Batman Begins Review
Who's In It:
Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson and Michael Caine
Who Directed It: Christopher Nolan
Year of release: 2005
Batman Begins (2005) Movie Review
Reviewed by: Adam Mast, Zboneman.com
Batman Begins is a striking rebirth of a franchise that many thought Joel Schumacher had run into the ground. Though, this new cinematic take on the Caped Crusader doesnít have the same tone or visual sense of Tim Burtonís films, this Batman is still dark around the edges, and is grounded in a kind of realism that's punctuated by dramatic depth.
The title says it all. The first half of Batman Begins is essentially a primer course - Batman 101. As students of the Batman legacy, we are given layer upon layer of insight into why the wealthy Bruce Wayne becomes the ultimate crime fighter (including lengthy back-story into his physical and psychological training). This exposition goes well beyond the details we already know concerning the untimely death of his parents - a tragic event he witnessed when he was just a boy. Batman Begins has much more on itís mind. Why does Wayne choose the bat as his symbol of justice? When did he first discover the cave that would become his fortress of solitude? When and where did he first meet Commissioner Gordon? And, of course, where did he get all of those wonderful toys? These are just a few of the questions answered in this gloriously entertaining prequel.
The second half of the picture presents Batman doing what he does best Ė saving Gotham from the scum of the earth. The film features some truly original villains, including ring leader Carmine Falcone (played with devilish glee by In the Bedroomís Tom Wilkinson). The primary bad guy in Batman Begins though, is Scarecrow, a terrifying fan favorite. Psychiatrist Dr. Crane by day and ferocious evil doer by night. His plan for domination is a bizarre one, but it bristles with originality.
Perhaps Batman Beginsí strongest attribute is itís winning performances. Christian Bale (a terrific actor whom I first took notice of in Steven Spielbergís underrated Empire of the Sun) is the perfect fit for Bruce Wayne/Batman. As Wayne, he exudes a certain charm, but more importantly, we sense that mystery and pain that ultimately drives him to become the avenging caped crudader. As the Dark Knight, the actor truly excels. He looks perfect in the suit and even goes so far as to use a different voice when heís fighting crime. Quite the intimidating one I might add. Letís just say that this is not the Batman of Adam Westís creation. This version of the time-honored super-hero means business, and he has no problem offing the occasional bad guy or two. Gary Oldman is subtle and extremely effective as Jim Gordon, one of the few good cops in Gotham. He has the intelligence to know what Batmanís motivation is, and ultimately we gain much insight into how their legendary relationship takes root. Michael Caine is all heart as loving butler Alfred. His scenes with a young Bruce Wayne are some of the best of the movie. And as always, Caine has a wonderful sense of humor.
Morgan Freeman, is sly and commanding as Lucius Fox, the handy man who helps to equip Batman with some of his finest gadgets. Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) is chilling but playful as Crane/Scarecrow. While heís in the film far less than Iíd hoped, he makes the most of every second of screen time. Liam Neeson is sensational as Ducard, a mentor with a secret. Heís tough and uncompromising, and this is more in line with what I hoped heíd be in Star Wars Episode I. Finally, Iíd like to mention Tom Wilkinson who, for whatever reason, hasnít really been discussed all that much in terms of his involvement in this film. True, heís only in Batman Begins for a few scenes, but his presence sets the stage and effectively introduces us to Gotham nasty underbelly. Rounding out a stellar cast are a tenacious Katie Holmes, a conniving Rutger Hauer, and a mythic Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai).
Batman Begins was directed with a sure hand by Christopher Nolan (Memento and Insomnia). Recognizing that fans were disenchanted...nay, mortified with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, Nolan and his outstanding screenwriter David S. Goyer opted to get back to basics. Theyíve stripped away the goofy camp approach that drowned the last two films. Instead, theyíve delivered a gritty masterpiece with a real hero in a real, violence-filled world, and the end result is something that the fans will certainly cherish.
Which isn't to suggest that the casual movie goer won't have a grand time as well.
As much as I enjoyed this picture, it isnít perfect. When stacked up against the last two movies, this one is Citizen Kane, but to call Batman Begins flawless, wouldnít be entirely honest. The first half of this picture is outstanding. It was everything I wanted and hoped it to be. However, the movie does suffer at times in the second half. I found many of the hand-to-hand combat scenes slightly muddled. Nolan shoots his action scenes so tight, that at times, itís hard to see what the hell is going on. I also found Scarecrowís dastardly plot a little underdeveloped. Still, these are minor quibbles, lost as they are in the grand scheme of things.
Where superhero pictures are concerned, I wouldnít quite rank this one up there with the likes of the first two Superman movies or the spectacular Spiderman 2, but it is an outstanding achievement, nonetheless and ample proof that the Batman franchise is far from flat-lined. Itís hard to compare Nolanís vision with Burtonís so Iím not going to. Iíll just say that I enjoyed this movie and as prequel concepts go, it gets it right where the recent Star Wars series got it wrong (although I did enjoy Episode III). Batman Begins is a winner, and should go a long way toward easing the movie industryís much talked-about financial woes.