Ah, Gotham. The city where no one has an umbrella when there’s a torrential downpour. The city of mass corruption. The city in need of a hero, a symbol, and hope.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is a masterstroke of creativity, excitement, and sheer cinematic bliss. This is a film that is undeniably the best in what can only be described as a roller coaster of a series. While Tim Burton’s original had Jack Nicholson to save the day, the three sequels only got worse from film to film, with 1997’s Batman & Robin being all but unwatchable.
But Nolan takes no prisoners in this prequel, and the end result is an astounding piece of work. Nolan is dealing to the serious and dedicated fans of Batman that have made the comic book hero what he is today. The film is drab, gritty, and suitably more unsettling compared to the previous installments, particularly the overly-family friendly Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Before the days of Adam West and Burt Ward (bang!) punching baddies in choreographed lunacy, Batman was a pitch black comic book about fighting evil, and Nolan’s vision is brilliant.
Spoilers will be kept to an absolute minimum in the paragraphs below.
We meet Bruce Wayne as a privileged young boy and quickly learn why he is afraid of bats. The story bounces back and forth between Wayne’s traumatic experiences as a boy and the present as he becomes inspired to fight the evil that has overtaken Gotham City. He is trained by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), student of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), a hard-nosed but wise man who knows Bruce’s past inside and out.
Bruce then returns to Gotham, which has been overrun by Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), an unsavory character whose solution to everything is to just “pay them off.” Because the Wayne family is rich beyond all belief, Bruce has access to all the tools he needs – many of which are provided by Fox (Morgan Freeman), the “Q” of the Batman series. As we all know from here, Wayne becomes Batman and cleans up the city from villains whom I best keep secret since there are some nice twists. Along for the ride are former girlfriend Rachel (Katie Holmes), cop friend Gordon (Gary Oldman), and the beloved Alfred (Michael Caine), quick as always with his quips.
At a runtime of 141 minutes, Batman Begins takes its time establishing characters and motives. The screenplay, which is smarter than it will be given credit for by many critics, adds a crucial human arc that pushes Batman Begins into greatness. The best comic books make us feel, even though what is happening is sheer fantasy. Screenwriters Nolan and David S. Goyer translate the heart and undercurrent of Batman to virtual perfection.
The acting is solid across the board, starting with Christian Bale. He exudes confidence in the role and never falters, even in his more sensitive moments. He sells the Bruce Wayne/Batman double take with ease. Wait until you see the “birthday party” scene, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine supply much of the comedic relief, which, like the screenplay, is very savvy. Tom Wilkinson (admittedly one of my favorite actors) is also quite effective as the despicable Falcone. The rest of the cast, as all-star as it is, lives up to the hype.
What many hardcore film geeks will be talking about weeks from now, however, is Nolan’s honest and keen direction. He has saved a franchise that was all but finished by showing a remarkable directing skill. It’s hardly news, as his Memento is one of the best brain-fryers of all time. The action scenes may be a bit too tight and claustrophobic for some. We all know there’s been plenty of that recently, but fear not worrisome Batman disciples, the action scenes are sure to please. This is some high impact, no-holds-barred stuff that may catch many (especially parents) off kilter. Shots are edited quickly, but never once was I lost. Nolan’s Batmobile sequence is breathtaking, as is the finale, which is given full time to develop and reach a satisfying denouement. Nolan’s name deserves to be uttered in the same sentence as “Raimi.”
The wait is over. Batman Begins is an overwhelming success that will please fan boys foremost and average, patient moviegoers second. This is the Batman film we have been waiting for and the one we all deserve. On June 15th the real summer movie season begins.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 141 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.
Theatrical Release: June 15, 2005
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer. Story by Goyer and characters created by Bob Kane.
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe