Friday, June 10, 2005

The Dark Knight and I: Thoughts on the Batman Movie Franchise

Be warned that this is a long read, but it caters to fans and non fans of the Dark Knight. So please bear with me, and I hope you can discuss your thoughts with mine.

The Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939, as Detective Comic's answer to Action Comic's Superman. A darker, grittier hero compared to the Last Boy Scout of Krypton. He doesn't have any superhuman powers,instead relying on his detective skills to solve crime and dresses up as a human bat to strike fear into the heart of the criminal underworld. The appeal is that he's believable, and with the right amount of training and circumstance, he could be you or me.

Batman has evolved from the Bob Kane and Bill Finger days, taking on, in the process, a slew of highly original villains like the Joker, Catwoman and The Penguin, just to name a few. The appeal of Batman is in his rich rogue's gallery. In the hands of different storytellers, tales can range from camp (the 60s space aged stories of fighting aliens), to the more psychological, edgy tales of today.

I've grown up with the campy days of the Adam West television series, the introduction and withdrawal of the yellow circle around the bat symbol in the costume, the art of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle to Jim Lee's beautiful rendition in the recent Hush storyline. Cartoons I watched which featured Batman ranged from kiddy-ish Superfriends, to the Batman Animated Series by Warner Bros.

Batman turns 66 this year. It's a long time, but its pop cultural icon status is still going strong. My intention of this article is to share with you my thoughts of the movies (the last four, and the upcoming one), from a fan boy point of view.

Have You Ever Danced With the Devil By the Pale Moonlight?

Batman turned 50 in the year 1989, and I was a schoolboy just starting secondary school. Bat-mania dawned upon us with countless of merchandising, second only to Star Wars. I still remember watching this film at the old Changi theatre, and when the lights dimmed, everyone was going "shhhhh" as we're introduced to Danny Elfman's wonderful Bat theme and opening credits scene which revealed the Bat logo.

In this movie, we're introduced to the origins of both Batman and the Joker. Which works because this is the first movie of its kind and draws the audience into the Bat world. This introducing of origins also sets the structure in which the rest of the Bat films will follow - You have to show how (especially the villains) are created, what plans they have on Gotham/World domination, and how they get fall under the shadow of the bat, all within 2 hours.

Tim Burton was a relative unknown, given his success at that time was Pee Wee and Beetlejuice, which also starred Michael Keaton. However, he stuck to a vision that everyone expected - that of Frank Miller's Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Fans were skeptical if Michael Keaton can deliver as the dark knight, but his performance brought on a decent Bruce Wayne, and a manacing Batman. The first lines?

[The Batman hoists the thug over the side of a building]
Defeated Thug pleading for his life: "Don't kill me man! Don't kill me!"
Batman: "I'm not going to kill you. I want you to tell all your friends about me"
Defeated Thug peeing in his pants: "Who are you?"
Batman: "I'm Batman"
[The Batman throws the thug back to the ground, before leaping over the edge. The thug peeps over, and is in disbelief as he sees no one, and no blood]

Spot on! Michael Keaton developed 2 voices for Batman/Bruce Wayne, with the former being lower in tone. He set the benchmark in which the other Batmans/Bruce Waynes will be compared. Nice touches in the script also demonstrates the Bat's penchant for appearing and disappearing, which adds to his mystery as an urban legend, and his crashing through the skylight of the museum with cape spread? Priceless. The "putting on the batsuit" scene also set a precedence, and the rest of the films will have something similar.

And who could forget Jack Nicholson's Joker, who really stole the show as he danced along to Prince's soundtrack for the movie (which rocks by the way. Prince still holds the honour of single handedly performing all musical tracks for a Batman movie. The others had flavours of the day. More later). I remembered the first time I saw the Joker's face (heavily guarded secret at that time), and saw the permanent maniacal smile that sent the chills. Nicholson, though a bit pudgy for the role (check the comics - the definitive look by Adams, Aparo, Borland, is always slim), owned the trademarked laughter.

The movie introduced a myriad of support characters, some of whom are staples in the comics - Alfred the Butler (played by Michael Gough, one of the constant in this franchise), Commissioner Gordon (played by Pat Hingle, also another constant), Harvey Dent (yes, he's in the movie as District Attorney, played by Billy Dee Williams) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger!), and some of whom are created for this movie, like mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance), reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and Jerry Hall as Alicia.

But one "character" stood out amongst all. The Batmobile. Always a feature in the comic books, and always the one which attracts all the attention. To many fans and movie goers, this is the definitive Batmobile for the movies - menacing looking, yet slick and beautiful, with a big bad afterburner to deliver that extra turbo boost. The audience gasped in awe the first time it was on screen, parked outside the museum when Vicki Vale was saved. I always drool at the poster - the one with Batman, arms folded, standing beside the Batmobile.

While the film's narrative was dark, twisted yet fun, and Gotham being brought to life by sets designed by the late Anton Furst, fanboys did have some qualms about the movie, which I will discuss here.

Firstly, Batman doesn't kill. Sure, he'll kick the ass out of you, but he draws the line at taking a life. This is something which will resonate throughout the movie franchise, which I detest. Yes I know, it's Hollywood, and body count makes an action movie. Similarly, guns are out of the question - so why did he equip the Batmobile and Bat-wing with machine guns and bombs?

Although the budget was huge, some effects were still cheesy, like the Joker's helicopter, which was really a toy model (no attempts to make it no so obvious), and the entire crashing of the Bat-wing into the streets of Gotham looks like it took a poor man's lesson from Godzilla's model making. There are many more bloopers which I can highlight, but I don't want to bitch about it more than I should.

While touching on the origins, it pays not to screw it up big time. Sure you can update it for the movies, but some things are sacred and should stay as such. Sure, we're shown the Waynes being gunned down in Crime Alley (and that scene in which Bruce pays regular homage is noteworthy), but it's always to an unknown Joe Chill. Here, the Joker (as Jack Napier) was the killer, just to facilitate the plot. I would like to state that the Joker did not kill the Waynes. Never did, and this aspect never will change.

Also, with origins, Jim Gordon wasn't Commissioner when the Batman first appeared (ok, slightly contentious here, since Bob Kane did introduce Gordon as Commissioner, and only in recent times had this been changed. But I'm sticking to the latter). My main gripe here is the relationship - there is zero chemistry between Gordon and Batman, which I hoped would improve in the latter movies, but was utterly disappointed. Their relationship is key in the mythos, and sadly, this was always overlooked. Gordon in the movies is just a support cameo character. Sad, but true.

We don't see much of what Bruce Wayne does. Vicki Vale's question "and what do you do for a living" was conveniently interrupted by Alfred the Butler. Sure we know he has his millions, but what does he do besides walking around town? Wayne Tech / Wayne Industries are not shown in Burton's movies, which are key areas in which Batman derives his toys from.

The politics behind the scene also set the tone in which the movies are marketed, i.e. Villains as the highlight, not Batman. Which I feel is wrong. Sure, the villains make the hero interesting, and here, the villains' roles are hotly contested amongst the who's who of Hollywood. Notice the poster for Batman, the marquee says "Nicholson Keaton". Yes, I know Nicholson's the bigger star, but still...

It's not as if I disliked the film. I liked it, and so do many others back in 1989. Many fans were satisfied with the outcome, and made it the Blockbuster for that year. Naturally with its success, a sequel was definitely in the works.

The Bat, The Cat and The Penguin

Batman Returns premiered 3 years after the first Batman, bringing back the Burton-Keaton team. The villains, although the spotlight is on both The Penguin and Catwoman, included a character created just for the sequel - Max Shreck, played by Christopher Walken, a corrupt mall chain owner bent on owning all of Gotham's electrical power.

While the narrative managed to bring all 3 villains into the fold nicely, I felt that things could have been better if the focus was still kept on the main Bat villains. Since the villains again are the spotlight, I'll cover them first.

Tim Burton's prints were everywhere in the creation of this version of the Penguin - a freak of nature, condemned to living in the sewers of Gotham while planning for his grand comeback to the real world, aided by Max Shreck. Again, the costume and makeup were until heavy wraps, and it was reported that Danny DeVito kept in character most of the time, hoping to beat his friend Jack Nicholson on the impact that this character could have on audiences. The Penguin's origin is one filled with, and ended in, tragedy. I remembered when this film came out, parents were up in arms against one of the scenes showing the Penguin spewing bile.

Catwoman was changed too, as Frank Miller's Year One Selina Kyle was a hooker, which won't go down well with kids in audiences. Although some plot elements were not plausible, like Selina falling from a great height and brought to life by cats, the delivery was stylish, and Michelle Pfieffer oozed sensuality, vulnerability, yet tough as cookies, spunky attitude to Selina / Catwoman. The transformation scene with her making her own slinky costume and guzzling lots of milk was my favourite, and who could forget that kitty lick on the rooftop? Hot! (Not to mention that the costume was coming off and splitting along its seams as the movie progressed...)

Credit to Burton though, while re-creating the villains origin, he kept iconic elements for each character intact, like the Top Hat, eye-glass, cigarette (on a holder), and gimmicky umbrellas for the Penguin, and Catwoman's whip and claws, although the narrative did not provide logical explanations on how she's trained on it (since she's a mousy secretary). Who cares though.

Batman had a new costume with a proper logo. The look was sleeker, with chameleon-like abs. No qualms here though, as we know Batman has different costumes for separate occassions in the comics. Michael Keaton actually looked comfortable in the role. I liked the part where he sat injured in the Batcave, pulling out one of Catwoman's claws from his abs - sort of like a reality check. But still, the Batman killed. And that's a big no-no.

With regards to the exploration of Bruce Wayne's love life, and falling for the villainess, this is my favourite amongst the 4 movies. Batman Returns had the strongest love story compared to the rest. The affections Bruce had for Selina even made him contemplate the notion (horrors!) of revealing his identity, and thoughts about giving up the mantle of the bat, just to be with her. (Ok, I know, in Batman Forever, he contemplated that too... more on that later)

The theme of Duality took centerstage, as we saw all characters leading double lives, having to put on facades in the public, concealing their deepest darkest secrets and desires. The struggle with duality brought on a whole new meaning to the love lives of Bruce and Selina as well, and their revelation to each other on the dancefloor to the tune of Siouxee and the Banshees' Face to Face, and their reaction thereafter, was one of my favourite scenes in the movie.

We began to see a glimmer of a strong partnership between Batman and Gordon in the film's beginning, but again, this was not exploited further. Given the plot, Gotham's Finest turned on the Batman, and it was fun to see him escape from the law. Alfred the Butler took on an expanded role here, and we see him contributing to Batman's crime fighting efforts, like he does in the comics.

More toys were introduced (we still don't see where Batman gets his wonderful toys), and we saw the usage of the Bat-Glider (the stiffening of his cape), the good ol Batmobile being transformed into the Bat-missile, as well as the Bat-skiboat. The Penguin even had a mini-batmobile built, as well as a huge yellow Duck truck.

Danny Elfman continued to score the movie, and brought in dark and separate themes for both The Penguin and Catwoman. The theme for Batman remained the same, though tweaked to highlight the movie's Christmassy setting. Only "Face to Face" made it into the soundtrack. No Prince or other artistes putting in music for this one.

As a direct continuation from the first movie, we saw the use of the Bat-Signal. My gripe? Heck, Bruce Wayne is at home at night? He's the Batman, and on any night, he should be out there kicking the underworld's rear. He's proactive, obsessive, and obviously shouldn't have the Bat-Sginals mirrored in the rooftops of Wayne Manor.

Batman Returns ended on a sad note, though with a flicker of hope that the Catwoman was still somewhere, somehow. Immediately after this movie, with Michelle Pfieffer's success in her role, word was out that a Catwoman spin-off might be in the works. Alas, what materialized was the disastrous Halle Berry effort.

Many deemed this movie too dark, but in my opinion, this is one of the better Bat movies in terms of delivery, plot, and character motivation. It's unfortunate though, that this did not turn in expected returns at the box office.

It must be the car. Chicks dig the car...

Contrary to popular belief, I enjoyed Batman Forever, somewhat. Rumours were rife during pre-production, that we might see an African-American Robin, that Michael Keaton would not return, and Tim Burton no longer directing.

Well, we did see Robin, a new Bruce Wayne and Batman, and Joel Schumacher bringing on a whole new dimension to the franchise. Some liked it, while others hated it for some of the irrelevant stuff he added, like giving the batsuit nipples (to be anatomically correct? What gives?) and having Dick Grayson put on earrings (to be more hip?)

Val Kilmer took on the mantle of the bat, only to have the plot wanting him to give it up to live a happy life with Dr Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman). Well, who wouldn't? In my opinion, I thought he tried too hard to introduce the different voices for both Bats and Bruce, thus giving the former a very unnatural rough and gruff voice. But with his youth, he brought along a more physical Batman, with spectacular stunts and sets which made him look good. My only gripe? Some of the stunts are too improbable, even for the Batman (like, leaping from a high tower and landing right into a manhole??)

The plot tried to bring Bruce back to explore his rationale about dressing up as a giant bat. However, the weak attempt failed miserably with psychologist Dr Meridian (created for the movie) giving some hokey diagnosis with a voodoo doll from Malaysia.

Dr Chase Meridian, eye candy as she was (hey, it's Nicole Kidman!), failed to improve the romance department from what we saw in Batman Returns. Catwoman was subtly referenced, and at times, Dr Meridian looked and sounded like some desperado stalker who had the hots for Batman. While the dialogue between Batman and Catwoman was pretty, the dialogue here was horrible and corny at times, coupled with some deliberate cleavage revealing scenes. The bat-signal was a significant improvement from the earlier ones, but suffered the indignity of being abused as a seduction call.

Again, the who's who "in" people of Tinseltown got the lead baddie roles. This seemed to be a bad trend, one which somehow shifts the focus on the motivations of the villains, and moulding the character to fit the actor's perceived persona.

Edward Nygma, the Riddler, was played by rubber-faced Jim Carrey. Hey, I'm a fan of Carrey, and I thought he made an excellent Riddler. However, the script and his role was a letdown. While the riddles were creative, the motivations of the Riddler was a nightmare - what with creating TV signals and beaming people's brainwaves into his own, thus making him super smart, and psychotic in the process. His hatred was towards Bruce Wayne, for being the rich dude that he was and for publicly shunning Edward's ideas in front of his Wayne Tech colleagues. Yes, finally, we see Wayne Tech in the movies, with Bruce Wayne walking the grounds of his empire. Little touches were appreciated, like the Riddler's question-marked costume, his cane and his bowl hat.

To balance the Riddler's brains, we needed some brawn. Sadly, Two-Face's role was extremely off the mark. In the comics, there is a relationship of respect between Batman-Two-Face-Harvey Dent. Billy Dee Williams was replaced as Harvey Dent by none other than Tommy Lee Jones, and while Jones is an esteemed actor, again the script and his role were disappointing. The battles between Batman and Harvey (as he calls him) always had a tinge of the psychological, and this was seriously lacking. Instead, we got a Two-Face who was a rehash of the insanity of the Joker in the first Batman film.

I applaud the efforts to bring the nuances of Two-Face onto the big screen. The costuming and makeup were excellent, and the featuring of the tossing of a scarred coin accurate. However, the usage of the coin is limited, and the fatal mistake put on screen had shown him tossing it multiple times! That is so wrong! He tosses it only once and abides by whatever the outcome of the result. Somehow, these nuances are only superficially shown, and lacked depth. I also don't get the idea of having 2 molls - Sugar and Spice (Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore by the way) for Two-Face, be it just to highlight his duality. My bet is if this character was in the able hands of Christopher Nolan, we'd see a more credible Two-Face.

The sets this time were brighter, lit by psychedelic neon lights. I initially smiled when Bruce entered a secret lift/tunnel en route to his satellite bat-cave headquarters (a tribute to the comics of the 70s) beneath Wayne Tech. However, in this show, this lift/tunnel brought him all the way back to Wayne Manor! I cringed at the impossibility. Arkham Asylum was also introduced for the first time in the franchise, and I thought it was pretty decent (pardon the pun).

We got a different Wayne Manor (I think this is the set that always changes in the franchise), and finally a new Batmobile (well, the excuse could be that the previous was ruined when it turned into the Bat-missile?). This Batmobile was lit up with its blue neon "frills", kinda cool, but totally off character. And its ability to drive up walls just added to its improbability. The plot seemed to like to feature everything the previous films had, and so we got quick usage of the Bat-Wing (hung upside down in a cave?!), and the Bat-boat.

I enjoyed watching the Flying Graysons in action (hmm, was there an extra member of the family?), and how Dick Grayson/Robin's origin was tied to Two-Face's involvement in his family tragedy. But the producers forgot, that Dick was never as bratty and rebellious as what Chris O'Donnell put on screen, and isn't he a tad too old for the role? He's more Nightwing! A "holy-Robin" joke managed to appear, and thank goodness no more. It's good that the filmmakers decided to use the contemporary Robin costume, which made its debut in Batman issue 457, but what's questionable are the homo-erotic lingering shots of the crotch areas...

The supporting characters like Alfred and Commissioner Gordon again took back seats. However we saw a nice touch added - that of Alfred tending to Batman's wounds, just like the comic books. Also, a bond develops between Alfred and Dick Grayson, which was also key. Gordon became more and more a cameo character, which saddens me given his role in the comics as the only cop Batman trusts.

And the closing scene, what's with the running away from the Bat-signal, in silhouette? Completely inferior to the Bat and his Signal in the first film, and the glimmer of hope with the Catwoman silhouette in the second.

Despite my nitpickings on characters and plot, perhaps this film was best known for its soundtrack, which rocked big time, with U2 helming the opening track, and Seal bringing his "Kiss From A Rose" to new heights. Other gems included Massive Attack collaborating with Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn, Eddie Reader's and Brandy's sad love songs, and a track from the late Michael Hutchence. However, Elliot Goldenthal's musical theme sucked big time. His Bat-theme pales in comparison to Elfman's, and I hated it each time it blared through the speakers.

To summarize, I liked certain elements of the production values, but the script could have improved by leaps and bounds. Yes, my main gripe was with the script, and it was a roller coster ride for me - elated when I saw certain elements introduced, and disappointment when the potential was not achieved.

The nightmare continued though.

We're Gonnna Need A Bigger Cave

This was the film that was infamously credited as the one which brought down the franchise started by Tim Burton. What started out as a dark vision became lighter in tone (filled in lot of painful one-liners) and brighter (more neon colours) in setting. The formula of showcasing the origins of the villains was stale, especially so since the delivery was outright flat.

With the rumoured bust ups between Kilmer and Schumacher, it is no surprise that a new actor will occupy Wayne Manor. George Clooney became the new Batman, what with his square jaw and all, but unfortunately, he's no Bruce Wayne nor Batman - his star personality shone through the character, and he made little attempt to distinguish the difference between being the Bat and Bruce, so both sound the same. Also, the lame one liners like "And this is why Superman works alone" didn't cut it, this is the Dark Knight, not your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman! (Yeah, I'd blame it on the script). Real life joker as he is, get serious George! His "Hi Freeze, I'm Batman" with a wry smile destroyed the image Michael Keaton started, and which Val Kilmer carried forward with more angst.

Arnold Schwarzenegger got worse one-liners (seemed like the script's only filled with them), and his Mr Freeze became comical. Mr Freeze is a sad character, one in which you might pity at times, given his condition and his cause to research and save his wife's life. But the script here mildly scratches the surface of this cool (pardon the pun) character. The sacrifice made by Schwarzenegger was a bald head to look like the character, but his muscles and build looked out of place (Freeze was always drawn as a scrawny man). But no matter, the effects of his freeze gun was pretty well done.

We were introduced to a rushed origin of Poison Ivy (it's getting formulaic!), it probably makes little sense of what's happening. Not that Uma Thurman doesn't look the part, though I must confess, at times the costumes look too cheesy with gaudy colours. It's only when we see Uma in the classic leafy blouse and green stockings did Poison Ivy temporarily come alive. Her poisonous kiss was also dealt with without much depth. When you get kissed, you'll go into this psychedelic hypnotic trance, and you'll be under her spell. Here, this gets glossed over. We know both Batman and Robin fall under her spell and started to bicker (in a scene that I'll label outright as Stupid) but the trance like sequence was absent, where they will see the world in some plant like environment, with Ivy in various states of undress. Get my point?

Batgirl was so wrongly done, just to get Clueless star Alicia Silverstone on board. Barbara Gordon is Commissioner Gordon's daughter, but given Jim Gordon's lack of substantial characterization in the entire franchise, Barbara becomes Alfred's niece. Totally off, and I wondered who in DC Comics approved of such a blasphemous change.

The costume Chris O'Donnell wore, seriously looked like Nightwing. They could have titled this film Batman and Nightwing if Nightwing had a more popular and recognizable following. Heck, even the movie's logo, an amalgam of Batman's and Nightwing's (yes, not Robin's) looked cool, and I thought the plot included Dick's wanting for independence and leaving Robin behind to strike out on his own. No disrespect to Chris, but since Batman Forever, the movie's version of Dick Grayson always seemed more like Jason Todd (the fallen Robin who was murdered by the Joker), and this time it seemed a bit worse. However I was quite pleased to see that in the finale, Robin was outfitted in a costume that really looked like Nightwing's, and I actually hoped that if this bad movie did manage box office success, perhaps we might see a Nightwing spin-off. Alas.

I don't mind, and could probably understand why, so many actors and characters were thrown into the mix. But the worse inclusion of all has got to be that of Bane. Bane is a relatively new character who was developed by the drug enhancer code-named "Venom" (You can read more about it in Legends of the Dark Knight 16-20, and Vengeance of Bane). He's also credited as the villain who broke Batman's back in Batman issue 497. This film totally humiliated Bane by making him a voiceless, useless lackey of Poison Ivy.

As for the supporting characters, Alfred was inflicted with a fictional disease, so there goes "reality", out of the window. Commissioner Gordon, again played by Pat Hingle, wasn't given much screen time or character depth and I had already given up seeing the strong brotherhood between Bats and him that could have been. Elle "The Body" MacPherson starred as Judie Madison, the token love interest of Bruce Wayne, which could have been done away with given the zero chemistry. If I recall, the comic Bruce Wayne in the Bob Kane days was engaged to her (or was she called at that time, Julie Madison?)

While the actors probably tried their best, I wonder what ran through their minds when they read the script, because it is one rigged with scenes which leapt right out of Adam West's TV Series. I mean, Bat-credit-card? And from nippled costumes (which still stayed) to butt-shots, what gives?

The Batmobile was mutilated! It was a one-seater open air dragster that looked simply horrible. The worst of all the Batmobiles we've seen, aesthetically that is.

This movie tanked, and rightfully so. It isn't the Batman that can fit into the franchise. It was totally off tangent. Fans around the world hated the Schumacher-treatment, and I'd bet he'll never touch another Bat/DC Comics franchise for many years to come.

So how? Was this the end of the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the end of the beginning?

Are You Ready To Begin

It's a long hiatus since the disastrous Batman and Robin. 8 years to be exact. From a promising start, the franchise pummelled, and Bat-fans around the world wondered if the Dark Knight could be granted new lease of life, given new successes found in the comic-turned-movie genres starting with Marvel's Spiderman. Rumours ranged from adapting Frank Miller's Year One, or having Clint Eastwood in The Dark Knight Returns. The futuristic Batman Beyond also was considered, and so was World's Finest, with Superman.

Potential Spoiler Alert
The following might contain spoilers to some of you, though it's heavily referenced from all available trailers. If you want to stop reading, this is the time.

Christopher Nolan, best known for his works in Memento and Insomnia, takes on the Dark Knight, and brings him back to his roots, back to where he started, back to Crime Alley. He combined elements from Year One and The Long Halloween. Fan favourites. Christopher Nolan's screenplay (with David Goyer) explores the more psychological aspect of Batman, and I give him credit to begin the franchise with Ra's al Ghul and Scarecrow - it always isn't easy with characters without mass appeal.

Given the feel of the trailers, and the narration on them, it is fitting to explore Fear as a theme - Bruce Wayne using the symbol of the bat to strike Fear into the hearts of criminals, and on the other end of the spectrum, the Scarecrow using Fear as a lethal weapon.

Casting was an A-list (character actors) coup, and we have in the flesh, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox from Wayne Tech, Ken Watanabe as Ra's Al Ghul, Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard, Cillian Murphy as Jonathan Crane the Scarecrow, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone of the Falcone Crime Family and Rachel Dawes (created for this movie). We'll also see Year One familiars like Joe Chill, Detective Flass, and Commissioner Loeb.

Christian Bale will no doubt be the focus of this movie. His Bruce Wayne hams up the suave playboy image, while his Batman is menacing, bringing comparisons to Keaton's, especially in a scene which was similar:

[Thug looking confused and afraid]
Thug: Where are you?!
[The Batman hangs upside down behind him]
Batman menacingly whispers: here


With the trailers also harping on the relationship between Bruce and Rachel, let's see if it can live up to the intensity of the one between Bruce and Selina Kyle.

And Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon, what more can I say? If you've seen the stills, Oldman "disappears" into Gordon, and the makeup is excellent - everything's perfect, from the huge glasses, the bushy mustache, and his smoking. Can't wait for him to take on Detective Flass! There will be a budding relationship formed between the Bat and Gordon, and a certain still points to a probable conclusion which follows Year One - a rooftop meeting, with the Signal ablazing! If a sequel develops, who knows what Christopher Nolan might do with The Joker, and a potential introduction of Harvey Dent!

Christopher Nolan also injects into this film tons of iconic imagery and storylines from the comic books, like the young Bruce falling into a "rabbit hole", only to discover bats and a cave, the Crime Alley scene where he kneels between his slain parents, the funeral scene, Alfred comforting a sad Bruce, the tossing of the gun by Bruce (thereby swearing not to take a life), the travelling the world in search of training, the makings of the costume, and my favourite, the exploration of the Bat-cave, which led to the discovery of an abandoned railroad running beneath the cave which Bruce's great-great-grandfather built). Even Batman's cape is given a life of its own! The suggestion that Thomas Wayne is somehow responsible for his and his wife's death, also brings to mind the little storyline in which Thomas Wayne refused to ply his trade for the mob, and hence, making himself and his family a probably mob hit target.

The only gripe some of you might have is Liam Neeson's role as Henri Ducard, which sounds a bit Qui-Gon Jinn-ish from the dialogue. But heck, I'm not perturbed and neither should you be. He was casted for what he was good at, so I guess we can't complain. Also, without spoiling for you the fact about Ra's, some are unhappy with him being Asian/Japanese/Oriental, since he's supposed to be middle eastern. Well, just take it that it's the movie version! Therefore we might not see the Lazarus Pit, which to non-fans might sound a bit hokey, given that it gives immortality. Yes, I know Ra's baby is the pit, but still...

The other unhappiness that made its fair share of rounds was the Batmobile. Many says it's monstrous and ugly. But I like it - it's a bloody tank which looks similar in concept to The Dark Knight Returns. And seeing it in action in the trailers - man, it kicks hard ass!

Nolan's take could be a more psychological aspect of the Dark Knight, hence the focus on the action might not be wanting. The previous films had mediocre focus on the psychological. Heck the realm of the bat is that - what makes him tick, the rationale of exploiting fear, and even most of his rogue's gallery has this psychological twisted nature. The earlier Burton movies attempted to look at dark themes like Duality, until Schumacher brought out the camp and made it into your usual action flick. It's time we have a more intellectual take on Batman, starting from his roots.

It was a long wait in bringing this movie to the big screen, and fans around the world are really crossing their fingers that this team, will finally bring the Dark Knight back to its cinematic glory. With top casting and an origin storyline keeping most of its material together, the potential is there, and we want to experience it. Bob Kane was around when Burton made the first film. How I'd wish he was alive today to witness Chris Nolan's take. He might be proud.

June 16. Be there.

"I seek the means to fight injustice. To turn fear against those who prey on the fearful" - Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

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