Monday, June 20, 2005

Movie Review: "Batman Begins"

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson,
Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan

With the conclusion of 1997's widely criticized and box-office bomb "Batman and Robin," many thought the Batman franchise was dead and buried. The next step looked like taking the caped crusader entirely back into the realm of camp, as popularized by the 1960s TV series.
But thankfully, director Christopher Nolan had other ideas when he agreed to helm "Batman Begins."
Choosing to essentially ignore the four previous films that came before it, Nolan, who co-wrote the script with David Goyer, has created an origin story that is definitely the darkest of the bunch. But it's also the best.
The movie lays out its intentions early on, as it opens in a foreign prison camp, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) as an angry and psychologically damaged young man. Through flashbacks, its revealed that childhood trauma through a bad experience with bats, as well as witnessing the murder of his parents, has left an indelible mark on his life. But with the inability to properly channel his anger and desire for vengeance, he leaves behind his life in Gotham City, eventually landing in jail.
While in prison, he meets Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a mysterious member of the League of Shadows, an organization formed to fight corruption and evil. Ducard promises to channel Wayne's pent-up aggression and help him become something more than a man in the eyes of his opponents.
When Wayne refuses to follow through on one of the requirements of the organization, he decides to return to Gotham City to put his newfound knowledge and confidence to use. With his hometown now crime-ridden and under the heavy shroud of corruption and fear, Wayne knows he has his work cut out for him.
He finds allies among his loyal family butler Alfred (Michael Caine), police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), assistant prosecutor and childhood friend Rachel (Katie Holmes), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), a longtime employee of the family's Wayne Corp. Fox, who works in practical anonymity down in the basement of the office building, has developed numerous inventions over the years that just so happen to fit in with Wayne's strengthening crime-fighting desire.
Demonstrating a steadfast desire to emphasize story and character over action, the first half of the movie has nary a sighting of Batman. This gives Bale plenty of time to put his stamp on the role, which he does very well, showing more depth and physicality than any previous incarnation of the character. It also shows a Batman learning how to become great, making mistakes and taking his lumps along the way.
At times, the forward thrust of Gotham City's developing crisis, involving the poisoning of its water supply, is sluggish, as the movie wants to accomplish so much. Unlike other Batman movies, which seemed to put the focus on the villains, no central evildoer takes the stage for long in this film. This one is pretty much all about the bat – as it should be. There's always future movies that can develop the villains more.
As the second half progresses, the action and excitement picks up, including Batman's daring rescue of Rachel, demonstrating the advantage of having a batmobile that's more akin to a tank than a race car. While the camera seems to be in too tight on some of the film's fight scenes, the action itself is oftentimes thrilling and intense.
There is some good humor to be found here, but this is still largely a brooding and adult Batman movie, more in step with the Dark Knight graphic novels of Frank Miller than anything that has preceded it.
Unlike the Man of Steel (who, incidentally, returns to the movies next year), this superhero is technically not capable of flying. But as a movie, this "Batman" truly soars.
Grade: A-
(Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.)

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