Batman Begins (12A)
The current slew of blockbuster comic strip movies continues apace with this highly intelligent prologue to the Batman saga – a moody, neo-noir thriller that provides a terrific entry to Hollywood for rising stars Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan.
Bale is the third actor to don Batman’s inky cloak after Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney, and Nolan is the bright young thing who has erupted onto the scene with an edgy film that instantly re-invents the franchise.
Batman Begins charts the painful birth of a superhero with orphaned Bruce Wayne (Bale) journeying from anguished wannabe vigilante to vanquisher of evil. En-route he roams the world seeking answers to the burning question of why Man turns to criminality, murder and mayhem, and how he can acquire the powers to bring fear to those who use violence against their brothers.
Thus Wayne, a youthful billionaire, returns to Gotham City to battle corruption and the stranglehold the city faces from gangsters, bent cops and officials on the take.
With untold riches at his disposal he slowly but resolutely harvests ideas, secret inventions and the assistance of a few good men (and women) to realise his dream: to fight crime, terrorism and evil wherever it is found.
Anyone even remotely familiar with the Batman series that Tim Burton brought to the screen in 1989 will have an opinion on this complex prequel. Immediately it becomes apparent that this is a movie grounded in reality, and deliberately eschewing the dark, comic-strip gothic nature of Burton’s fantasy world.
This is a plain human story that depicts one man’s struggle with inner demons while simultaneously striving for equilibrium in a mad, bad world. Nolan, like George Lucas in his recent Star Wars trilogy, struggles to prevent the many building blocks of the story from overwhelming the narrative – in fact, this is really two films in one – but he does succeed in making Wayne/Batman more than just a cipher in his own story.
He is aided by an extremely solid ensemble that covers all the key roles. Chief amongst the A-list line-up are Liam Neeson as Wayne’s mentor, Katie Holmes as the idealistic love interest, the excellent Tom Wilkinson as a vicious hoodlum and Michael Caine, relishing every line and stealing every scene, as Alfred the butler. Meanwhile doe-eyed Irishman Cillian Murphy does a creditable job as the Scarecrow, the film’s real villain.
Other supporting roles go to Rutger Hauer, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe and Morgan Freeman as the quartermaster who emerges as Wayne’s version of 007’s ‘Q’.
Such a battalion of stars and the sheer number of the various plot threads do make for a fragmented storyline and the film as a whole is about 20 minutes too long.
That aside, this is still one of the sharpest ‘re-imaginings’ in recent cinema history and one that will doubtless delight fans of Batman and his adventures. Even the gadgets, such as a tank-like Batmobile resembling a Stealth bomber on wheels, have been given a brush-up. And Bale’s already signed for another.
Here’s to Batman Goes Forth, or whatever they’re going to call it.
Star rating: ****