"Fuelled by logic and with realism as the key word, Nolan’s vision takes place in a real world far removed from the art deco stylised production of Burton or the lavish fancy dress party on steroids of Schumacher."

He might be one of the most recognisably popular comic characters in the world, but Batman’s big-screen outings have never got things right. The 1966 TV show spin-off movie was all tights and camp, the Tim Burton movies had our hero so second-fiddle to the villains he was almost a cameo and the Joel Schumacher flicks descended right back into zany sillyness. Despite having five motion pictures to his name, the caped crusader still hadn’t been carved out.

That is, until now. By taking things back to grass-roots with a serious and gritty re-imagining, director Chris Nolan re-boots the iconic character so effectively that we don’t just have a cinematic portrayal worthy of Bob Kane’s original creation; we have the definitive version. Working with lifelong Bat-fan/comic scribe David Goyer, Nolan’s script borrows from Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel Batman: Year One, for the first time ever we understand why Bruce Wayne would dress up like a wing-flapping nocturnal creature.

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Ever since his parents were murdered before him as a child, millionaire orphan Wayne (Christian Bale) has wanted to clear up crime in Gotham city. After years away searching for answers and training from the mysterious Ducard’s (Liam Neeson) ninja cult, Wayne returns to find things worse than ever under the stranglehold of mobster Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). With the help of faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine), honest cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), Wayne decides to become a symbol to strike fear into criminals everywhere.

Fuelled by logic and with realism as the key word, Nolan’s vision takes place in a real world far removed from the art deco stylised production of Burton or the lavish fancy dress party on steroids of Schumacher. Unlike previous incarnations, dead parents don’t just instantly necessitate the wearing of a full-body bat-suit and utility belt as time is taken to logically justify every aspect of Batman from the cape to the car and everything in between. As the title suggests, this is the beginning, so Bats isn’t the finished article and learns from his mistakes. There might not be any trips to the ocean here, but if there were, there’d be no trusty anti-shark repellent on hand.

As a result, Nolan and Goyer render the Dark Knight exactly as he should be; dark (obviously), largely hidden in the shadows and vanishing after fleeting glimpses. Perching on skyscrapers as his cape billows for some truly iconic shots, we understand that the non-super hero’s greatest weapon is his unshakable determination (“training is nothing…will is everything!” Ducard teaches him). In addition, the dynamic scripting duo are also smart enough to pit him against the sorts of foes he should be facing; ruthless mob leaders (an entertaining Wilkinson), evil psychologists (a chilling Cillian Murphy) and vicious assassins (a Sith-like Neeson).

However, perhaps most impressive of all though is how effectively Nolan penetrates the cowl. Using fear as the recurrent psychological theme of the day (in Memento it was memory, in Insomnia it was, well, insomnia), the British director’s exploration of Wayne as a wounded, guilt-ridden man haunted by his inner demons are so emotionally engaging that we don’t care that it’s an hour or so before we see the fully-formed Batman. Culminating in a primal scene where Bruce embraces the bats and, aided by a powerfully ascending score from Hans Zimmer, the action might be well-handled (the thrill-seeking tumbler chase is fun) but this is one movie where the ‘talky’ bits win out.

Though packed with a great cast that includes Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Rutger Hauer and Holmes (Nolan wanted his cast to be as epic as Dick Donner’s Superman), Batman Begins is Bale’s. Perfectly nailing both Bruce and Batman, the chameleon-like Bale’s turn is so impressive that scene-stealing turns from Caine and ideal small performances like Oldman fade into the background. As Nolan stated: “Looking into his eyes, this is somebody who can make you believe in the possibility of somebody devoting their life to something this extreme”.

Much like it’s main character, Batman Begins has brains, brawn and heart. Though up until now X2 and Spider-man 2 were the benchmarks, Nolan has raised the bar big time with the best superhero movie out there. Don’t worry about thanking him though, you’ll never have to.

Reviewed on: 02 Feb 2009
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The evolution of mixed up rich kid Bruce Wayne into the Dark Knight of Gotham City.
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Read more Batman Begins reviews:

Scott Macdonald ****1/2
Angus Wolfe Murray ****
The Remote Viewer ****

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan, David S Goyer

Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Morgan Freeman, Linus Roache, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Gus Lewis, Sara Stewart

Year: 2005

Runtime: 141 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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