Batman Begins

When something is broken beyond repair, the only thing to do is go back and start at the beginning. Welcome to Batman Begins, a fascinating recreation of a franchise which began with good intentions and ended up becoming a bat-tastrophe. Under Tim Burton’s direction, 1989’s Batman was a radical left-turn from the campy 1960’s television series. By the time director Joel Schumacher killed off the series with Batman and Robin, the franchise had gone completely off the map.

Enough time has passed to welcome Batman Begins with open arms, a dark, moody and extremely engaging crime drama which benefits from the tightly wound direction of Christopher Nolan and a smart, efficient screenplay by Nolan and David S. Goyer. The filmmakers don’t just take a step back, they erase the slate. Batman Begins is more organic and less artificial.

Batman isn’t a super hero but a man with invincible determination, a flesh and blood person who must rely on his fine-tuned physical training and keen sense of awareness. He must also look good in rubber, and Christian Bale, all buffed up after his rail-thin performance in The Machinist, is the perfect candidate. Bale hides a smoldering intensity under his dark, brooding good looks, the perfect blend of inner angst and public persona. The suit is all about empowerment, and once inside, Bale cuts quite a figure.

As Batman’s cultural counterpart, Bruce Wayne, Bale carries himself quite well. You can see why Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) has had a crush on him since they were children playing together. That was before Bruce= s parents were murdered by low-life thug Joe Chill, sending Bruce spiraling into darkness and seeking revenge.

Batman Begins does an exemplary job of examining Bruce’s mind set. It’s important we understand Bruce’s connection to Bats and why he chooses them for his alter ego. The script contains numerous Bat references, all leading up to a natural conclusion. We must also understand what drives a man to become a masked avenger, and its here where Batman Begins excels.

Nolan (Memento) and Goyer use time-shifting to cover all the bases, exposing us to little pieces of the story until they’re ready for Batman to take flight. In a bit of business reminiscent of Remo Williams, Bruce receives extensive physical training from the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), who believes the best weapon against evil is evil. After Bruce refuses to obey an order, he returns to Gotham City, which has been overrun by crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), who seems to have most of City Hall on his payroll.

Back home, Bruce is greeted by butler Alfred (Michael Caine), and with the assistance of Wayne Enterprises scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), whose inventions become Bruce’s new bat arsenal, Bruce is ready to fight crime. This is just but one of several bits of business that go a long way examining the mysteries behind the Batman legend. Batman Begins also sets the stage for familiar events to come, including the introduction of Gotham City’s last honest cop Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Nolan has managed to make a small movie on a larger-than-life scale. The set pieces are spectacular but never overwhelming, and always character driven. Cliffhangers are meaningless unless we care about those in jeopardy, and we do care about these characters. The filmmakers inject a real sense of menace and danger into the proceedings, a byproduct of bringing the franchise back to Earth.

The script isn’t black and white but varying shades of gray. Bruce is the good guy, but his rage makes him just as dangerous as his nemesis, which include notorious psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), in cahoots with Falcone (and who later becomes the villainous Scarecrow), the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), who rescued Bruce from a Far East prison and introduced him to Ra’s al Ghul, and Wayne Enterprises turncoat Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer). In some ways, Bale’s Batman mirrors Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, a crime fighter who breaks the law to uphold it.

Bruce’s inner rage comes in handy when crime hits an all time high, forcing him to reconcile his past in order to save his future. That includes fanning the flames of romance with Rachel, who becomes the film’s designated damsel in distress. Holmes is the least satisfying aspect of the film, a perky teen playing in a grown up world. Fortunately Holmes is never left holding the ball, so there’ s no chance of her dropping it.

There’s a lot of story (and back story) packed into the film’s two hours and twenty minutes, enough time to lay out the ground work for the new franchise without wearing out its welcome. The director of Memento reestablishes his talent of managing numerous story arcs without missing a beat, feeding us just enough information with each pass to make us hungry for more.

Production designer Nathan Crowley is to be commended for making Gotham City look less like a garish Gregorian Opera and more like a grand city which has seen better times. The Depression era look is a nice contrast to Batman’s high tech weapons of mass destruction. The score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer evokes just the right mood without beating you over the head.

Batman Begins is a nice contrast to Batman and Robin, with hope that this bat will continue to fly.

In The Beginning

Batman Takes a Refresher Course

Batman Begins

Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Rated PG-13. 140 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $8.00

Comments are closed.