Occasionally I write reviews of movies (Revenge of the Sith, Hitchhiker's Guide) that I think will be of interest to J2EE programmers. The movie Batman Begins opened in theaters in the United States this week. It's a great summer movie, a terrific reinvention of the Batman franchise, and one of the best comic book movies ever made.
Tim Burton revived the Batman character and reinvented the comic book movie with 1989's Batman (staring Michael Keaton). Until then, comic book movies had become pretty campy and silly--witness the Batman TV series from the '60's (staring Adam West) and the Superman movies in the '80's (staring Christopher Reeve). Burton took the genre back to its dark roots. Unfortunately, Joel Schumacher took over and couldn't help himself but make the stories campy again, and in the process ruined the franchise, with Batman Forever (Val Kilmer) and Batman & Robin (George Clooney).
In 2002, Sam Raimi (of The Evil Dead fame!) brought comic book movies back to life with Spider-Man. Raimi took a lot of grief for casting Tobey Maguire, who doesn't exactly exude action machismo, in the title role. But Maguire is a very good actor who brought depth-of-character to the conflicted Peter Parker, who suddenly has these newfound powers and isn't quite sure what to do with them. The movie focuses around Parker trying to learn what to do with his powers, and Spider-Man 2 around him trying to live with these duel identities.
Now Christopher Nolan--who came to fame with the story-told-backwards movie Memento (staring Guy Pearce)--has built upon Burton's resurrection of the franchise and Raimi's modernization of the comic book genre, and produced the best comic book movie yet. Thanks to writers Nolan and David S. Goyer, this comic book story actually has plot twists, surprises, ambiguous characters, and betrayal. Batman is not so much saving the good guys from the bad guys as he is helping to save Gotham from itself. This story is much more focused on the character of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) becoming Batman, rather than on the villains. There's depth of feeling in the characters and nuanced dialog to express the feelings without explicitly stating them, such as Alfred's (Michael Caine) genuine concern for his young charge. The sets are visually stunning, such as the elevated trains gliding through Gotham, with its multi-layers of office towers and underground slums. The props are awesome, such as the Tumbler--what you'd get if a dune buggy mated with a tank--the precursor to the Batmobile. Whereas many of the scenes of Spider-Man web slinging through the city look computer generated, the Batman movie looks much more real, purportedly because it was filmed with stunts instead of animated using CGI.
Batman Begins borrows good elements from other successful movies. It's quite an action movie, reminiscent of the Die Hard movies (Bruce Willis), with lots of hand-to-hand combat, crashes, and explosions. It builds on Spider-Man's story of a boy/man discovering how to be a superhero. The gadgetry carries on the traditions of James Bond. A father-and-son ruling the world theme harkens back to a little series called Star Wars. I point out these similarities not to disparage the new Batman movie, but to show that the writers (much like the Wachowski brothers) have learned well the lessons of other good movies and applied them here (a talent which many writers don't seem to possess).
Batman Begins is rated PG-13 for action violence and for rather horrendous images caused by psychotropic drugs. Plus the plot is rather complex and some of the dialog intricate, which requires some sophistication to follow. So this isn't a good movie for young children. (The one next to me kept asking his dad (and no, that's not me) what was going on every step of the way.)
Batman Begins is one of the best movies of the summer. This is the thinking man's comic book movie. If you like summer blockbusters, this is one to see.