Film fanatics and friends Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. There has been a few disagreements, a few mutual pleasures, but mainly there has been a cinematic education of sorts for both.
The film at number eight in Yasser’s list is the first of a trilogy he expects to be “THE trilogy of [his] life”. Did Fred like it?
You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.
To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.
Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
Yasser: Fred, this week you’ve been given ‘Batman Begins‘. As you know, Batman is my favourite superhero and character. I absolutely love him
Fred: Yes. You have a shrine, I believe
YA: It’s not a shrine. It’s a display
FS: You love Batman and you love Christopher Nolan. This film was always going to be in your top 10, wasn’t it?
YA: Yes. It came in eighth when I made the list. It might be the hype of ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘, but it’s possible it should be higher on my list
YA: The pace of the film is fantastic. The way the origin story, illustrating Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) journey before becoming Batman, doesn’t seem like a chore whilst you are waiting for him to become Batman. To be honest, Wayne’s origin story feels like the better half of the film, and the Batman half feels slightly rushed
FS: It did feel a little hurried in places, particularly around when he decides to become Batman. I’d have expected a little more incredulous opposition from Alfred (Michael Caine), for instance
FS: When it began, and there is the sequence with Bale, Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe in the mountains where Bale gets trained in all his fighting skills, I thought ‘this is the most Yasser-friendly movie I’ve ever seen‘
YA: (laughs) What?
FS: Fight scenes? Check. Disillusioned hero follows a mystical path to enlightenment? Check. Liam Neeson? Check
FS: There was elements of a lot of your other choices and, I’ll be honest, that section was the part I enjoyed the least. All in all, though, it was really, really good
FS: Oh yeah! So enjoyable!
YA: I can melt with relief now
FS: (laughs) There was nothing that hadn’t been done before, but what Nolan does, like Spielberg before him, is make things feel new, and that is a great trick
YA: Let’s start with Nolan. I believe he’s a living legend
FS: Hmmmm… how many films has he made? Six? Eight?
FS: He might go down in history if he keeps this standard up. Why do you like him so much?
YA: He’s a film-maker of old. He doesn’t like CGI, 3-D, digital film. He has a direct style. He doesn’t piss about with strange trickery. He likes to stage big productions and only uses CGI to enhance a shot, if required
FS: Good man
YA: What do you think of him?
FS: I’ve seen three of his films and he seems to be getting better and better. Through the evolution of ‘Memento‘, this and then ‘Inception‘ you can see he’s learned how to pace a film. He also has a knack of getting stunning visuals on film. The look and feel of Gotham City, for instance, was perfect. You’d never want to go there! My favourite thing about him, though, is he always makes sure he has good actors in his cast. That makes a big difference to me
YA: Good actors now flock to him if they’re called
FS: Oh! Also, he doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. If you miss a plot point in his films it’s tough. You just have to play catch up
YA: Some people didn’t think Christian Bale was right for the role
FS: I’m surprised at that, but then they said that about Michael Keaton too. I think Bale will go down as the definitive big-screen Batman
YA: Those idiots ate their words after this came out
FS: It’s tough for an actor playing a superhero to make the role believable, but he did just that. I never once questioned Wayne’s motivation to become Batman and that is down to Bale
YA: Exactly. Bale got it just right
FS: I like it when an action hero is shown to be fallible by getting injured or being outsmarted. This happens to Batman and it adds to my support for the character
YA: Yes! Bale played three characters, in essence: Batman, Bruce Wayne, and the Wayne he shows to the public
FS: … which was funny. He wasn’t quite convincing in his public persona, but I think that was deliberate
YA: Bale was surrounded by a big cast of good actors. Let’s talk about Bruce Wayne’s greatest ally, Alfred Pennyworth, played by Sir Michael Caine
FS: Caine is loveable, and that is key for the role
YA: He’s very much the heart of the film, and was Wayne’s conscience when required
FS: It would have made sense to have him question Wayne’s actions a bit more, but that isn’t Caine’s fault. He was charming, humourous and had great chemistry with Bale. You felt the love
YA: Caine came across really well. You felt Alfred’s effort in trying to raise Bruce to be a good man despite the circumstances he went through as a child, but even he couldn’t save Wayne from his past which led him to run away from home and go to the far east. Here, he meets Henri Ducard (Neeson). You mentioned that you didn’t like this sequence. Why is that?
YA: How was Neeson?
FS: I’d forgotten about him when he returns later in the film, but I was pleased when he did. His character’s motivations were a bit odd, but they were no more odd than most action movie villains
YA: He wasn’t the only baddie Batman faced. He was also confronted by Dr. Jonathan Crane aka Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). I think with Batman finding his feet and confronting his fears Scarecrow was probably the best choice for Batman to encounter
FS: You mean that to go straight in with one of the more famous villains would have been too much, too soon?
FS: Murphy didn’t have a lot of screen time, so I’d agree with that. If The Joker or Penguin had so little screen time the fans would have felt short-changed. It was enough to give them a new Batman
YA: ‘Batman Begins’ was essentially about Wayne confronting his fears. I don’t think it was necessarily about him facing external antagonists
FS: Well as a villain who brought those fears to the surface, he was a good choice
YA: Freeman’s character was similar to Caine’s
FS: Yes, that’s true. Some good moments, good chemistry with Bale…
YA: Tom Wilkinson was threatening throughout as Carmine Falcone. His gangster accent was epic!
YA: I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play anything poorly
FS: No – never
YA: A really significant relationship in the film is Batman’s partnership with Sgt. Jim Gordon (Oldman). Gary Oldman was impressive, wasn’t he?
FS: I never really knew what to make of him in the past. A lot of his performances have left me cold, and I find he used to overplay his roles. That was the reason I was apprehensive about him playing George Smiley. However, he was excellent as Smiley and he’s excellent here. In fact, he was the best actor in the film. I enjoyed his performance more than anyone else’s
YA: With good performances all round
FS: Yeah. He’s someone I’m appreciating more as I get older
YA: I like to think that in all things Batman, it’s essential to have a Batmobile. In a way. it’s a character in itself. The Tumbler they have in ‘Batman Begins’ is awesome. They made a 400 bhp car that could turn corners and batter through walls
FS: It was pretty cool, and not what you expect the Batmobile to look like
YA: So Fred, what didn’t you like?
YA: It was about a guy who dresses like a bat?
FS: (laughs) Well remembered! No. I found the editing was shoddy in places
YA: How so?
FS: In the first half, there were scenes, such as the first chase involving the Batmobile, where the cuts didn’t match. It was very clunky and heavy-handed
YA: Nolan likes to move on. He’s famous for getting the scene right in one or two takes and not doing it again and again
FS: I was surprised that such a smooth director would allow such slips in his film
FS: Is there anything else you want to talk about? What do you love about it that we haven’t mentioned so far?
YA: It’s very hard to explain why I love this film so much. Batman is very fundamental to my childhood, and this realises what I want for Batman on the big screen to perfection. It was a very sincere approach, and I think it is true to the comics. It should be higher on my list… AAAAH! It’s just too epic
FS: (laughs) It’s a top-drawer Hollywood blockbuster. It’s exciting, engrossing and contains great set-pieces. Nolan, Spielberg’s heir for making big budget films that are intelligent and entertaining, is a masterful director and his greatest quality is his refusal to cast bad actors. The cast are all very good, with Oldman, Caine and Wilkinson particularly good. As for Christian Bale, it took me while to warm to him, but he will surely go down as the definitive movie Batman. Alas, the clunky editing in the first half and the rushed pace of the second were minuses. Also, whilst the action was exciting, I never felt tense. That said, I’d watch this again. It wasn’t perfect but it gets a very high 8/10
Next time: Yasser gives his opinion on ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’