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USA 2005
Directed by
Christopher Nolan
140 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
3 stars

Batman Begins

Synopsis: A prequel charting the caped crusader's evolution into Gotham City's protector.

From what I remember of the last four Batman films, they all featured a somewhat glossy dark hero in tights, statuesque beauties, fanciful bad guys (The Joker, Mr Freeze, etc) and improbable gadgets. Batman Begins takes a step back from all this in order to carve out mostly new territory. Like the Star Wars prequels, it fleshes out the backstory to a well-known saga in much greater details than has been attempted before. This time, however, it’s mainly interesting, well-written, and directed with some flair, particularly for big CGI-enhanced action sequences, by Christopher Nolan.

Nolan has assembled a strong group of performers. Bale is suitably gravel-voiced, physically imposing, and convincingly caught between his two personae. Caine is substantial in the role of Alfred, providing some well-nuanced comedic leavening. Katie Holmes, playing the dogged District Attorney, is an interesting diversion from the female characters of the other films. Some may wonder how someone who looks fresh out of their teens secured that eminent position, but that’s probably just me quibbling. Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman bring up the rear in excellent form, respectively filling in the gadget inventor and good cop roles. Cillian Murphy has a chilling quality as a cold-blooded henchman and Liam Neeson rounds it out with his usual understated approach as his villainous boss.

Starting with our hero as a child, Batman Begins follows a slightly convoluted and drawn-out path to Gotham City’s first encounters with The Bat. Like the recent Spiderman films, Nolan’s movie takes plenty of time to explore the psychology of the proto-hero, which here is marked by a fear of bats that indirectly led to the death of his very saintly parents (cue: guilt complex). It also provides the opportunity to explore the evolution of the man into avenger, providing a more logical and interesting background to where all those gadgets and the fancy car came from, as well as introducing us to Bruce Wayne’s initial hesitant flights as The Bat.

The film offers a grim look at the psychology of fear and revenge, a dark place from which Bruce struggles to emerge. Batman is essentially fighting against a new verb, the bad guy’s attempts ‘to weaponize’ a drug that induces psychotic fear and hallucinations in its victims. Judging from 37,600 hits for ‘weaponize’ on Google, however, this battle has already been lost - to the chagrin of the Queen’s English.

The drug’s effects are portrayed with terrifying visual effects, especially when we get to see what Batman looks like from the point of view of someone under the influence. It helps visualise the common themes in the Batman saga of The Bat as a creature or monster feared by the underworld. It is a pity that the current penchant for up-close shooting and frenetic editing of action scenes doesn’t give much opportunity to be impressed by the Bat’s agility or grace.

All this is all very nifty, and features a less obviously silly bad guy than, say, The Penguin. However, the plot is slightly rambling, as the first portion chronicles Bruce’s reappearance as a one-man-army in a Chinese prison after seven years absence, and subsequent training in a Tibetan monastery under the watchful eye of Liam Neeson in scenes rather reminiscent of other prequels of the young-man-meets-wise-master variety. Indeed, despite being stylishly-realized there is really nothing here that hasn't been seen before. Still, Batman Begins is a worthy pre-addition to a very popular franchise.




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