Sunday, June 19, 2005

Movie Review: Batman Begins

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 6/15/05
Running Length: 2:20
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, disturbing images)
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer

Director: Christopher Nolan
Producers: Larry J. Franco, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
Screenplay: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Music: James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer
Studio: Warner Brothers

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With an eight-year gap in the Caped Crusader’s screen-time, Warner Brothers hopes that audiences can forgive them for Joel Schumacher’s two Batman droppings (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin) and grant the Dark Knight another chance to start anew. Considering Batman Begins contains the term “begins” it its title, the film itself undertakes the gutsy restoration of both Burton’s and (more so) Schumacher’s injustice to the saga of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego—and, oh boy does it deliver. With the immensely talented Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair, both the revival of a legend and the best superhero story – ever – have surfaced.

After witnessing his mother and father being murdered, Bruce Wayne – the heir to Wayne Enterprises – withdraws from his lucrative lifestyle and becomes a prisoner. Once he is rescued from his imprisonment, by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), he trains to join Ducard’s League of Shadows—a group of vigilantes, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe).

Following the completion of his training, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) returns to Gotham City and becomes Batman. With his bat suit, car, and weaponry, Batman takes on the likes of mob boss, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), whose knowledge of pharmaceuticals assists him in poisoning his prey. But, Bruce is not out for everyone; he does have his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), a handy Q-esque hook-up, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), and the only “good” cop left in the city, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman).

Nolan directs the transformation of Bruce Wayne, from kid to criminal and from criminal to Batman, with the utmost of care. One of Batman Begins strongest suits is that the story is credible; the suspension of disbelief is low, and the effort taken to both construct and develop Bruce Wayne – as a man – is high. Viewers feel for both his affinity to fight crime and his choice to become a force to be reckoned with—creating a character that is easy to both root for and relate to.

By far, Christian Bale is the best embodiment of Batman yet. In comparison to the other actors who have previously played the Dark Knight of Gotham City, Bale edges out Keaton with his multi-dimensionality and blows Kilmer, Clooney, and West out of the water with his intensity. Regardless of which scene he is in, Bale is equally convincing as both the billionaire heir and the nocturnal threat to all that is unlawful.

Michael Caine and Liam Neeson are equally outstanding, while Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Gary Oldman, and Tom Wilkinson all hold their own—given their limited presence. Conversely, it is Cillian Murphy who steals the show from all others, excluding Bale, with his crazed interpretation of Dr. Crane. Katie Holmes, as Wayne’s damsel in distress, is the weak spot of the cast. Her character’s emotions feel strained, and unlike Mary Jane in Spider-Man, Rachel never fully connects with Bruce on an emotional level.

Conversely, the shadowy score connects with the film’s overall disposition. James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer have collaborated to create a dark atmosphere that matches the brooding mood of both the cartoon and the comic book. Nolan’s choice to use two gifted score writers instead of one, definitely paid off—considering both conductors’ flavors are equally audible.

Batman Begins is not only a prequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 original, but it is also a new beginning – a renaissance of the DC Comic hero – with “beginning” being the key word. The entire production team has already made a verbal commitment to a trilogy—making Begins the start of something grand. Without a doubt, the success of Batman Begins puts a smile on the faces of both the WB bigwigs and moviegoers around the world. In fact, this superb superhero feature, that features a protagonist who possesses no superpowers, is nearly as captivating as a bat’s night-time means of echolocation. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005