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"Riveting and refreshingly somber, this is the amazing story of the man behind the mask."
"As concrete and realistic as anything you could expect from a fictional character and a fictional world."
"One of the most engaging and thrilling superhero movies of all time."
Batman Begins  

Cast

Bruce Wayne/Batman: Christian Bale
Alfred: Michael Caine
Henri Ducard: Liam Neeson
Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman
Lt. Gordon: Gary Oldman
Rachel Dawes: Katie Holmes
Earle: Rutger Hauer
Review June 2005

"I seek the means to fight injustice. To turn fear against those who prey on the fearful." These are the fiery words of Bruce Wayne, emerging from years and years of darkness and despair in the aftermath of his parents' death. Plagued with guilt and an insatiable anger, Wayne loses himself in the far reaches of the world only to resurface in Gotham City with a newfound vendetta and a newfound identity. Directed by Christopher Nolan, known for such psychological thrillers as "Memento" and "Insomnia," "Batman Begins" is twisted in a web of psychosis. It explores the inner demons of Bruce Wayne's past and present as well as his future struggle between justice and vengeance. But most importantly, it invigorates the franchise with the Batman story we've been waiting to see - one that shows Bruce Wayne's spiral into darkness and his emergence into a legendary superhero. Riveting and refreshingly somber, this is the amazing story of the man behind the mask.

In the years following his parents' murder, Bruce Wayne became devoured with guilt and anger. So tormented was he, that he abandoned Gotham all together to study abroad. His travels take him to a Far Eastern wasteland where studying the criminal mind gets him imprisoned. While in prison, his behavior attracts the attention of the League of Shadows, a powerful vigilante group led by the renowned Ra's al Ghul. Recruited by a mysterious man named Henri Ducard, Wayne learns the Shadow's ways and is trained to fight against evil, both physically and mentally. And with the knowledge acquired, he returns to Gotham seven years later only to find it engulfed in a sea of crime and corruption. His family's business, Wayne Enterprises, has fallen under the control of a self-serving CEO, Richard Earle. And his childhood friend, Rachel Dawes, now an Assistant District Attorney, is unable to convict any of the city's criminals because the system itself is caving internally, thanks to the efforts of gangsters like Carmine Falcone.

Still clinging to the philanthropic ideals his father cherished, Bruce is determined to clean up the mess. Unsure as to how, he finds allies in his family's butler Alfred Pennyworth; Lucius Fox, a special technician working in the Wayne Enterprises' Applied Science division; and one of the few respectable cops left on the force, detective Jim Gordan. After a series of inventive discoveries such as the Tumbler and an armored suit, Bruce uncovers a nightmare from his past when he wanders into a mysterious cave under the Wayne mansion. It is here where all the pieces come together and a new persona emerges, one that will strike fear in those who prey on the fearful. And one that will protect Gotham City from the sinister plots of Falcone, the Scarecrow, and others. Fighting against injustice everywhere, this Dark Knight shall be known as Batman.

Batman first made his debut in Detective Comics # 27 in May 1939 in a six-page story called "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate." It was a dark, pulp like murder mystery, written by Bill Finger and illustrated by the legendary Bob Kane. And it featured a shadowy character known simply as The Batman. This grim, detective figure stalked Gotham City, hell bent on removing its evils and corruption. And he made absolutely no qualms about killing criminals. "Your choice, gentlemen! Tell me! Or I'll kill you!" he says in DC # 29. His appearance and behavior, as we would come to learn, were brought about by his other half, Bruce Wayne, who was influenced by two events as a child - a terrifying encounter with bats and the death of his parents. Both of these events sent Bruce reeling, consumed by guilt and anger, pain and fear. Not to mention a lifelong thirst for vengeance.

From the beginning, much has been written about Batman's mysterious origins; of most recent, Frank Miller's highly engrossing graphic novel, "Batman: Year One." In fact, it became the basis for this film at one point, a film that wound up getting stuck in development heck for years trying to find a writer, a director, and an actor to play Batman. Then along came Christopher Nolan, a meticulous and hard working director with a great sense of psychological drama. Along with David S. Goyer of "Blade" fame, the two went about writing their own adaptation, basely loosely on the graphic novels "The Long Halloween" and "Dark Victory" by Joseph Loeb. The result of which happens to be the most personal, gripping, and dynamic account of Bruce Wayne ever to make it to the big screen.

Unlike its predecessors, "Batman Begins" is fundamentally sound. There are no fruity colors, no overabundance of CGI, and no villains to outshine the main character. This is about a man struggling for an identity and a purpose in spite of overwhelming anger and fear. Dark and mentally exhausting, it delves into the man behind the mask, i.e. how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, how he acquires the technical skills, the complexities of his different personas, and the lingering trauma of his childhood. Said Nolan, "We developed a logical explanation for everything Bruce Wayne does and for every device he acquires." And that attentiveness pays off. For, Batman is a superhero without superpowers. He is grounded in reality and closer to you and me. And "Batman Begins" is as concrete and realistic as anything you could expect from a fictional character and a fictional world.

While Michael Keaton shined as Bruce Wayne in the original "Batman" movie, it's easy to see why Christian Bale was the appropriate choice this time around. The film is heavier, more disturbing, and psychologically intense. And Bale's conflicted characters from "American Psycho" and "Velvet Goldmine" lend themselves quite well here, as Wayne is on the brink of self-implosion, constantly weighing the good against the bad. Simply put, Bale is the perfect fit and his heavy brooding complements the whimsy and good nature brought by Michael Caine, who portrays the faithful and kind-hearted servant, Alfred Pennyworth. It's not a particularly difficult role, nor are the roles of Lucius Fox or Rachel Dawes, but Caine, Freeman, and Holmes make them work. Additionally, the film benefits from other remarkable supporting roles: Gary Oldman as the young and noble Lt. James Gordon; Liam Neeson as the wise but suspicious mentor, Henri Ducard; and Cillian Murphy, frighteningly creepy as the Scarecrow.

Yet, as slick as the writing is and as stylish as the film looks and feels, for those unfamiliar with the origin of Batman, there may be a slight learning curve at the beginning. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. As an advantage, by avoiding the Year One back-story, the film has the luxury of cutting straight to the action and the apprenticeship. But in doing so, it also risks losing half its audience by abruptly immersing Wayne in the Bhutanese prison without much explanation. Furthermore, at the onset, the action sequences are so crude and the visuals are so close and cut too often, that it becomes difficult to comprehend what is happening in totality.

"If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely." For Bruce Wayne, that something else is Batman, a legendary superhero whose life has spanned nearly 66 years, spawned countless comic titles, radio serials, live action and animated television series, feature films, and attracted legions of faithful fans. That Christopher Nolan was able to break free from the interpretations of the past is an accomplishment in itself. That he was able to put together one of the most engaging and thrilling superhero movies of all time is extraordinary. And it's done without flashy effects and comic tomfoolery. This is a straightforward, character driven piece that deals with complex emotional scars. Scars that may never fully heal. Scars that separate the man from the myth.



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