Batman Begins represents the fifth installment in the Batman series and the first new film in the series in eight years. Director by Christopher Nolan (Memento) it also represents the best film in a series that had become stale and campy and also the first of the batman movies to do justice to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight vision of the caped crusader. Batman Begins by far is one of the best comic book movies in recent years and the best characterization of Batman that I never knew I wanted. This is a Batman a girl could lust after and any man could respect. He’s dark and brooding, human and awe inspiring and troubled enough to warrant running around the city dressed as an oversized bat and still mange not to seem like a man in serious need of counseling.
This new installment of Batman follows its predecessors in that the why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman hasn’t changed: He sees his parents killed by a mugger as a kid and from then on is raised by his trusty butler Alfred (Micahel Caine) and once he becomes grown feels the need to save Gotham City from the same criminal element that killed his parents. What is different is that for the first time the transformation from traumatized, orphaned kid to avenging, vigilante is believable. The film spends a great deal of time, the first hour in fact, addressing how witnessing the murder of his parents has affected him, from the guilt he feels that he couldn’t save them, to the rage he feels for the man responsible for their deaths. We also finally get an explanation as to why he chooses a bat as his alter ego that is not only plausible but believable and compelling. Michael Goyer did an excellent job humanizing Batman with this script. Instead of seeming supernatural or extraordinary, he comes across as a man in need of redemption from a haunting and tragic past, one who pursues his version of justice for the purging of his own soul as much as it is for the purging of Gotham City’s.
Christian Bale has found his calling as the young Bruce Wayne turned Batman. He is the perfect mix of self assurance and arrogance, vulnerability and insecurity. As the playboy Bruce Wayne he is sexy, alluring and charmingly irresponsible. As Batman he is anger, fear and justice personified. The duality in his personality is pulled off without a hitch and the switch between billionaire playboy, and winged vigilante is seamless. Who knew the emaciated actor from the Machinist would find his perfect fit in a role that had all but been played out.
Also, the movie doesn’t suffer from its all star supporting cast one bit. Liam Neeson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are excellent as always in their respective roles as mentor, butler and scientific genius. Neeson as the counselor and mentor to the young Bruce Wayne that teaches him all he knows is tough, smart and mysterious. Caine is excellent as the wise and understated Alfred, the only family Wayne has left and his guardian after his parents’ death. And Morgan Freeman is Batman’s personal Q as the man responsible for creating all of the gadgets, including his costume and the famed batmobile that we’ve come to expect from the Batman movies. Each man puts in an excellent performance which is to be expected from such gifted actors.
The one sour note on the acting front was Katie Holmes. While she’s gushing over being Tom Cruise’s new gal pal she should ask him for a few acting lessons because goodness knows every time she appeared on screen the movie came to a screeching halt. Calling her performance awful doesn’t quite cover things. She plays Rachel, childhood friend of Bruce Wayne turned love interest and the one honest person, along with a detective at the police precinct, left in Gotham City. As an adult Rachel is assistant DA and the only one left to shake Gotham loose form the criminal element that has its hold on the city. The problem is Katie Holmes as Rachel has the personality of a nut and the chemistry between Holmes and Bale is so non-existent that calling it non-existent is a gross understatement. I say feel free to kill her off in the sequel, the movie could only improve from such an editorial decision.
Despite Holmes’ awful performance Batman Begins is excellent entertainment, immense fun and a great way to spend your afternoon. For once the Batman movies have fulfilled their potential and promise and I can honestly say I can’t wait for the sequel.
(C) 2005 T. S. Johnson
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