Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Christopher Nolan.
Written by Nolan, Bob Kane and David S. Goyer. Running
time: 140 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense action violence,
disturbing images and some thematic elements). Starring
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman,
Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson,
Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe.
there's one thing that the recent crop of superhero movies
has taught us, it's there's one simple way to make such a
motion picture good: take the material seriously. Don't wink
at the audience, don't revel in the outlandish material; play
it straight, and pretend it could happen. No one goes into
a superhero movie expecting to see something reasonable, and
we don't need to be reminded how silly it all is. Play it
straight, and we will be more than willing to suspend disbelief;
anyone who isn't shouldn't be watching the movie to begin
for instance, the Spider-Man movies. Yes, they are
bright and cartoonish, but director Sam Raimi cares about
the material, and he respects his characters. So when Peter
Parker discovers his powers, we aren't meant to chuckle at
a boy swinging around New York on webs; we understand
the fun of his actions, and the result is a wonderful, joyous
sequence. Or, during the last scene of Spider-Man -
or the wonderful last shot of Spider-Man 2 - the characters'
emotions are real, and these films are ultimately just as
affecting as many serious dramas.
it seriously. For the longest time, the Batman
series didn't, and it was an embarassment. Tim Burton ignored
the inherent drama in the series and turned his films into
extravagant freakshows, parading over-the-top villains around,
ignoring Batman himself; when all we get is Jack Nicholson
hamming it up, we are drawn out of the action, and it is impossible
to care about anything that's happening. And then,
of course, Joel Schumacher returned the series to the high
camp of the television show, resulting in Batman and Robin,
which we will mercifully not dwell upon.
Christopher Nolan gets it. He understands that the comic books
were never about the villains, or camp; they were about Batman.
They were about the man behind the mask; Bruce Wayne's dark
history; his desire for justice, to avenge his parents' murder.
That's not silly; that's demands a dark, serious retelling.
And now, with Nolan's Batman Begins, we have that retelling,
and it ranks up there with the two Spider-Man movies
as one of the finest superhero films of all time.
not for everyone, of course. Those looking for non-stop action,
for instance, are bound to be disappointed for at least the
first hour, in which Nolan focuses on how Batman came to be.
As the film begins, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has locked
himself in a Chinese prison in order to gain insight into
the criminal mind. There he is approached by Henri Ducard
(Liam Neeson), a member of the League of Shadows, an organization
led by the strange-bearded Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, wasted).
When Wayne rejects the League's Nietzchean worldview, he flees
back to Gotham City.
underplays Wayne to great effect; this is a man who has internalized
all of his emotions, and Bale's slow burn fits the character
perfectly. When Wayne finally becomes Batman, he affects a
deep growl and becomes imposing and vicious, and Bale proves
no less effective here. It may be damning Bale with faint
praise to call him the best Batman of the series, but it's
course, it's not all dark character study. Batman Begins
trots out several villains, who, among Ducard and Al Ghul,
range from Carmine Falconi (Tom Wilkinson), Gotham's crime
lord, to Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), a psychiatrist who
calls himself the Scarecrow and hatches a plot to destroy
Gotham. Thankfully, these actors play everything as straight
as is possible, never once winking at the camera. Murphy,
with his piercing, unblinking eyes, is especially chilling.
supporting characters include D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes,
doing what she can with a stock role), inventor Lucius Fox
(Morgan Freeman, classy as ever) and soon-to-be-Commissioner
Gordon (Gary Oldman, playing a good guy for once and doing
it well). The real standout, however, is Michael Caine as
good old Alfred. He gives the character real warmth and wit,
and it is not hard to buy him as Wayne's father figure.
the action starts, it doesn't happen as you would expect.
Nolan shoots in quick, disorienting shots, giving us only
brief glimpses of Batman. It is a technique that could have
been irritating but is instead effective, putting us in the
shoes of the Dark Knight's ambushed targets. The film's special
effects are spectacular but don't draw attention to themselves;
they are integrated into the action, and many scenes are played
out using stunt men (remember that, when real people, rather
than computer characters, used to do stunts?).
has expressed a desire to turn this into a trilogy, and the
final scene of Batman Begins clearly establishes a
sequel. Many superhero series have gone stale into their subsequent
installments, and that may happen here; but if Nolan can keep
his vision intact despite the prying fingers of the studio
system, such a fate seems unlikely. Either way, I'll be looking
forward to whatever else this franchise has in store.
2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal