Batman Begins

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Linus Roache
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense violence and disturbing images
Running time: 141 minutes

Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total Score – 7 out of 10

And we thought Batman was dead.

After the franchise vanished with a whimper in 1997 with the obnoxiously bad BATMAN & ROBIN, the dark knight has returned with a vengeance – and this time in a prequel that sets everything in motion.

Bruce Wayne (Bale; Gus Lewis plays Wayne as a child) is the son of Thomas Wayne (Roache), the wealthiest, most powerful man in Gotham – think of Bill Gates with a social conscience. During a botched mugging, Thomas and his wife are killed, leaving Bruce a guilt-ridden, albeit extremely rich, orphan.

Fifteen years later, when Bruce fails to avenge his parents’ deaths, he goes on a self-imposed exile to Asia. There, he meets a mysterious mentor named Ducard (Neeson), who teaches him everything he needs to know about fighting criminals. When Bruce discovers Ducard’s dark purpose, he escapes and returns to Gotham.

Bruce decides to follow his father’s footstep and tries to save Gotham by fighting the crime and corruption. But he knows he’s only one man – he needs to be more than that, to be a symbol, something that people fear. Searching his own fears, he finds that symbol. Under the charade of the rich, spoiled playboy named Bruce Wayne, he would emerge as… Batman.

Bale (THE MACHINIST) is an intense actor, and his intensity adds to the film, and the personality of Batman/Bruce Wayne immensely. Bale has done a great job capturing the dark inner world of Batman and the playful outer shell of Wayne. By far, I think he’s one of the best Batmans in the franchise (maybe even better than Michael Keaton). Caine (BEWITCHED) is superb as Alfred, Bruce’s loyal butler. He demonstrates the lighter side of the Bat business, but still offers plenty of emotional anchoring for Bruce.

Likewise, Goldman (HARRY POTTER) is excellent, playing against type as the honest and down-to-earth inspector Jim Gordon. His subdued yet heroic performance fits the character perfectly. Freeman (WAR OF THE WORLDS) also brings a much-needed light-heartedness to the film as Lucius Fox, the techno-wizard (aka Q in JAMES BOND) who outfits Bruce to become the formidable Batman. Wilkinson (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) and Murphy (COLD MOUNTAIN) are very good in their villainous roles. Sure, they’re not as flamboyant as the Joker or Penguin, but they’re equally sinister in the context of this film. Neeson (KINSEY) plays the mentor/nemesis with equal parts of sincerity and menace. Hauer (SIN CITY), Watanabe (THE LAST SAMURAI) and Roache (THE FORGOTTEN) do well in their respective roles as Earle, Al Ghul, and Thomas Wayne. The weakest link, however, is Holmes (FIRST DAUGHTER) as Alfred’s daughter and Bruce’s love interest. She simply lacks the spark to bring the character to life – to make us care about her – and she has almost no chemistry with Bale.

Writer-director Nolan’s (MENENTO) script is inconsistent. The first third of the film moves slowly, with lots of flashbacks and expositions. It’s not until Bruce returns to Gotham that the story picks up. The middle part is actually the best in the film – a rarity. The last third of the film degenerates into a standard popcorn, big-explosion extravaganza, but that much is expected. The night scenes are too dark, sometimes, and it’s hard to figure out what is going on. Over all, Nolan does a good job keeping our interest high and the action moving. The dramatic scenes won’t be Oscar-worthy but they give the film some legitimate weight. The best part of the film is that Nolan helps steer the Batman franchise back to the dark side. It’s a fun film but not campy. It’s serious but not boring. It’s emotional but also tongue-in-cheek. I think Nolan finds a good balance, and it’s a worthy new beginning for BATMAN.

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