Batman Begins Review
By Joe Lozito
In Tim Burton's 1989 adaptation of "Batman", Jack Nicholson's Joker utters the infamous line "where does he get those wonderful toys?" Who would have thought that the man behind the brilliant "Memento", director Christopher Nolan, would answer the question sixteen years later in the stunningly dark "Batman Begins"?
This "Batman" takes its place among the best of the comic book film adaptations - among the ranks of Richard Donner's "Superman" and Sam Raimi's "Spider-man". Finally, we have a "Batman" movie for fans, adults and kids alike. Though, those kids shouldn't be too young; this Batman is scary. The film has the dark tone of the comics down pat. Gotham City is a once beautiful metropolis now ruled by fear. The underworld owns most of the city, and it's up to Batman to win it back. But this won't be an easy road; first we have to learn what put Bruce Wayne in a cowl and cape.
The script, written by Mr. Nolan and "Blade's" David S. Goyer is a masterwork of setup and payoff. The writers take great pains to examine the origins of Batman - from the familiar shooting of his parents (still moving after all these years) to his training under a mysterious eastern mentor (the always sturdy Liam Neeson). As a result, they create a "Batman" movie that - for once - is more interesting when Bruce Wayne is on screen. Christian Bale ably steps into the costume, creating a man that is scarred deep within his soul, not just from his parents' death but from his inability to confront who he is. He's a flawed hero who walks a fine line between lawlessness and justice.
Not only are all of Batman's methods explained here - almost to a fault, I wanted the film to get under way a little faster - but the writers weave a complex web of characters via quick moments and snippets of dialogue. From the inspired casting of Michael Caine who, at long last, imbues Wayne's trusty butler Alfred with more than a little soul to a surprisingly mature turn by Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (though Ms. Holmes needs to beware of adopting Drew Barrymore's sideways smirk). The writers even get the much-ignored character of Jim Gordon right, thanks to a skillfully restrained performance by Gary Oldman. And that's just scratching the surface: Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Morgan Freeman and Rutger Hauer round out the cast beautifully in memorable smaller roles.
Mr. Nolan's assured direction and pacing keep the movie feeling brisk even at its two-plus hour running time. The film almost begs re-watching just to make sure you've absorbed all the layers within it. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with recent big screen comic adaptations, the villain's plot leaves something to be desired. Gone are the days of the simple (and simply brilliant) real estate swindle from Richard Donner's masterful "Superman". Mr. Nolan's villains have a much more nefarious deed in mind and, while their reasons - like everything else in the film - are explained fully, I never found their plot very interesting. The final chase through Gotham, while exciting, can't match the intensity of what came before.
It's a long held belief among comic book aficionados that what makes Batman such a great hero is that he's an ordinary man. No being from another world, no gamma rays, no radioactive spiders here; Batman is just a really rich, well-trained vigilante. Finally, the Batman character has escaped the shadow of the 60s Adam West camp-fest, as well as the beautiful but ultimately hollow Tim Burton series (the less said about the Joel Schumacher entries the better), to return to what made him interesting to begin with: the man behind the mask.