(Originally published 2005)
The good news about the new Batman movie, "Batman Begins," is that it doesn't cave.
Throughout, you can feel the pleasure that went into making it. Working from a script he co-wrote with David S. Goyer, director Christopher Nolan delivers an intense, beautifully crafted movie that deepens the Batman franchise with a fully realized vision that gets to the heart of how Batman began.
The film follows Nolan's previous movies, "Memento" and "Insomnia," with a story that focuses on a tormented soul facing a troubled past. True, this soul wears a mask, but then so do all of the characters in Nolan's works, even if those masks aren't as readily apparent as the one worn by this new Batman, nicely played by Christian Bale.
A quick glance at Nolan's films suggests an emerging theme - the idea that all of us wear masks. Whether it's at work or in our relationships, at the grocery story or at the gas pump, what haunts us, what angers us, what worries us and consumes us is carefully concealed behind a protective veneer of benign expression.
For Nolan, it's the peeling away of that mask that excites him, the search for truth that intrigues him. And so, not surprisingly, this story of what lurks behind a legendary superhero's mask proves the perfect match for his talents and interests. "Batman Begins" is Nolan at his best. It's his movie all the way.
The film opens with young Bruce Wayne falling into a well, where he lands in a cave and is quickly overcome by thousands of bats. Swarming him, biting him, scratching him, they leach into his psyche, becoming the one fear he must eventually purge if he is to have a meaningful life.
Born into privilege, Bruce is just beginning to grasp the extent of his wealth and social responsibility when his parents are murdered in front of him by the very sort of man the Wayne family has tired to help - a bum. Making matters worse for Bruce is that he feels directly responsible for their deaths. And so now, with no one left to care for him save the family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine in an excellent, jaunty performance), Bruce is cast into a journey of self-realization, the depth of which no other Batman film has explored.
Indeed, what Nolan does in "Batman Begins" is to reinform the Batman legacy with a backstory, allowing audiences fully into Wayne's world and thus, in turn, the man behind the mask. This differs from Tim Burton's 1989 version, which offered no insight into why Bruce Wayne selected a bat, of all vermin, as his guise of choice. Instead, Burton went for raucous, comic-book camp, which Nolan eschews in favor of new-age realism. As a result, his movie is dense and introspective, neither truncated nor rushed.
It's never boring - far from it - and it doesn't assume we know the legend going into it. Instead, it makes us see again why Batman has mattered to so many for so long. It's Bruce Wayne's ascension into Batman that the movie gets right.
For answers and insights into his life, he travels to Asia, where he is befriended by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), his mentor, and taught by the League of Shadows that in order to conquer fear, he must become fear. After learning how to fight - and then learning that the league isn't nearly as virtuous as it seemed - Bruce returns home, where Wayne Enterprises is on the verge of being traded publicly thanks to the mincing CEO Richard Earle (Rutgar Howard).
But that's only the beginning of Bruce's worries. Gotham, the city his father once tried so valiantly to improve, is on the verge of its own hostile takeover by crimeboss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and psychiatrist Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), both of whom have plans that will suffocate Gotham into extinction. What's Bruce to do? Naturally, face his fear by becoming a bat.
He does so with the help of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who once developed for Wayne Enterprises the sort of indestructible car and body armor once meant for the military, which rejected them due to cost, but now are perfect for a man who needs to survive the battle of his life.
The film's action sequences are kinetic, particularly in the fantastic penultimate scene in which Batman must stop Falcone, Crane and their men from wasting Gotham with a hallucinogenic gas that will force people to face what terrifies them most. What springs from this is Gotham by way of George Romero, with the city's residents turning into zombies who rage through the its dark corridors, the veins of which now thrum with absolute corruption.
With Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, an idealistic assistant D.A. Bruce once fancied as a child, and Gary Oldman as the city's only uncorrupt policeman Gordon - yes, he will become Commissioner Gordon - "Batman Begins" doesn't spend much time rounding out its ancillary characters, which might be why Holmes, in particular, seems like such a bland nonentity. Still, this isn't her movie, or anyone else's movie. It's "Batman Begins" and so far, it's one of the best films of the year.
- Available Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
- Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
- MTV's Tankman Begins: a spoof
- Inner Demons comic: Explore the special features through an exclusive interactive comic book
The Journey Begins: creative concepts, story development and casting
- Shaping Mind and Body: Christian Bale's transformation into Batman
- The Tumbler: reinvention of the Batmobile
- Gotham City Rises: production design of Gotham City, the Batcave, Wayne Manor, and more
- Saving Gotham City: the development of miniatures, CGI, and effects for the monorail chase scene
- Genesis of the Bat: A look at the Dark Knight's incarnation and influences on the film
- Confidential files: Go beyond the movie and discover facts and story points not in the film
- Theatrical trailer
- Cape and Cowl: the new batsuit
- Path to Discovery: filming in Iceland
- Confidential files
- Character/weaponry gallery
- Photo gallery
- DVD-ROM features: Batman Begins mobile game demo & Web links
- Exclusive collectible 72-page comic book containing: Detective Comics #27 (the very first Batman story), Batman: The Man Who Falls (a classic story that inspired Batman Begins), and an excerpt from Batman: The Long Halloween (a chilling story that also inspired the film)