Batman Begins Review
So everyone knows how this story goes: how little Bruce Wayne, scion and sole heir to the Wayne fortune, falls into a cave and gets scared by bats. Young Bruce, who must have done something particularly terrible in a past life, is then psychologically scarred when he witnesses his parents’ murder at the hands of a mugger, and grows up to become Batman, the scourge of Gotham City, the legendary – woah, Nelly! For in this addition to the Batman legend, the first third of the film is all about how Master Wayne spanks his inner moppet, deals with his childhood trauma, and grows to become the Dark Knight.
We open with Bruce (Bale) in a jail somewhere like Nepal – we learn through flashbacks that he has dropped out of Princeton seeking the means to fight injustice, on a sort of extended gap year. He’s having a pretty miserable time, being continually challenged by the other inmates, but he’s learnt to hold his own with some pretty rough street-fighting skills. He meets a mysterious stranger (Neeson) who offers to show him what he wants to know, and travels to the academy of a mysterious ninja-style academy where he is trained in the way of the warrior. On graduating, he discovers that the leader of the group, Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), is less about justice than he is for killing, and Bruce cannot shake off his innate decency and compassion.
He returns to a decaying Gotham where, since the Depression of his childhood, things have gone from bad to worse – the criminals, led by Carmine Falconi (Wilkinson) and his pet psychologist, Dr Jonathan Crane (Murphy), run the city, the police force is utterly corrupt, and the good people do nothing. Handily, Bruce still owns a large share of Wayne Enterprises, which happens to have a really useful science department, run by the disaffected Lucius Fox (Freeman). Formerly a member of the board, Fox is happy to cock a snook at his bosses and help Bruce in every way he can. With the help of his loyal butler, Alfred (Caine), and Fox’s gadgets, Bruce creates Batman, and begins to fight back.
I’ve never been to an IMAX before and I was a bit worried about seeing Batman Begins on such a big screen; size isn’t everything, you know. But there was no need. Whether you see the film at the IMAX or just on a regular 35 mm print you’d have to be a dead goat not to enjoy it. It combines the dark, serious quality of Frank Miller’s source material with a sense of glee – this is Batman, I mean, it’s every geek’s dream. The creation of the Batsuit is brilliant and matches Sam Raimi’s unveiling of Spider-Man. Especially cool is the new Batmobile – ‘does it come in black?’ – with its jet thruster engine and cloaking device, and Batman’s new cloak, and his ninja Batstars, and all his little gadgets.
The supporting cast, which includes Gary Oldman as the only good cop in Gotham, Jim Gordon (later to be the famed Commissioner, of course), all seem to be having a complete ball and its great to see all these famed thespians together on screen. Liam Neeson and Rutger Hauer (as sleazy businessman Richard Earle) are having very good years. Wonky-faced Katie Holmes, as love interest and assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, is fine but slightly irrelevant. But the film really belongs to Bale, who brings a moody vulnerability to the part, whether as the slightly geeky preppie Bruce or the older, hardened crimefighter. Its hard to believe that this is the living corpse of The Machinist.
Chris Nolan has earned his place in the Hollywood hall of fame with this film and he brings a real deftness and lightness of touch. Particularly cool are the fight scenes – Batman is most effective when unseen, so he creates a real sense of menace and confusion, using the sound of bat wings, moving in and out of the shadows like a ninja. (I wasn’t sure if some of the blurriness was due to the IMAX format.) The set design is very cool, I particularly liked the styling of Gotham, its monorail and gleaming skyscrapers contrasted with the Narrows below, futuristic art deco last seen in Blade Runner. The last third of the film is in some ways the least satisfying – I’d have liked it if it had been able to concentrate on The Scarecrow who got slightly short shrift. But with it set up perfectly for a sequel I’m sure the Batsignal will be illuminating our skies again very soon (and banishing the hideous memory of George Clooney forever). I for one can’t wait.
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