Batman Begins, July 05

Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batmanfranchise, is the most serious comic book film ever. Of course it is a welcomerelief that it moves far away from the glitzy leatherboy kitsch of the earlierBatmans (and even the candied elegance of the Spiderman series). But there’salso the danger of succumbing to pretension, and there’s nothing worsethan watching a group of cut actors grovel in strip-mall stoicism. Thankfully,Batman Begins never becomes ponderous or stodgy. It is a gritty, creative epicand a wildly entertaining summer film. I don’t think I’ve had sucha good time with a blockbuster since the original .

This is the first Batman film that actually delves into Bruce Wayne ina serious manner. We see him as a child fall down a well and be coveredwith bats. We see his guilt for his parents’ murder. And we seehim as an incredibly angry young man.

The film starts in a prison in Bhutan. Wayne has been wandering the worldand learning the criminal mind. After a particularly brutal fight, he isreleased by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a member of the League of Shadows(an secret ninja-like organization dedicated to defeating evil). He trainswith them at their compound on a mountaintop, but leaves when they demandthat he execute a prisoner. He returns to Gotham, with new resolve to cleanup the corrupt, rundown city, assisted by the family butler Alfred (MichaelCaine), tech wiz Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and the last decent cop inthe city, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). Meanwhile, a strange, effete psychiatrist,Jonathan Crane (Cilian Murphy), has a scary looking mask and a panic toxinthat he plans to unleash on the city with the assistance of crime bossCarmine Falconi (Tom Wilkinson) and another more mysterious villain.

What makes Batman Begins so compelling is the patience of the directorand ease of the actors. Nolan allows things to develop slowly into a trulymythic sense. The film is never boring nor frenetic. Nolan stages the actionscenes with incredible grace and the understated scenes with refreshingdistance. The actors are almost all uniformly excellent. Christian Baleis the best Batman of the series. He is distant and brutal, but also kindand witty—the most realized and human of all the Batmans before him.Caine, Freeman, and Oldman are all understated and believable. None ofthem allow their fame to overshadow their supporting roles. The villains(Neeson, Wilkinson, Murphy) are also outstanding and are the first sinceNicholson’s Joker to possess real menace. The only weak link is KatieHolmes, whose monotone natterings on Justice are a little dull.

Batman Begins is the blockbuster to beat in 2005. More entertaining andweighty than Star Wars, it is everything one can ask for in a movie ofits stature, and more. It may be the first comic book movie with real emotions,fears, and pain.