Batman Begins
Starring:
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy
Directed By:
Christopher Nolan
Grade
A

For being such a major player in the scope of comic books, Batman has never really gotten the treatment he deserved when it came to movies. 1966 gave us a campy Adam West Batman feature, while Tim Burton's 1989 Batman focused more on The Joker and left Batman feeling quite shallow. This was followed by three more films, each of which grew more and more campy as they progressed. After a much needed hiatus (and a horrible Catwoman spin-off), Batman has returned. Director Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, Memento) and screenwriter David Goyer (Blade, Blade II) have decided to take Batman back to the beginning, to give weight to why Bruce Wayne becomes The Batman.

I won't lie - I'm pretty tired of the whole Batman origin shtick. It's been used so often and had so many variations that it's beyond "played out" and pushed itself into the realm of "obvious story padding". With that said, though, Batman Begins' does the origin right. It gives Bruce, as a child, logical reasons for what he does later in life. The traumas he becomes a part of what leads him down a destructive path that almost sees the end of him until he ends up in a Asian prison fighting criminals as some sort of therapy for his pain. He's rescued by Ducard (Liam Neeson), who trains him to become a member of Ra's al Ghul's (Ken Watanabe) League of Shadows, a syndicate of vigilantes with a brutal goal of exacting blood from criminals. Bruce leaves Ducard and Ra's al Ghul to return to Gotham, where he reacquaints himself with the corrupt city while making decisions that would eventually form the crime-fighter that is Batman. With the aid of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and more than a few gadgets developed for the company that were never used, Wayne ventures out into the night as Batman. It's not long before he uncovers a plot by the maniacal Dr. Jonathan "The Scarecrow" Crane (who parades around in a mask and terrorizes people with a aerosol spray that induces psychotic visions) to release his drugs city-wide, causing a self-destructive mass panic in Gotham.

Before viewers can even think about the script, cinematography or effects, they have to wrap their heads around the fact that Batman Begins features such a ridiculously high caliber of acting talent that Katie Holmes can be considered the weakest link. And, to be fair, that's no knock on Katie as she does exceptional as the expected love interest, but considering who she shares screen time with, she's in fine company. Bale is superb as the conflicted playboy turned crime fighter. Because he plays a younger version of the Batman/Bruce Wayne character, he gets to show viewers a more conflicted person trying to both cope with his fears and his own guilt, which gets mixed well with his rage and need for vengeance. Bale's Wayne evolves throughout the movie, giving viewer the most fleshed-out take on the character to date. Michael Caine takes Wayne's butler Alfred into a new realm, making him less of a servant and more of a fatherly confidant filled with advice and perspective. Gary Oldman is dead-on as Gordon, so much so that I doubt any one else could ever surpass the effort. Cillian Murphy (of 28 Days Later and Girl With The Pearl Earring fame) is sublime as The Scarecrow. His piercing eyes make him feel unhinged even without the mask and visual effects.

Batman Begins is dark. Not the kind of dark that comes from shooting the whole movie without lights. It's dark in mood and temperament. Wayne is damaged and in dire need of focus. Both as Wayne and Batman, Bale shows an anger that would drive fear into any man's heart. Gotham is a city on the verge of complete moral collapse. To keep all of this mood intact, Nolan tries to make every aspect of the film feel rooted in reality. Batman's gadgets are feasible in a real-world sense and the combat doesn't suffer from the overblown "dancing" that have turned many action sequences into pure fantasy. Even though there are around 400 special effect sequences, they aren't obvious. What's nice about the special effects are that they are in-fact SPECIAL. There isn't ridiculous amounts of CG padding the film. Stunts and action sequences are done in the real, without a green screen. You know that when you see an explosion, something did, in fact, blow up in front of a camera. If there is any fault to be had with Batman Begins, it's that during fight sequences, the camera tends to be far too close to the action. More than once, a fight sequence goes on without the viewer knowing what is going on until it's over and the dust settles.

Batman Begins rewards the viewer for paying attention with many finer details that aid in explaining just about everything, leaving very little room for error or plot holes. The script and plot are delivered in such a manner that the viewer is sucked into the film. Wonderful performances from the cast, excellent and methodical story telling from the director and a dark, mood-enhancing score give this film such a strong presence that it's going to be hard to surpass any time soon. With obvious influences from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and more than a few sequences that feel like they were pulled from the comics and given life, Batman Begins redeems the Dark Knight in film and leaves hope for any upcoming sequels.

- - Vane

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