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Review - Batman Begins (2005)
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Batman Begins (***1/2 out of ****)

Reviewed by Tim Sika

The Dark Knight returns in Batman Begins and, oh, what a dark and wonderful comeback! After seeing dwindling box-office returns for Batman and Robin, the fourth feature film in the series, Warner Bros. hopes to instill new life in the franchise with this latest installment (in the same way they intend to resurrect Superman in the Summer of 2006). The measure of their success in regard to Batman will be evident from sure-to-follow positive press and equally positive (ultimately lucrative) word-of-mouth enthusiasm.

The story of Bruce Wayne, heir to the Wayne family fortune—a young boy near-paralyzed by a fear of bats—who sees his parents brutally gunned down in front of him—who grows into a young man searching the world for meaning in order to heal from his anger and grief—who ultimately becomes the Batman, creature of the night, avenging dark angel in pursuit of justice—is the basis for a dramatic story which always seemed to elude filmmakers in previous attempts to bring the Dark Knight to the screen.

What’s different this time around is the inspired choice of director—Christopher Nolan, the man who helmed Memento and Insomnia—pastiches in darkness, serious films with a decidedly art-house sensibility. This very seriousness is one of the many strengths of Batman Begins. Added to this mix is the epic nature of the film, as Bruce Wayne receives combat training in far flung corners of the world in order to fulfill his destiny. There is also the translation of the story—of the Batman mystique, from the original comic book to cinematic counterpart (minus ‘cartoony’ pitfalls). While the ‘comic book’ approach worked for Ang Lee’s artistic realization of the Hulk, the very soberness of Batman Begins imparts a sharp dramatic weight that roots the film in reality.

And then there’s the cast. Director Nolan pulls out all stops here, starting with Christian Bale who contributes brooding charisma and gravitas to the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred brings dignified stature to the role, equaled by Morgan Freeman as a Wayne Enterprises scientist. Stirred into the brew is the unusual, quirky but effective choice of Gary Oldman as soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon, and Liam Neeson as Bruce Wayne’s martial arts trainer. Neeson evokes intended allusions to Qui Gon Jinn of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace right down to suggestions of Darth Maul’s two-bladed light-saber. Cameos by Ken Watanabe as a Kung Fu master, a delicious turn by Cillian Murphy as the evil Dr. Crane/Scarecrow (born to play Satan), and bravura turns by Tom Wilkinson and Rutger Hauer as crime boss, and corrupt businessman, respectively, round out the splendid supporting players. Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and potential mate brings the same conviction and naturalness to the part that she displayed in Pieces of April.

What will undoubtedly please fans and non-fans alike is the intelligence of the script by David S. Goyer with its multiple story layers, inter-connections and plot twists and turns. And for the first time in Bat-history, logical and convincing explanations are provided for the origins of the Batcave, the Batmobile, all of the gadgets and gear, and the Bat-suit itself. Finally, there are the considerable pleasures of first-rate production values ($180 million worth), giant sets and splashy special effects (including an amazing runaway train chase).

With this cinematic mosaic fully assembled, the impression arises that, despite the considerable merits of the previous Batman films, one could discard them all and simply be content with the existence of this single new installment. But lest this leaves fans incomplete, given the quality of this Batman Begins, more in the series is certain to follow. But this time, with a sense of welcome rather than dread.

2005 Tim Sika/ Celluloid Dreams

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