The Batman franchise returns in style courtesy of director Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins. Gone are the corny jokes and lame green/purple color palette. This is a darker version of Batman, along the lines of the first two films from Tim Burton. The difference here is that Nolan (Insomnia, Memento) and co-writer David Goyer (Blade: Trinity, Blade II) wanted to focus on the formative years of Batman. They wanted people to see a young Bruce Wayne change from frightened young man into avenging vigilante. This is a smart choice, because it really grounds audiences in the Batman mythos. Batman is such a popular superhero because he has no superpowers. Everything he achieved was through rigorous physical and academic training.
This time around, Bruce Wayne/Batman is Christian Bale (The Machinist, Reign of Fire). Bale seems like an unlikely choice, but does have the proper look, and old films like American Psycho and Equilibrium seemed like excellent training for this role. Even more impressive is that he bulked up tremendously after his startling performance in The Machinist. The cast in Batman Begins is one of the most impressive aspects of the film. Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine lend an incredibly amount of credibility to all of the proceedings. Caine (Around the Bend, The Statement) is Alfred, the Wayne butler, and Freeman (Unleashed, Million Dollar Baby) is Lucius Fox, an employee of Wayne Enterprises that ends up coming in handy. Alfred serves as the moral center of the film, while Fox brings a droll sense of humor to the film, lightening its dark tone. Nolan's best choice goes to Oldman (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hannibal) as Sgt. Jim Gordon, one of the few clean cops on the Gotham Police force.
The hardest thing about a Batman film is that everybody is familiar with the story. The characters are all archetypes, and in order to keep things interesting, Nolan needed to try something new. Superheroes are defined by their villains, and the primary villain this time is corruption. Gotham City is a city on the run. Every level of government is corrupt and under the influence of crime boss Carmine Falcone (Wilkinson, State Beauty, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). People are too afraid to do anything about it, until the mysterious Batman begins making appearances. Batman can do things that Bruce Wayne cannot, primarly scaring the bejeezus out of criminals and inspiring citizens to begin to fight back.
It took years for Wayne to come to this point. He spent a good number of years trying to understand the criminal mind, still reeling from guilt after the murder of his parents. The mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson, Kingdom of Heaven, Kinsey) discovered him and helped to train him to become the ultimate weapon. Wayne returned to Gotham, ready to declare war on crime. Nolan spends nearly an hour setting up the mythos, laying the groundwork for the third act of the film (when the action really begins) and the inevitable sequels. The viewer's first glimpses of the Batman last for fleeting seconds - exactly the same way that the criminals encounter him.
The color palette this time favors muted browns. Gotham is two cities, a gleaming metropolis from above, and seamy streets and sewers from below. The newest entrant into the underworld is Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, Cold Mountain, Girl with a Pearl Earring), who is transferring dangerous criminals away from jail and into Arkham Asylum. Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes, First Daughter, Pieces of April), who also happens to be a childhood friend of Wayne and is amazingly attractive (gee, what will happen here?) feels powerless against Falcone's influence. While the third act has the most action, it is the most conventional. Still, Nolan does a great job presenting it, and the effort he put into developing the characters pays off emotionally. As long as the filmmakers stay away from green and purple, these new movies should be fine.
|Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.|
|2 hours, 14 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images, and some thematic elements.|
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