few high angle shots of aerobatics and an extraction technique that they used in The Green Berets forty years ago.
I did feel that the character of the Joker was extremely well developed.  As an arch nemesis, he would have been uniquely well-placed in order to explore the darker side of Batman over the next few movies in the series, if that is what they had planned.  Unfortunately, with the untimely demise of Heath Ledger, I fear that any subsequent actor will not be able to do justice to the character.
But, then again, I also felt that about Dumbledore, and Michael Gambon has done a fine job.  So I shall not claim prescience here.

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