You've probably heard this a lot since this film came out, but fuck it, I feel like saying it too. They finally got it right. Finally. After long years of imagining what the Batman franchise could have been, my hopes finally come to fruition. Finally. Batman is now Batman. Finally. Batman is a dark menacing figure who doesn't wear silver specks on his costume. Finally. Batman is a really layered character. Finally. And here's an incredibly wild concept: Batman gets more screen time than the two villains in the film. Finally.
This is “Batman Begins”, this where it started, and I couldn't be happier. There's this feeling from beginning to end that we're being given something that we were missing in the old franchise. There's depth, psychology, warmth, heart, subtext, and so much amazing storytelling, all of which lacked for the better part of the first “Batman” franchise. I could see from the opening that I was in for something that just toppled the class of the original franchise. We're not given flash we're not given action right away. Director Nolan and writer Goyer ask that the audience, for once, pay attention to the story, before the action, and pay attention I did. Being so used to (see traumatized) the “Batman” films of the past that opened with action to introduce the story, Goyer and Nolan demand the audience’s attention with a story that makes sense and adds an astonishing amount of depth and characterization to Bruce Wayne and for once we can actually get the sense of how he can turn from girl crazy playboy to dark avenger in a moment's notice.
What becomes even more of a strong point is the focus on Bruce's parents. In the films, Bruce’s parents were basically faceless people who were killed, the reason for spawning Bruce's transformation, but here you know why their deaths were such a life-shattering event other than “they were his parents”. Then it makes for Bruce’s unflinching vengeance to turn in to the Batman once he becomes a criminal to get into the mindset and learn how they function but is captured and imprisoned in a Chinese prison.
When we first see him, he's a prisoner who is mercilessly tortured by the other prisoners for being rich, but he manages to survive on his instincts and is confronted by Ducard, a mercenary of the league of shadows who becomes Bruce's trainer teaching him the ways of the ninja. There we learn about Ducard who is played by the utterly scene stealing Liam Neeson echoing his role as Qui-Gonn in “Star Wars” except he's darker and edgier. Most of their training conventionally would be really boring, and serve as filler while we awaited the emergence of Batman, but alas, Nolan conducts the training sequences in such an ingenious way that they become exciting and just engrossing to watch.
Whether it was watching Bruce and Ducard spar on ice, or, in one of the most exciting scenes, where Ducard attempts to distract Bruce during training through manipulation of hiding beneath masked warriors. Their scenes are so electric and Neeson becomes truly memorable here amidst the magnificent cast of heavyweights adding class. For once Batman's origin is tackled with an engrossing amount of emphasis and focus and we end up wanting to learn how he became the dark knight. Goyer adds a sense of innovation and grace behind everything in the film whether it is the cliché batman stopping muggers, to the utterly riveting and exciting chase scene through Gotham city. I even found myself jumping up and down on my seat at one instance, and when a movie is able to do that to this cynic, well then it's managed to accomplish something within me.
I have never been in to Batman simply because the comics never appealed to me, and I imagine the last two installments of the old franchise turned off a lot of fans, but this is a movie that finally got it right and made me want to fish my comic store to read up on him. This is how Batman is supposed to be! Dark, vicious, relentless, cold, calculating, stealth-like, and, my god, he's an actual detective. Much of what made Batman hollow and broad in the old films was that while he was an excellent warrior, he didn’t express his detective prowess that made the character so famous. Batman is an intelligent detective whose brain power is surpassed by his physical attributes, and here he shows that he has brains by listening in on conversations, deducing, and picking up clues and just learning from his villains and what makes them tick.
Batman is dark, Batman is cold and Batman is finally the character I've read on page since I was a child. As for Bale, what can I say that I haven't already spouted in past reviews? Bale is excellent. Bale is the quintessential Batman. Sorry to all who think Michael Keaton was the tops, Bale is Batman and he's Bruce Wayne. It's no shocker he could pull it off, I mean he pulled off the suave playboy with an edge in "American Psycho", and he pulled off the cold superhero in "Equilibrium", this man was made for this character, and he's excellent. As for the Batmobile, I was one of the many people who despised the way the new Batmobile was going to look, I thought it was too big and bulky, but when I saw the tumbler in action on-screen during its amazing and exciting car chase through Gotham, I was taken aback. The Tumbler is one of the best improvements of the Batman franchise.
No phallic symbols here, this is a lean mean wrecking machine that served its purpose as an amazing Batmobile and effective mode of transportation for the dark knight. The chase scene in the streets of Gotham was one of the best sequences of the entire movie. As for the cast, we have are some of the best actors in Hollywood portraying some of the most famous characters from Batman and they do it well. From Tom Wilkinson's creepy portrayal of mob kingpin Carmine Falcone, right down to Rutger Hauer's piercing performance of Wayne Enterprise's greedy corporate they handle the roles confidently.
Meanwhile Ken Watanabe is a pure presence as Ra's Al Ghul, Batman's infamous villain who is both a manipulator and tormentor as well as Cillian Murphy who is brilliant as Jonathan Crane, a man who is a symbol for people in power who choose to manipulate the tormented instead of helping them. Crane as “The Scarecrow” is utterly menacing and terrifying and manages to exude a sense of terror that Batman must compete with. Nolan being the master he is, manages to supply some horrific imagery that is supplied with Crane's fear gas and the images shown are some of the most memorable I've ever seen. Morgan Freeman, who I feared would be under-used, is charming and engrossing as Lucius Fox, the weapons creator for Wayne Enterprises who plays a big hand in the formation of Batman. Gary Oldman plays hero this time around as a young Commissioner Gordon who is fighting for justice in a hopelessly corrupt city and is great here as he first witnesses the dark knight and comes to a bond with the vigilante since they're fighting for the same goal.
Michael Caine who replaces Michael Gough as the prolific assistant this time serves a more prominent role in Bruce's life. Instead of being a mere butler and friend, he also becomes a confidant, caretaker, defender, loyal trustee, and has a hand in creating both the bat cave and his suit. Caine handles the role of Alfred with grace and definition and becomes a truly memorable character picking up perfectly where Gough left off. Caine is priceless as Bruce’s mentor who fills in for his parents and plays a very deep emotional role in Bruce’s life. The scene after Bruce’s parents’ funeral is very touching and emotional. Kudos to Caine, who picks up the role from Michael Gough and pulls it off with his skill.
As for Nolan, he's managed to create a repertoire of films such as the acclaimed "Insomnia" and the cult classic and fan favorite "Memento", that have garnered enough attention to inspire faith from even the most skeptical bat fan that he will pull through with his promises, and he does with a low-key artistic vision that accomplishes amazing feats without attempting to look gaudy as the previous incarnations did. Right from the beginning there is this low-key, dark and grimy atmosphere that Nolan gives the audience and it was something sorely missing from the original trilogy. Nolan injects some of his surreal imagery in to the film that becomes very effective, and as I hoped, there are plenty of plot twists and surprises within the film that I enjoyed. For all the fans, look forward to the climax and you will see a hint as to the villain for the next film. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Now it finally makes sense. Why Katie Holmes of all people got the most hype was basically because her role just wasn't that pivotal to the story. Every character in the film served a pivotal role except for Rachel Dawes which, while a complex character, only really serves as an obligatory love interest to Bruce. She's a potentially deep character that never really achieves depth. While Holmes is competent in her role, she's not an exceptional percentage of the film, and her character was never truly fleshed out, so she just becomes an obligatory love interest.
The ultimate irony was that the star who received the most hype had the least to contribute to one of the best comic book movies I've ever seen. This an utterly amazing and riveting start to a brand new beginning in what, I hope will be an incredible new franchise.