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Face-Off: Batman Begins vs. The Dark Knight

07.19.2012by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face Off, COMIC CON being in full swing we showed some love to the wonderful word of fandom with a showdown between Fanboys and Fangirls. A match that Fanboys won by a hare. Congratulations men.

Tonight, the final installment in Christopher Nolan's already legendary take on the Batman character unleashes itself upon the world. It seems only natural we dedicate the Face Off this week to the previous two entries Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I'm excited because I know opinions will be varied, Batman Begins has been universally praised for knocking a superheroes origin story out of the park like never before. On the other side of the coin, many feel The Dark Knight lives up to most of its hype, while some have been known to deem it overrated thanks to Heath Ledger's turn as The Joker. Where do you stand? Let's find out.
Story
Here is a backstory we've gotten glimpses of many times before, but never with the care and the detail and in a manner this realistic. It was great to see flashbacks to Bruce Wayne's struggle to find an identity as a young man leading up to Joe Chill's trial and where that led him. I love the theme of fear in this film, it's what drove the whole story all the way from Bruce's training to his show downs with Scarecrow. Long story short this film holds its own against its sequel for the brilliant character development alone. Batman in action was always almost secondary in this case.
Batman must battle to maintain practicing everything he's grown to believe when a clown comes along who is intent on 'watching the world burn' and bringing everything crashing down around the caped crusader. And damn does he just about succeed. There is character development here, but with a lot more players involved. Less time is focused on Batman/Bruce but all the other characters are so compelling that I went with it. Chaos is the theme here, and this movie delivers it in spades. I loved the elements from the graphic novel The Killing Joke that were brought to the table here.
Batsy/Bruce Wayne
After witnessing the death of his parents as a child, Bruce Wayne grows up having to do his best to grapple with his fear and his anger, until the right person comes along and trains him to confront it. We get so many versions of the character here which I loved...the Bruce Wayne who finds himself and his purpose through his training, the billionaire playboy facade that Bruce adopts which provides us with a few comedic elements, and finally the bad ass with the cape. Multi-dimensional much? Also, an extra added bonus is that the caped crusaders growl wasn't yet in full effect here.
We get two great elements to the characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman here, on the Bruce Wayne front it's enthralling to see Bruce's desire to cease being the caped crusader and move on, while at the same time developing this man crush on our white knight Harvey Dent. As far as Batman is concerned it was awesome seeing his anger build over the madness that Joker was up to and seeing it in his eyes that he was so close scene after scene to 'breaking his one rule'...and seeing Bruce Wayne himself observing the Joker from afar as well and struggling to understand him. Alfred's take on the crazy bastard made for an awesome scene.
Villains
Scarecrow was a complete badass for most of the film, there really scored with the casting of Cillian Murphy and his portrayal really lived up to what the character was all about. Tom Wilkinson's turn as Falcone was actually one of my favorite aspects of the film, the man always gives a great performance and quite frankly he was given some of the best lines in the film. The scene between him and Bruce in the restaurant was brilliant writing. Ra's Al Ghul was effective for the screen time that he had, I felt we didn't get enough of him and Scarecrow was kind of thrown away to make way for that climax. Not a big complaint.
What can be said about Heath Ledger as The Joker that has not already been said? The performance was brilliant, unhinged, and horrifying, Ledger disappeared and only The Joker remained. His activities were great to watch, and his speeches were uncomfortable in the respect that you sat there thinking to yourself that he has a point with some of this. The only thing I could say about Two Face is that I feel the same way about him as I did about Ra's, I wanted more but when we got him he owned every scene he was in. I love the descent of a once decent man, makes for great drama.
Rachel Dawes
I actually dug Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel and that she was pretty damn strong character in Batman Begins. I always thought Katie Holmes was nice to look at so that certainly didn't do anything to hurt her case. I think the Rachel's shining moment in this film was her 'the great depression hasn't disappeared' speech and her ownage of Bruce with those slaps. The idealism of the character really shined through. Bravo Katie, wish you would have came back. Although...
Rachel Dawes sort of grated on my nerves in The Dark Knight, am I alone in thinking her bitchiness to Bruce for most of her screen time was a bit unjustified? Did we forget about the man saving your life from death by poison in the previous film? Their most tender moment was after Batsy saved her from her free fall thanks to the clown. Maggie Gyllenhaal did not do bad, and the character wasn't a total bitch...but I think I would have been more emotionally invested if the character would have been written the same way she was in Begins and if Katie Holmes had returned. But to be fair, they had a lot more to get through this time around.
Box Office/Critical Reception
Batman Begins has an 85% approval rating with critics praising it's focus on the psychological aspect of the story rather than countless elaborate action scenes. Roger Ebert dubbed the film not only the Batman movie he was looking for, but the Batman film he didn't know he was looking for. Tim Burton has also given the films his stamp of approval, praising their gritty style. World wide the film has grossed a total of $372,710,015 making it the third highest grossing Batman film behind Tim Burton's first Batman and of course The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight has a 94% approval rating from critics and a worldwide gross of $1,001,921,825. That said, it has the distinct honor of being the 12th highest grossing film of all time. Critics went above and beyond to praise Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker and continued to praise the films gritty realistic setting. The rest of the cast received some love as well particularly Aaron Eckhart's turn as Harvey Dent. TDK ranks 15 on Empire's 500 Greatest Movies List for 2008. Roger Ebert nails my opinion perfectly by stating the film is a "haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy."
Final Word
Batman Begins is the most brilliant introduction to a superhero in film that we've ever seen and likely will ever see. It took it's time, gave us all the character development we needed, and it made us all that more invested by the time Batman came to cause a ruckus. The theme of Fear and conquering it hit home, it's pretty damn inspiring. Some love should be given to our introduction to Hans Zimmer's collaboration with James Newton Howard for the breathtaking score. Begins will always be known for the being the film that resurrected Batman on the big screen and for that it will always hold a special place in my Batsy loving heart.
Dark Knight is the Godfather II of comic-book films plain and simple. Further evolution of the Batman we grew to love in Begins and characters like Jim Gordon, to the portrayal of one of the greatest villains of all time. Everything was on a grander scale, and I was so enthralled the long run time always seems to fly by to me with every viewing. There is a tragedy surrounding this film with the death of Heath Ledger and some have said that added to the hype of the film and some say it wasn't quite deserved, I don't agree with that in the least and I found the battle between good and evil on steroids story this film carried makes The Dark Knight a genuine classic.
The Dark Knight
So there you have it folks. As much as I truly love Batman Begins for its wonderful character development and focus on the psyche of Batman, when it comes down to it all the elements that The Dark Knight came to the table with just knocked my socks off. The theme of chaos, Batman's struggle to hold on to what he believes, the more compelling villains, the new gadgets, Joker's eerie soundtrack theme. Both films were magic, and Nolan's final installment I think will cap off the greatness this franchise has provided us with beautifully.

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

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Tags: Face-Off

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