Batman Begins

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It is so satisfying to see a movie that fulfills your hopes and expectations. It is doubly so when the movie is based on a comic book character that is – well, there’s no other way to say it – sacred. After the last two horrifying installments, something even half as good as the 1989 Tim Burton Batman probably would have sufficed; this installment makes that well-loved predecessor look like a farce. Even the cartoonishly cherubic Katie Holmes can’t dampen the delicious, adult tone of this movie.

Filling in the holes in young Bruce Wayne’s transition from terrified (and wealthy) orphan to terrorizing vigilante citizen, posing dramatically on rooftops, Batman Begins expands the myth beyond the well-trod “Well, see, he saw his parents killed. So that messed him up. He’s rich, so you know, he built some bat stuff.” Wayne has more to rage about than a life-altering homicide; more legacy to fulfill than just petty revenge. And training! By the redoubtable Ken Watanabe and Qui-Gon himself, Liam Neeson, no less. Characters in general are not painted black or white, with some clear exceptions, but they make the picture more interesting all around.

What’s fantastic about this movie is how it makes the hyperreal seem real, seem solid. It’s genuinely dark and the action is all justified, and perfectly paced. It seethes and it revs and it truly does rock; it rocks intelligently, but it is still very cool. A particularly effective scene is staged much like a horror movie, but our hero is the lurking, unseen danger. It’s very effective, both at humanizing the bad guys (antithetical to most comic adaptation) and at giving us a sense of Wayne’s power.

Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) likes cerebral movies that take the audience inside the mind of the cerebrum in question, and this is no exception. As co-screenwriter (with David S. Goyer) he explores fear as a causality rather than a result, and justice versus revenge. What makes a man good, or turns a man bad? Where does madness begin and justified behavior end?

Gotham is envisioned as the biggest, worst city imaginable – it has the depressed elements of Chicago, the impossible density of New York, and the remote selfishness of Los Angeles. Its enhanced reality complements Wayne’s mechanical aids in his batmanism. Even the “bat sports hummer” you have seen in the commercials doesn’t feel creass. It should also be noted that casting talents like Watanabe, Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Cillian Murphy never hurt any movie; and yet this movie exhibits the hard-won knowledge that the movie is about BATMAN. Not the showy villains (you hear that, Governor Freeze?), but the man under the cape. Christian Bale calls upon his American Psycho gravitas and his Empire of the Sun vulnerability to create a rich, delicious Batman who yes, also looks good posing on a rooftop. Come on, we don’t just love Batman because he’s deep. But he’s so much more gratifying when there is content behind the cape.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/15/05
Time in minutes 134
Director Christopher Nolan
Studio Warner Brothers