A Review by Tyler Foster
So here's my advice: stop making comic book movies "for the fans." It seems the more references and little winks at the longtime readers that get packed into a comic book flick, the less the movie connects with the average audience. Maybe it's the whole round-peg-square-hole dilemma of putting 50 years of comic backstory into two measly hours, but it's probably more that in such fanboy fervor, directors forget about the structure, character and drama of the movie they're actually making. I don't know if Christopher Nolan read Batman comics before he jumped onboard, but Batman Begins resonates with the impact of honest filmmaking, going beyond genre affairs and inside jokes. This is the real deal.
Of course, there's no better place to start than Batman's origins, told for the first time on the big screen. Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne, who goes from millionaire playboy's son to troubled mind with two gunshots after his parents are killed by a street thief. Looking for the answer to the question of what to do with his life, Wayne leaves Gotham City and travels the world, finding something in Ducard (Liam Neeson), who is looking to train Wayne with the intention of letting him lead Ra's Al Ghul's army. But when such an offer turns out to be less than savory, Wayne finds himself traveling back to Gotham, looking to find some way to protect his now-corrupted home and turn it into the metropolis his father always wanted it to be.
Batman Begins plays like two comic books comprising a single story arc, one half featuring Wayne in training with Ducard and his troubled past, and the other his return to Gotham City as a crimefighter. It's wise of Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer to hold off the bat-man's appearance until the middle of the film, giving the film the character development and dramatic buildup the movie needs to really hit home. Other directors would have succumbed to the pressure of showing the title character early to maximize the amount of stuff that can be fit into the running time, but Nolan wants you to care about his characters, which means more than a simple hello and some quick exposition.
Even more so than watching Darth Vader come to life -- one of the greatest screen villains of all time -- the genesis of Batman is an amazing experience to watch. Maybe Batman has an unfair advantage because less is known about his superhero transformation, but nonetheless Nolan can send chills down the spine with the mere appearance of Gary Oldman's Lieutenant Gordon, the discovery of an empty cave, or the tiniest piece snapped onto the Batsuit. It all fits so wonderfully, right down to the movie's somewhat open-ended conclusion. Even the Batmobile, which people have been bashing left and right since pictures appeared online a year ago, is amazing to see in action, leaping buildings and slamming through concrete walls.
As this (and all my reviews) are spoiler-free, I can't delve into the details of the rest of the plot, such as The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) or his maniac plans, the character of Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) or the movie's third act. But I can tell you the movie doesn't introduce anything it doesn't use brilliantly. Scarecrow's scheme actually feels like a danger not only to our hero but a happy ending, with Nolan directing his mad-scientist horrors with a tripped-out flair that's deeply menacing, moreso than Magneto or Doc Ock could even dream of. As for the supporting cast, from first appearance to exit Michael Caine makes for a wonderful Alfred, Katie Holmes is perfectly passable as one of Bruce's old friends, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox is one hell of a mentor figure. Like all good mentors, no advice is given without a devilish grin.
"You still haven't given up on me yet?" Bruce asks Alfred. Alfred smiles. "Never." That must be good news to Warner Brothers, trying to steer the remnants of their most iconic film franchise back to box office success. There are two kinds of classics: pop art classics, movies aware they're movies, that work on some almost self-serving level as pure entertainment, and then there are true masterpieces. Sin City was great, but it only registers as a stylized blip on the radar of Batman Begins, which doesn't bother setting aside energy towards gaining "real film" status but simply achieves it. Christopher Nolan, cast and crew deserve to be proud -- despite what you might hear in comic books, it's not easy bringing heroes back from the dead.
Starring Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson and Morgan Freeman
Written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan | Directed by Christopher Nolan
Warner Brothers Pictures (2005) | 134 Minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements