Combustible Celluloid
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With: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Sara Stewart, Richard Brake, Gus Lewis, Emma Lockhart, Linus Roache, Mark Boone Junior
Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, based on a story by David S. Goyer
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements
Running Time: 134
Date: 10/06/2005

Batman Begins (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bat City

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Every so often, Batman goes through a period of re-darkening. Even though everyone seems to like the dark version better, some misguided souls always feel the need to insert campy jokes, and Robin, into the mix. Perhaps the darkness gets to be too much to bear.

Comic book vets Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams re-darkened Batman in the 1970s, and Frank Miller did it again in the 1980s, and now Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale have done it for the movie franchise, last seen eight years ago with the universally despised Batman & Robin (1997).

Nolan's new film, Batman Begins, reveals the origins of the Caped Crusader, who first dons his pointy ears just in time to protect Gotham City from a gangster (Tom Wilkinson) and the evil Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). Their evil plan involves driving the city population insane with a sinister chemical planted in the water supply.

Batman Begins sticks fairly close to the comic book origin at times, but veers wildly off at other times. The man who shot Bruce Wayne's parents is Joe Chill once again, and not the Joker as Tim Burton asserted in Batman (1989). But this Bruce Wayne also does time in a Chinese prison and trains with monks as a ninja.

"Always be aware of your surroundings," his trainer, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) tells him, and sadly, Nolan has failed to follow the same advice. While this talented director masterfully created clear, well-defined worlds for his tortured loners in Memento (2001) and Insomnia (2002), he succumbs to the Hollywood action credo: shake the camera around and cut really fast so that no one can see you're in over your head.

Fortunately, the film's cruddy action sequences and over-reliance on fireballs and explosions do not diminish the rock-hard depiction of its central character. This Batman is a fearsome creature, far more intense and single-minded than any of his predecessors, and Bale plays him with a steely-eyed, icy sheen. He's utterly fascinating to watch, even when not in costume (which he does not don until a full hour into the proceedings).

Nolan peppers the rest of his film with an exciting collection of character actors, each with moments to shine: Michael Caine as Alfred the faithful butler, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Katie Holmes as love interest Rachel Dawes, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson and Ken Watanabe. The film earns major points by casting Gary Oldman not as a slimy villain, but as the brave and kind future Commissioner Gordon (currently Sergeant Gordon).

Overall, the filmmakers have successfully raised the bar on this hero, painting him deeper and more layered than ever before. It's a dark world, and now we have a dark hero who knows his way around.

DVD Details: As expected Warner Home Video has released Batman Begins with the ultimate in image and sound, and I confess I liked the movie more the second time, but still not enough to count it as a classic. Most of the extras are of the dull talking-head and clip variety, and one of them has the chronically unfunny and annoying Jimmy Fallon in it (nuff said). The only really exciting extra comes in the "deluxe" edition: it's a fantastic comic book with three different Batman stories from three different eras, all of which apparently inspired the movie. If you're a fan of the movie, it will be worth the extra dough to get the comic.

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