Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The reviews are in...

Okay, so I saw You Know What tonight. And I kept finding the insatiable bat-fetishist in me getting brushed aside by the trend-tracking sociologist. Here's the instant response--and I guess I should insert a spoiler alert here, although I don't think I'm giving away anything major:

1. Damn, is that thing LONG. I was convinced four hours had gone by--three, easy. (Surprise: it's just over two.) Given how much the filmmakers have taken on (Bruce's missing years, complicated gangster saga, multiple villains, etc), I don't see how they could do it in any less time or any faster (those cuts in the combat sequences are migh-tee fast as it is), but it just seemed to go on and on. (I had the same complaint about the second Spider-Man movie, which everybody else seemed to love, so maybe it's just my Attention Deficit Disorder actin' up or somethin'.)

2. Interesting, isn't it, how so many blockbusters these days strive for such epic sweep--and ask for such major investments of time and attention span from audiences, even though we keep hearing that nobody has much of either any more? And not only are individual films longish, they tend to be single installments in trilogies (Star Wars, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, and now, apparently, Batman). Which actually works pretty well for modern-day comics, since--as in lots of recent TV series--storylines generally unfold in long, multi-issue arcs. (BTW, thank god some of the bad guys actually get away in this one; the tendency to kill them all off was my number one beef about the earlier batmovies. How can Batman be locked in lifelong struggle against an archenemy if the poor sap dies after two hours? Whatever happened to dragging them off to jail, only to have them escape a year or two later? That always worked well for me...)

3. Fun to watch the screenwriters weave together so many threads from various comics--not just the Year One and Long Halloween stories I figured would be there, but also The Last Arkham, elements of the R'as Al Ghul mythology, even a little of the texture (if not the actual plot) of the whole post-earthquake-Gotham-as-war-zone stuff from a few years ago. And hey, a shout out to Mr. Zsasz! (What, no naked body shot?) It's a giant hodgepodge, but somehow it works.

4. New suit: hot. (Still miss the spandex, but I guess we'll never ever see that in an official batfilm--though I notice the new Superman seems to be sportin' the lycra.) Wish we could see more of the outfit. But maybe that's what the next 2 movies (and the inevitable collector's-edition DVDs) are for. Side note: have you seen the accompanying toys? There's a utility belt I would kill for, if only it came in an adult size.

5. Speaking of kids, this really doesn't seem to be made for them, which suits me just fine. For starters, there's that length issue. But then the whole approach to the character is pretty adult--and it's ABOUT TIME.

6. Christian Bale: cute. May even replace Val Kilmer as sexiest movie Batman. But it's weird, having seen him as a little kid in Empire of the Sun not so very very long ago, to watch him play a character I've always taken to be older than me. It was one thing when I realized some of the movie Batmen were my age or slightly younger, but I'm not sure I can handle being closer to Alfred than Bruce.

7. The new car: silly. I like the basic idea, but when it starts leaping from rooftop to rooftop, and the only way in and out of the batcave is via a waterfall, we're talking Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, people. Might not bug me so much if the filmmakers didn't go on and on about how they've taken a realistic approach to the story. (The aforementioned chase sequence was the moment where I felt like the filmmakers had lost me. Though they got me back eventually, I guess.)

8. Bruce's spiritual quest: naturally I like this. Okay, so he's attended the School of Star Wars Philosophy, but it's still nice to see a film deal with this stuff. And I love the twist that it's Bruce himself (more than the criminals) who's afraid of bats.

9. Overall, a very successful job of relaunching the, ahem, franchise. (It always bugs me when folks discuss this as a revamp of the film series. This character has been around for over 70 years--in comics, newspapers, radio, serials, live-action tv, animation, etc. Making a new film about him is not exactly like doing a remake of The Dukes of Hazzard.) The new film is every bit as fresh a re-invention of the bat saga as the Tim Burton movies were, and I actually like it a lot more than those, even if it didn't quite blow me away the way I hoped it might.

10. Oh, yeah: I've already vented many times about my aversion to origin stories, but I must say, that aspect of BB didn't bother me too much. The basic strategy seems completely of a piece with the Star Wars prequels (which I didn't really like any less than episodes 4-6, since I didn't care for them too much to begin with): take a series of iconic characters and show, in sometimes painstaking detail, how they came into being. Everybody knows how the story is going to end, so the challenge is to make the journey something special. So the filmmakers get a chance to investigate aspects of the saga that aren't particularly essential to the narrative, but that still shed light on the larger story. In this era of DVD commentaries and bonus features (and special edition double-disc repackages of classic albums, for that matter), it's like the entire prequel is a bonus feature. That could easily be overkill, but this time it just doesn't bug me. It's safe to say that if this were the first time I encountered the Batman character, I'd still be intrigued.

11. Bonus: thank you, thank you, THANK you, Chris Nolan and company, for resisting the urge to have your characters spout wisecracks every few minutes. And I'm not just talking about the last two bat-films, by any means: for the last two decades or longer, EVERY big action film and horror film (and BB is a bit of both) has been plagued with this tendency, and it ruins many a movie for me. There are a few one-liners in BB, but they don't appear for at least an hour or so, and they're totally welcome, since the film is otherwise so relentlessly (and deliciously) sober and serious.

So that's my take. How about posting yours below?

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