But really, this weekend was all about the big popular junk movies. Behind the cut in case you don't feel like hearing yet more nerd-vaporings from your LJ friends list:
In the interests of full disclosure, first, I have not seen either of the first two Star Wars 'prequels', and second, the whole Star Wars allure has always rather eluded me. I thought The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the original films, but even it wasn't anything I wanted to own, or watch again, or construct my entire identity around. So perhaps I'm being too harsh on Star Wars III, but...well, if this was the best of the prequels, the first two must have been really, really, really, really bad.
First off, and I know that as a comics/role-playing/sports/comedy/movie geek I betray myself as a hypocrite by saying this, the Star Wars universe holds no mystique for me. The milieu isn't all that compelling to me, the characters tend to be paper-thin, and whenever there's not some snazzy gadget onscreen, I tend to lose interest. Lucas' failings as a scriptwriter have been well-documented elsewhere, so there's no need to dwell on how unbelievably flat and awkward the dialogue is. (There's one moment, during the final showdown between Anakin & Obi-Wan, that was so crappy and ham-handed that I laughed out loud: it may be the most clumsy piece of dialogue I've ever heard in a major motion picture.) The plot wasn't so much bad as it was boring; I was at the edge of my seat when General Grievous was slashing around with his quadruple-light-sabre technique, but anytime people started talking, I had to stifle yawns. If anything, Lucas' ability to write female characters has devolved; the first three movies featured only one major female character, but at least she had some spirit and drive, whereas Padme (somnambulistically played by Natalie Portman) basically has three modes of expression: swoony, concerned and dead. The movie has no psychological depth whatsoever, the attempts at moral complexity fall flat on their face, and they even manage to ruin the one thing I was looking forward to -- the first appearance of Darth Vader, voiced by the best actor in the flick -- by having him blat out a Shatneresque "NOOOOOOOOOOO!", complete with overhead shot, outstretched arms, and shattering glass straight out of the Big Little Book of Unspeakable Filmic Cliche.
What sunk it worse than anything, though, was Hayden Christensen's performance, or lack thereof. For better or worse, he had to be the centerpiece of the movie: he was on screen a ton, and he had to carry the film's moral, psychological and emotional weight, such as it was. And you know something? The kid can't act. I've never seen him in anything besides The Virgin Suicides (in which he had a very minor role), so I'm willing to be told that he's actually capable of acting, but he sure as hell didn't show it here. He added even more flatness to already flat lines; he was dead weight in what should have been intense emotional scenes; and he and Portman had the chemistry of a rake leaning against a shed. The only times he seemed to display any life at all is when he was filled with agony or spiritually tortured, and even then, he was weightless when he should have been weighty, coming across as a petulant teen instead of an agonized lover. Ewan McGregor, who was clearly just there to pick up a paycheck, acted rings around him; he even got outgunned by nonentities like Jimmy Smits.
All in all, either an example of how I just don't get it when it comes to Star Wars or a perfect illustration of how people who do get it are awfully forgiving.
Let's be clear about this: Batman Begins was not a great movie. The Batmobile chase was a prolonged snore; there was about five minutes too much ninja business in the Himalayas and about fifty minutes too much armchair psychologizing; and Katie Holmes, given a meatier role than normally offered to women in Batman flicks, was not up to taking a big bite out of it. But let's also be clear about this: someone has finally made a Batman movie that didn't stink -- indeed, that was pretty good -- and given the dismal history of the Caped Crusader onscreen, that's quite an accomplishment.
There was a lot to like here: Christian Bale's performance both as phony, smirking playboy Bruce Wayne and near-psychotic, barking terror Batman was terrific. The movie really succeeded in conveying the point that Batman, since he can't fly or bend steel or melt metal with his eyes, has to make people mortally afraid of him. It did this in a lot of ways, from the surprisingly well-done hallucination scenes to the confused, frenzied fight scenes to Bale's lunatic shout when he was in costume (the scene when he's interrogating Flass and bellows "SWEAR TO ME!" at Flass' "I swear to God" sent real chills down my spine). I was concerned about the casting and usage of the Scarecrow, but both were terrific; in his Jonathan Crane role he was perfectly condescending and creepy, and with the mask on he was a real screaming horror. If anything, I wish there'd been more of him. (By the way, I could be wrong here, but I believe Nolan deliberately chose to make Scarecrow and Batman sound alike when they spoke in costume, to emphasize the primal-fear aspect of both personas.) The final battle was a tad gimmicky and too obviously laden with action-movie tropes, but the very end, with its nifty introduction of the Joker and none-too-subtle implication that Bats might just be causing more trouble than he's solving, was excellent, as was the casting of Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon.
Even the Katie Holmes role was pretty well-done. One of the things that I think is compelling about Batman...look, I like Batman more than Superman. I think he's a more interesting character. But I don't think he's a better person; you'd have to be crazy to want to be Batman. He's an empty shell, a man who cannot be saved; he's a mission of vengeance in the shape of a human being, a damned thing who will spend his whole life battling crime and helping people, not because he is a good man, but because he has lost something he will never, ever get back. Superman wants to be human, and part of being human is being loved: so it's easy to believe he wants to be with Lois Lane. Batman, though, is a symbol, an idea, an impossible dream. He doesn't want anything but revenge, a fresh face to punch to make the horrible image of a gun under his mother's chin go away for a while. It's easy and fun to make "OMG BATMAN IS GAY FOR ROBIN" jokes, but the fact is, Batman is a presexual being. He's not interested in women. Bruce Wayne is dead. He died in Crime Alley alongside his parents when he was eight years old and was replaced by a cold, calculating instrument of forever-unfulfilled vengeance. He ceased to exist when his parents died, and at that time, he wasn't a sexual being; the only woman who's genuinely interested him is Catwoman (and, to a lesser extent, Poison Ivy), and that's because they're also psychotic criminals. (This, by the way, is why I dread Bale's claim that the next two Batman flicks will "explore his sexuality": he doesn't have one, and if he does, it's the least interesting aspect of his personality.) So I'm pleased that they didn't play up the romance angle too heavily, and while some people have complained about Holmes' final speech, it hit me as entirely plausible: she could see that the boy she loved was long gone, and wanted nothing to do with the thing that took his place. Maybe when you're not Batman anymore, she says, maybe when you are Bruce Wayne again, there will be something for us, but I can't love what you are now. More's the tragedy: she knows that Bruce Wayne is dead, that the real mask is the one that appears when he takes off the costume.
Flawed? Yes. It wasn't perfect by any means, and there were moments (the car chase, the fire on the mountain) and characters (Morgan Freeman's and, sadly, Rutger Hauer's) that seemed tacked-on. But far and away the best Batman treatment I've ever seen. I still wish they'd stuck to the plan to do Year One, but this was a good fall-back option that left me wanting to see where they go next.