Thursday, June 16, 2005


The Story That Unveils the Real Dark Knight
By Reymundo Salao

I have been a longtime fan of Batman since childhood. It was especially when I saw the comic books in the late 80's that was refurbishing the Batman concept away from it's campy late-60's image popularized by the cartoons and the Adam West television series, into a serious, brooding crime fighter who doesn't resemble a children's cartoon at all. I have loved the Batman genre, not only because of his cool gothic demon-like anti-hero persona but because he's the only prominent superhero who does not have superpowers. He just relies on his quick wits, his agile strength, and his more-than-Houdini tricks & illusions. He can't fly like Superman, but he can glide, leap distances. He can't walk on walls with his bare hands like Spidey, but he has gadgets like claws that could let him do the same. He doesn't shoot lasers or power rays out of his eyes or fingertips to stop crime, he uses his skill in martial arts and a cunning sense of intimidation, his power of striking fear into the hearts of the evildoers with his image itself. He is Batman, the Dark Knight of Gotham City.

The 1989 adaptation of Batman by director Tim Burton was phenomenal. But it may have upset diehard fans, for it was a film that made changes in the origin of the Batman. Its sequel "Batman Returns" also made alterations in the storyline, not to mention the level of Batman's gadgets that was pushing the limits of wackiness. But the unhappy fans were very very few, because everybody who loved the Batman was happy enough with the way Tim Burton was directing the film; his balanced sense of bizarre style that captured the gothic, the "seemingly-30's era- yet-strangely timeless" style: it made Batman the serious, caped crusader that he is, and not the colorful silly style of the Adam West version or the 1980's cartoon version.

Burton's style was so good, and his Batman films so popular that it spawned the animated TV series which (may consciously or unconsciously) adapted Burton's sensibilities. The animated series itself also became a phenomenal success in TV history, becoming one of the first successful cartoons series that touched on mature issues such as Vengeance, Hatred, Crime, and Social Prejudice. While Burton's movies altered the original Batman storyline, the animated series was more true to the comicbooks, as each episode seemed like it could also serve as a dissection of the criminally insane.

All hell broke loose and the Batman reputation crumbled at a quick instance when Warner Brothers decided they want more money; in doing so, they wanted the Batman franchise to be more kid-friendly. Joel Schumacher was hired to direct the new Batman movies. It was a disaster. Schumacher wanted Batman to be less brooding, less angry, less stoic. The result was that the two Batman movies: "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" became replicas of what seemed to be a cross between Power Rangers and Michael Jackson. They were the two ugliest movies in film history. Apart from making it too childish was its odd over-queer approach: Batman's costume had nipples, in one scene, Batman's butt was intentionally focused in zoom, and the sets were too glamorous that it seemed to become a drag-queen version of Moulin Rouge. Schumacher was lambasted by fans, his career severely tarnished, and the Batman franchise was closed down in shame, as it watched other comicbook adaptations become successes because they didn't follow Schumacher's mistake. "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" were two very very ugly films that fans would rather forget about, or deny ever having existed.

Several years have passed and may other comicbook adaptations have become critically and financially great successes. Superman's already signed up for a sequel due next year entitled "Superman Returns" Everybody was asking "When was Batman's turn to grace the new millennium?" Well, if you look back at the last Batman movie, you'd ask, "How can you make a decent sequel out of THAT PILE OF CRAP?" At least Superman can make a comeback in continuity because the last Superman movie was decent enough. Batman also had the flaw made by Burton, which was the storyline alteration. Warner Brothers, along with its director Christopher Nolan (who directed the mind boggling MEMENTO and the thought-provoking INSOMNIA) and its writer David Goyer (who wrote the screenplay of BLADE) perhaps have thought that they had no choice but to remake the whole thing; retell the deeper story of the Batman, and start from the very beginning, a beginning that will once and for all, serve as the foundation of what is to be the saga of the Batman. That is why this summer, BATMAN BEGINS…

This film is very expensive. I'm not talking about film sets, costumes, and explosions, I'm talking about its intoxicatingly stellar cast: You have the respectable Japanese actor ("The Last Samurai) Ken Watanabe as the mysterious Ra's Al Ghul, Cilian Murphy ("28 Days Later) as The Scarecrow, Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, and "Oskar Schindler" himself, Liam Neeson as Ducard. That's only half of it. There's the mainstay cast of the entire Batman saga; Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine is Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucious Fox. It is clear that this film is bent to be precious in its acting weight and impact rather than stunts and special effects. There isn't much to tell about the cast: they were all superb.

Understandably, this tells the origin story of how Batman came to be, so we really can't expect to see Batman in his full costumed form up until halfway through the movie. It finally tells how Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered. The previous films tells that Joker was the one who killed them, but this new version is more faithful to the original storyline: That the one who killed them was just a nobody from the slums, just a clumsy thug who was resorting to violence in his desperation in poverty. And Bruce Wayne never was able to exact vengeance on this person, that is why he takes his war, not only against one criminal, but a war against all crime; all evil. This storyline is beautifully orchestrated into film by its director Christopher Nolan, who takes a very heavy dramatic treatment into the film, making Bruce's tragedy very real, and his transformation into a fighting machine of justice very realistic. The screenplay of David Goyer is a touch of genius as he bridges the origins of how Batman came to his learn skills of martial arts and deception, with the storyline of one of the villains Ra's Al Ghul. And how that bridge came to be connected with why Bruce cannot fully become an ally of Ra's Al Ghul, who believes that death is a worthy punishment of those who do evil. Halfway through the fiulm, you'd wish Schumacher was beside you so that you can shout at him "Teh? Kaya Mo NA?!"

What makes Batman the superhero is his firm belief that killing is not the ultimate punishment, not the ultimate solution to uphold justice. Though dark and demonlike as he may be, his is not the evil that he fights, and draws a line between them. His moral virtues stand proud and unflinching, a shade of black that shines in the darkness.

Although the film is meant to entice a more mature audience because of its heavier storytelling elements rather than eye-candy, parents should not be afraid to bring along their kids with them to watch this film, because Batman's morality serves as a good example of self-discipline and humanity. And for those who would have wanted a bit more eye-candy for the Batman franchise, at least you can expect that the sequel (which was clearly hinted at the epilogue) can be crammed with action and explosions, it is because the foundation has already been established. And Batman has already begun…

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