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Batman Begins
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Christopher Nolan (director)
Genre:   Superhero Action
Released:   June 15, 2005
Review Date:   June 17, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

During the last few years, television and movies have been unkind to Batman fans. After two excellent Tim Burton-helmed Batman features and the incredible Bruce Timm animated show, the fans were punished with the Joel Schumacher directed films Batman Forever and Batman & Robin and even more recently a mediocre animated series. Thankfully, director Christopher Nolan has resurrected the moribund franchise in Batman Begins.

As the title implies, the movie details the emergence of Bruce Wayne as the Dark Knight. While the death of Wayne's parents as the impetus for becoming Batman is well known to both fans and neophytes, what enabled the wealthy orphan to become a superhero is still a mystery to most.

Years after the young Bruce Wayne watched mugger Joe Chill murder his parents, the young man wanders the world in search of . . . well, he really isn't sure. He is wracked with guilt and rage over his parents' death. While in a Chinese prison he meets Henri Ducard, an agent for the mysterious Ra's Al Ghul. Ducard promises to train Wayne and give purpose to his life, while avenging his parents' death. Morally unable to comply with Ra's teachings, Wayne returns to Gotham City, eventually donning the mantle of Batman.

He quickly forges working relationships with the only honest Gotham cop, Lt. Gordon, and Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes, a Wayne childhood friend. Batman quickly takes down the head crime boss, which leads him to a confrontation with the Scarecrow. Using a lethal psychotropic drug, the villain forces his victims to experience their worst fears. While facing the Scarecrow, Batman uncovers a much larger plot that threatens the city.

Unlike previous attempts at Batman (and most comic book heroes), Batman Begins is heavy on the realism. The bat suit (thankfully sans nipples) actually looks like body armor that someone could wear and do the things that Batman does. In the previous movies, the actors lacked the requisite mobility. Every action seemed stilted and stiff. Not in this movie though. Batman's movements flowed.

While not as ornately Gothic as Burton's Gotham City, Gotham actually looks like a city. There is graffiti, litter, modern skyscrapers, and lots of ordinary people. All this realism only enhances the inherent terror in a character like Scarecrow. A deranged psychotherapist, Scarecrow gets pleasure out of inflicting his unique brand of torture. The psychotic scenes are very graphic, depicting maggots and demonic transformations. Very scary stuff. (This movie earns its PG-13 rating.)

The acting is uniformly good. Gary Oldman is perfect as the closest film portrayal to the comic book Gordon that we've seen yet. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox is excellent, as is Liam Neeson as Ducard. Michael Caine's Alfred is more of a partner on Batman's war on crime than a servant. Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow) clearly ascribes to the Jeffrey Combs school of villain creepiness.

The leads are where the acting problems lie. Although she didn't give a bad performance, Katie Holmes just wasn't given a lot to do. She basically stands around and looks pretty. The character should have either been excised or re-written as a more substantial part. Christian Bale certainly looks the part of Batman and Bruce Wayne. But in this film, he has very little screen presence. Although the voice he uses for Batman was excellent.

The fight scenes are shockingly bad. Most of the action occurs in shadows and in tight shots. It is often difficult to often tell what is happening. This technique is used to an advantage when Batman first appears in that the fear and confusion felt by the thugs is palatable. Sadly, this method does not work so well in subsequent action sequences.

Overall, the story unfolds nicely with some well executed non-linear scenes. (This is to be expected from Nolan, director of the masterful “backwards” mystery Memento.) The movie does falter a bit in the final act, where the director forsook obvious courses of action in favor of blowing things up. The single biggest faux pas, which occurs near the end of the film, brought a massive groan from the audience. The grievous action is obviously a Hollywood contrivance. (A similar mistake was made in the previous four Batman movies.)

Even with these minor quibbles, Christopher Nolan and Warner Brothers are to be congratulated on the best superhero movie since Spider-Man 2. An intelligent, well-conceived film with no camp, Batman Begins is the best movie of the franchise and is exactly what Batman fans have been hoping for.

Note 1—Batman & Robin: "[Batman & Robin is] not the worst movie ever. No, indeed. It's the worst thing ever. Yes, it's the single worst thing in that we as human beings have ever produced in recorded history.” Michael J. Nelson, Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese.

Note 2—Henri Ducard: As many Bat-geeks can tell you, Henri Ducard was first introduced into the Batman mythos during the “Blind Justice” story arc in Detective Comics. The arc was scripted by Sam Hamm, who co-wrote the original Time Burton Batman film.

Rick Klaw is a contributing editor of RevolutionSF.

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