Jul 2008 28

Christopher Nolan reboots and revitalizes a dying franchise that takes the source material seriously and creates one of the better comic book origin films to date.

Christian Bale stars as Bruce Wayne who has purposefully got himself thrown into prison and entered a life of crime to train and learn how to get back at evil and strike fear into their hearts. While in prison he is approached by Henri Ducard (Liam Nesson) speaking on the behalf of Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), who leads an organization called the League of Shadows who wishes to, rid the world of the scum of the earth. The league trains Wayne into a skilled master of fighting, stealth, and combat tactics, before having to pass the final test of executing a proven criminal. Refusing to kill the man, Wayne is forced to defend himself, kills Ra’s al Ghul, and destroys the league’s hide out along with many of it’s members; with Wayne saving Henri Ducard before it’s all said and done, yet has to leave him behind.
Upon returning to Gotham, Wayne, along with the help of Alfred (Michael Caine) the family butler begins to re-establish his name in both Wayne Enterprises and the city. He begins to work secretly with Alfred creating Batman while also enlisting the help of Lucius Fox at Wayne Enterprises for the high tech gadgetry needed to become Batman. Batman’s first target is a mobster by the name of Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Batman begins to enlist the help of Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) a good cop that has to sit ideally bye due to the status quo of the crime world in Gotham. Gordon helps Batman on the legitimate side of the law while he enforces things vigilante across the city. Considered the crime boss of Gotham, Falcone avoids jail time for himself and his goons through the help of dirty cops and Dr. Jonathan Crane who has Falcone’s thugs turf’d to Arkham Asylum because they are “criminally insane.” Wayne must get to the bottom of Falcone’s scheme while also trying to juggle his image as a playboy while trying to still express interest in his long love Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes).
To say a lot is going on in this film, is a bit of an understatement, and I haven’t even got into the twists and turns of the story yet. But the film at heart is an origin story, and a pretty damn good one at that and it spends the fist half of the movie building and creating who Batman is, before he really solidifies into what he is ideally trying to be and begins really getting into the meat of the Falcone mess.
The film itself is paced extremely well for an origin story, having to introduce all these characters and trying to get to know them; it does a pretty damn good job. The action in the film is solid and thrilling, but the fights themselves are too tightly shot and you can’t even tell what is going on. Another problem with the film is that there is no definitive antagonist for Batman. There are a couple of adversaries, but no true villain to define what is truly bad in this film. But in the end, this is a minor qualm, and again we are establishing Batman in this film first and foremost.
The acting is top notch across the board, with Katie Holmes being the only real weakness in the cast. She isn’t terrible, but she isn’t really that good either. Bale gives us the best Bruce Wayne yet and his Batman is just a hair below Michael Keaton’s. Wilkinson eats up the scenery as Falcone and is a joy to watch in the limited screen time he gets. Unfortunately, Gary Oldman’s Gordon doesn’t get as much screen time as I would have liked in this film, but there is always the sequel, and Oldman does a great job with what he has. Morgan Freeman is incredibly likable as Lucius Fox with his sly humor and wisdom and advice. Michael Caine makes Alfred more than a butler and gives Wayne a sort of father figure that he can lean on and look to advice. Cillian Murphy is also a blast as Crane and his alter-ego of the Scarecrow that terrorizes people’s minds. Liam Nesson is also solid as the master to Wayne‘s protégé, and he should since he has played that role a dozen times now. Ken Watanabe unfortunately has little to no material, and was pretty much a waste as Ra’s. The cast all around just works well and gels together creating one of the best ensemble casts in a film in a while.
I have already touched on the direction a bit, but Nolan does a great job on his first film on a grand scale and you can see how he has grown in his follow up The Prestige. It will be really great to see how he further grows in The Dark Knight. The score is also very good, yet extremely subtle, with it never really being prominently but complementing the film very well. The effects work is also top notch and even though they did much of it practically the CGI blends in perfectly.
In the end, Batman Begins is one of the better comic book films in recent years. While there are few that still sit above it, Nolan has laid the grounds for an excellent follow up with The Dark Knight and it will be great to see what he can do with a defined villain, The Joker, and not having to worry about the back story of the Wayne and Batman.


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