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Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan (wr/dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
Warner Brothers Theatrical  ISBN/ITEM#: B00005JNJT
Date: June 15, 2005 / Show Official Info /

Cast: Christian Bale/ Bruce Wayne-Batman; Michael Caine / Alfred Pennyworth; Liam Neeson / Henri Ducard; Morgan Freeman / Lucius Fox; Gary Oldman / Lt. James Gordon; Ken Watanabe / Ra's Al Ghul; Katie Holmes / Rachel Dawes; Cillian Murphy / Dr. Jonathan Crane-The Scarecrow; Tom Wilkinson / Carmine Falcone; Rutger Hauer / Richard Earle; Sara Stewart / Martha Wayne; Richard Brake / Joe Chill; Linus Roache / Dr. Thomas Wayne.

In short, this is the Batman that fans have been waiting for. Although Tim Burton's two movies were very successful at the box office (and were followed by Joel Schumacher's two bombs), Christopher Nolan penetrates the heart of the mythos and delivers a Batman that resonates powerfully.

Bruce Wayne (Bale) is found in a jail in a remote corner of Asia by a man calling himself Ducard (Neeson). Wayne has undertaken a street-side study of criminality, following the canonically well-known murder of his parents, but he does not have the tools to pursue a life devoted to justice. Ducard intends to rectify that, taking him to study with the League of Shadows and their mysterious leader, R'as al-Ghul.

Wayne proves a brilliant student, learning how to move invisibly and fight a dozen men at once. He also masters his fear, following a hallucinatory trek through his worst nightmares, and comes to terms with his own feelings of guilt over his parents' deaths.

However, when R'as demands that Wayne take the life of a murderer, as a prelude to helping the League destroy Gotham City (which Ducard describes as too far gone in crime and decadence to be salvaged), Wayne refuses. He affects an escape, saving the life of Ducard in the process. Returning to the crime-plagued cesspit that is Gotham, he resumes his place as the young prince of the city. Richard Earle (Hauer) runs Wayne Enterprises with the sinister intensity of feckless corruption, while Carmine Falcone (Wilkinson) runs the criminal underworld. Both men make their way onto Wayne's list in short order.

On the good side, Rachel Dawes (Holmes) and Sgt. Jim Gordon (Oldman) struggle against the deep-rooted corruption of the courts and the police department. When Bruce Wayne begins construction of a symbol that will make him "more than a man," he quickly makes allies of these two--especially Rachel, as she is Wayne's childhood friend.

Another ally is Lucius Fox (Freeman), a designer of non-lethal weaponry, vehicles and armor, who has been relegated to the basement and forgotten by Earle. Wayne is fascinated by Fox's arsenal of ingenious devices and snaps them up for his own use. Before long, he is creating the costume that will become known to criminals throughout Gotham City.

However, none of this would be possible without the fatherly support of Alfred Pennyworth (Caine), who emerges as the single most important emotional support in Bruce's world. He helps Wayne transform the caverns beneath Wayne Manor into the Batcave and considers ways to cover for Bruce when his nocturnal crime fighting becomes hard to hide.

Soon, Batman is working to break up Falcone's criminal activities. However, Dr. Jonathan Crane, a criminal psychiatrist, proves to be a more dangerous adversary than the crime boss. Crane and Falcone have a working partnership, but the reason for it is kept obscure--and Crane's own alter ego (the Scarecrow) proves to be a worthy foe for the novice Batman. Crane's psychosis inducing "fear gas" renders Falcone hopelessly insane...and unable to reveal anything of a plot involving contaminating Gotham's water supply and a missing microwave generator. As the elements of this grand plot come together, Wayne will be forced to confront his own fears once more, as well as face R'as in a running battle through the streets of Gotham.

Working in flashback and flashes of nightmare and delirium, Nolan creates a narrative that delves into the heart of DC Comics' Dark Knight. Guilt and anger drive Bruce Wayne to achieve a peculiar greatness, the darkness permeating Gotham finding its avatar in the bat-costumed hero. Scenes between young Bruce and his parents are handled with exceptional tenderness, with the murder a shocking violation of their lives together. Bale is superlative as the tormented young man who transcends his human limitations, putting the tools of a madman to the service of justice. Caine and Holmes provide Wayne's moral compass, demanding no less than honor and integrity from him when his heart screams for revenge, while Oldman (in an unusual bit of casting) embodies the one good cop in Gotham, resigned to the corruption around him until he is inspired by Batman's trust.

The casting is note-perfect and the story so well paced that it cannot truly be almost three hours long. Not only that, but viewers will feel they know this Batman intimately... and will certainly be eager for his next outing, where he might face the Clown Prince of Crime...

Highly Recommended.

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