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June 21, 2005 > Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Directed By: Christopher Nolan

by Jeremy Inman

Finally, someone gets this thing right. Batman Begins, the latest installment in the Batman series, gives the franchise a much-needed reboot as it not only revamps the story, it completely separates the new film from the old ones.

Although the first two installments of the series, Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns, were campy fun, they missed the mark in terms of believability and maintaining the spirit of the character. Joel Schumacher's interpretations, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, were a joke. Batman Begins takes itself seriously and leaves no question unanswered. It is too much of a jump for today's audience to believe the old, "his parents were murdered so he fights crime," origin story. Today's audience craves depth and understanding, it craves complexity. Batman Begins delivers all of these things in spades. It is a dark and twisting path that playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne must take before donning his iconic cape and cowl, and Begins leaves no stone unturned as it intricately and effectively answers all questions regarding its hero's motives and abilities.

The film follows young Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham, along his descent into the criminal underworld. When his parents are killed by criminal Joe Chill (not the Joker, as the other films would have you believe) young Bruce is left orphaned and in the care of his butler, Alfred. He vows to avenge his parents' death but soon learns that vengeance is not the answer. He travels the world in search of the means to fight injustice and meets a man name Ducard, who represents The League of Shadows, headed by a mysterious figure known as Ra's Al Ghul (Arabic for "The Demon's Head.").

The League trains the eager Wayne in the arts of hand-to-hand combat, deception and theatricality. When Wayne learns that the League intends to use him to bring Gotham City to its end, he deserts his former mentors and returns to Gotham. Using his wealth and influence, Wayne is able to acquire the equipment he needs to fight crime, including the new Batmobile, a tank-like vehicle that, despite early fan complaints, really does fit the film perfectly once you see it in action. Once home, Wayne discovers a local threat in Doctor Jonathan Crane (the Scarecrow), played to creepy perfection by Cillian Murphy.

Throughout the film, the audience bares witness to the various figures and circumstances that shape Batman until he becomes the very symbol of justice and the embodiment of the classic Dark Knight, a figure of American mythology that we all recognize. From crime boss Carmine Falcone he learns the essence of fear and intimidation. From childhood friend and Gotham City District Attorney Rachel Dawes he learns the nature of justice and the responsibility of good and powerful people. From Gotham Police Officer Jim Gordon he learns compassion and incorruptibility. From his trainer and mentor, Ducard, he learns to master his own fear, and to turn it on his foes.

With acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (Memento) and a monster cast, Begins has shaped up to be the most meaningful and entertaining Bat film to ever hit the big screen. There was no better choice than Christian Bale to portray both the carefree and ostentatious Bruce Wayne and the gritty and terrifying Batman. He is the most adept actor to ever slip into Batman's utility belt. He maintained just the right amount of psychosis a la Michael Keaton's Batman (as he admits himself, "a guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues.") and none of the shtick of Val Kilmer or George Clooney's Batman. Other notable cast members include Oscar-winner Michael Cane as Batman's trusty butler and sidekick Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, the man who supplies Wayne with his wonderful toys, Tom Wilkinson as crime lord Carmine Falcone and Liam Neeson as mentor and trainer Ducard.

While the incredible cast undoubtedly contributes to the film's success, the theme of fear is what ultimately ties it together and makes it work. Everything from a villain like the Scarecrow, to the origin of the now-famed pointy-eared cowl stems from this theme, and it gives the film an organized and effective narrative structure that many films of this genre lack. Taking some cues from Spider-Man (including a final battle on an elevated train), Begins defies some of the conventions of the standard comic book movie in exchange for a poignant and well-constructed story that fans and newcomers will find unquestionably enjoyable.

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