Review by Mark Walters

 

In 1989 Tim Burton reinvented the way people looked at the DC Comics character Batman.  His unusual casting of Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader proved to be a smart move, and fans worldwide found themselves enthralled with the new take on a classic character.  Gone were the days of Adam West and Burt Ward.  It was a darker and more realistic look at what a superhero could be, and it worked.  But with the sequels that followed, the franchise unfortunately fell victim to relentless merchandising, and eventually went extremely sour in the hands of director Joel Schumacher, who reverted the storylines to the very campiness Burton was initially trying to avoid.  What started out great ended up just plain silly.  Now Warner Brothers is attempting to once again re-imagine the beloved character, this time using director Christopher Nolan, who wowed American audiences with his low-budget but highly effective thriller MEMENTO.  This new film promises to be darker and more serious than any of the previous outings, and has fans wondering if we can once again fall in love with the Dark Knight on the big screen.

 

 The movie begins with a flashback to a young Bruce Wayne and his friend Rachel playing inside a greenhouse behind Wayne Manor.  Bruce accidentally trips and falls into a deep hole, where he is swarmed upon by thousands of bats.  Cut to present day where we find Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) inside a seedy prison somewhere in Asia.  His frequent fights with fellow prisoners earn him solitary confinement, where he meets a mysterious man named Ducard (Liam Neeson), who informs Wayne that he can be taught fighting skills the likes of which he's never seen.  After getting out Bruce travels into the mountains to find Ducard, who is studying under a cult-like leader named Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe).  Wayne learns several martial arts secrets in these surroundings, making himself a formidable presence.  He reveals to Ducard that his parents were murdered by a mugger - an act for which he blames himself.  Wayne's father, who was a successful millionaire in Gotham City, tried to help clean up the troubled community, only to become a victim of the very people he wanted to help.  Bruce wants nothing more that to bring down those who do evil, but only to a limit.  He learns that Ducard and Ghul wish to do the same to those who commit criminal acts, but their goal is to simply kill evildoers, which is something Bruce Wayne cannot condone.  He soon discovers that Ghul has set his sights on Gotham, which is now running rampant with crime.  Bruce returns to his birthplace with his own agenda.  He will become a shadowy figure that strikes fear in the hearts of criminals.  The bats he once feared will become the influence for his new alter-ego.  But things have changed since he's been gone.  Wayne Enterprises is now being run by a man named Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer), and Bruce no longer has control of the very company that bears his name.  With the help of his trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine), and an old friend of his father Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Wayne becomes Batman.  As he declares war on Gotham's criminals, he learns that local crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) may be involved with a major drug smuggling plot.  His old playmate Rachel (Katie Holmes) is now working as a lawyer within Gotham's courts, butting heads with Falcone supporters, particularly Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who has a tendency to find criminals insane before they ever have a chance to be prosecuted.  Bruce may find he has even more work on his plate, when Rachel becomes a problem for Falcone.  He confides in a police detective named James Gordon, one of the few decent cops left in the city.  Together they hope to find a solution to Gotham's many problems, which is no easy task.

As a comic book fan, and a lover of action films, I can honestly say this movie is great.  Christopher Nolan has brought to the screen the most realistic and gritty storyline we have yet to see in this type of film.  This is what Batman would be if he were a real person.  Everything is explained, and in a way we can believe.  The first hour is spent showing what happened to Bruce Wayne, and his subsequent journey to find himself.  It's not until the second hour of the film that we see him become Batman.  But don't fear, because that first hour is greatness.  Rather than gloss over Bruce's journey into what he will ultimately become, we go with him, and gradually discover his ultimate destiny.  Then it becomes a ride into this new adventure he has created for himself.  David S. Goyer, who wrote the BLADE trilogy and has scribed several comic books as well, handles the highly-involved screenplay, which is comic book perfection.  While movies like SPIDER-MAN accurately brought to the screen what Stan Lee envisioned with his colorful storylines, this film takes a more natural approach.  Oh sure, there are exciting car chases and intense fight scenes, but this movie is anything but cartoony.  Even the "Batmobile" is a very realistic tactical vehicle, designed for military purposes but never used.  There are reasons for everything to exist around Bruce, no matter how small the details may be.  That is where the film really excels.  Now let's talk about the cast.

Christian Bale - what can I say, this guy is awesome.  After seeing EQUILIBRIUM I knew that Bale had what it took to tackle a character like Bruce Wayne with appropriate levels of realism and intensity.  He is quite simply believable.  It goes beyond a matter of acceptance with an actor playing a character.  Bale becomes Batman, just as much as he becomes Bruce Wayne.  I really liked his embodiment of Batman too.  He doesn't joke with his victims, but rather screams in anger at them.  There's one line during an interrogation where a thug says to Batman "I swear to God!" to which Batman responds "SWEAR TO ME!!"  Perfect casting.

Katie Holmes - the part isn't as meaty as it could've been, but Holmes does a good job with it.  I like the fact that she clearly cares for Bruce, but isn't afraid to smack him down when he disgraces the memory of his father.  Rachel is in many ways a representation of Bruce's conscience, bringing him back down to reality whenever he becomes too consumed with thoughts of anger or revenge.  She's not a sappy romantic interest, but rather an appropriate counterpart for this tortured man.

Michael Caine - thank god Alfred gets to show some real emotion in this film.  Gone are the days of Wayne's butler being a comedic figure who does little more than bring him food.  Alfred is Bruce's voice of reason.  He is quick to remind our hero what must be done, and how it should be handled.  He cares for Bruce, and feels the loss of his parents in an emotional manner.  Alfred is much more than a butler.  He's an unassuming father figure that Bruce desperately needs.  Caine does so much with this part, and it's very satisfying.  There is even a great moment in the film where Alfred has to jump into action.  I'm so glad this character was handled the right way for a change, and thankfully I can say the same about the performance that comes from...

Gary Oldman - after getting beyond the fact that Oldman looks absolutely spot on as Gordon, it's undeniable that this character adds a lot to the story, and is finally represented on screen the way he should be.  Gordon not only serves as an ally to the Caped Crusader, but also as an embodiment of the city's frustration with the way things are.  His discomfort with things validates Batman's actions, which is what Gordon was always intended for in my opinion.  Plus Oldman is just terrific in the role.  As much as I want to see the character of Batman grow from here, I'm anxious to watch Gordon grow as well.

Liam Neeson - I like Liam when he's tough, and he's tough here.  His strength and skill are matched by his confidence and knowledge.  He becomes an impressive teacher for Bruce, even if their goals aren't quite the same.  It makes sense that Batman would need to hone his skills in an unconventional manner, and that's where Ducard comes in.  What's important is that we believe Neeson as this character, and we do.

Morgan Freeman - every well-equipped hero has to get his gadgets from somewhere.  In the previous Batman films, we never really learned how Bruce Wayne got his wonderful toys.  One could assume Alfred had something to do with it.  But here it's explained nicely.  Lucius Fox is very appropriate in the story, and handled in a good way.  His knowledge with technology and frustration with his position in Wayne Enterprises perfectly explains his willingness to help Bruce.  Plus Freeman is just plain likable anyway.

Cillian Murphy - again, great casting, because Murphy's look and presence is exactly what this character needs.  Comic book fans know that Jonathan Crane' alter ego is the Scarecrow, which is represented here.  I'm glad they didn't go for a big name actor to play this part.  With Murphy we are more curious and unsuspecting of his actions.  It makes for a great villain.  Plus the Scarecrow tactics are done in a realistic and creepy way.  It all makes sense, as if this could actually happen in the real world.

There are some nice supporting performances with actors like Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Rutger Hauer, and Linus Roache.  Wilkinson, who is easily one of the most talented and underrated actors working today, proves he possesses chameleon-like qualities.  His portrayal of crime boss Falcone is like something out of THE SOPRANOS.  He's effectively scary, and a great nemesis for our hero.  Rutger Hauer make a welcome return to the big screen this year, with a small performance in SIN CITY and now this.  He plays a nice corporate baddie, making us wonder if Wayne Enterprises will become doomed in his hands.  Ken Watanabe doesn't have a lot of screen time, but is effective nonetheless.  His quiet and mysterious nature make him intimidating to great effect.  I also really enjoyed Linus Roache as Bruce's father.  He comes across as very endearing, which makes us sad he had to die.  We understand why Bruce misses him.  I was glad that Goyer and Nolan developed that character beyond a quick shot in a flashback.

BATMAN BEGINS runs a bit long at two hours and fifteen minutes, but it's entertaining through and through.  I get the feeling there were some severe cuts made, especially because some of the editing seems rather quick in parts.  But it works with the pacing because it keeps things moving.  If I had any disappointments, they came during the fight scenes.  It was a little hard to tell what was going on and who was hitting who.  On the other side of that coin, there's a fantastic chase scene with the tumbler (Batmobile) that is easily one of the most exciting moments in the film, and it's directed beautifully.  As comic book movies go, this film is pretty darn good.  I'm really glad to see an imaginative director like Christopher Nolan get the chance to handle a film like this.  The film ends with an appropriate tag scene, that could easily lead into more storylines.  I'm hoping that any potential sequels will also be handled by Nolan and Goyer.  If you like comics, or just Batman for that matter, you absolutely must see this film.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give BATMAN BEGINS a 9.


Visit the official Warner Bros. BATMAN BEGINS movie website by clicking here.

Batman Begins - International Poster
Batman Begins - International Poster
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