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
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.
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