Synopsis: Bruce Wayne loses his philanthropic parents to a senseless crime, and years later becomes the Batman to save the crime-ridden Gotham City on the verge of destruction by an ancient order.
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Running Length: 140 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Whenever a filmmaker wants to start or re-boot a franchise of a character in the popular culture they must first decide how they want to tell the important origin story. Do they stick to the book with the expected framework for a familiar character or do they break new ground with a revisionist vision of how a fabled figure came to be? Director Nolan may not have been an obvious choice to head up Warner Brothers mega budget restart of their Batman franchise but he was a wise one. Nolan had displayed highly cerebral work in his previous films and his exploration of how Bruce Wayne became Batman gets to the heart of the matter in a film that takes its time but still delivers the goods.
Of all the men considered for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bale is a brilliant casting decision in that he’s one of Hollywood’s rare actors that jumps into any role head first. He lets the character and process consume him so much that he totally disappears into the part. There’s a lot of mileage to cover in Batman Begins and Bale is more than up for the challenge of giving us a new take on Bruce Wayne. While I greatly enjoyed Michael Keaton’s somber take in the Batman of the 90’s, Bale takes it a step further and shows a lot of complexity in his take on the orphaned millionaire that will become the Dark Knight.
I struggle more with Batman Begins than I did its sequel because I’m not totally sold on our central baddie and his plot to destroy Gotham City. Nolan has created such an interesting take on the legend of Batman that it’s a bit of a bummer when behind it all is a bit of a muddled third act that clearly favors action sequences over the fleshing out of personal vendettas. Now that’s not to say the final 1/3 of the film is not smash-up entertaining because it so very much is – it’s just that everything that came before it was so sophisticated and deliberate that you can’t help but see a few extra cracks.
Nolan surrounds Bale with a male dominated cast of good guys and bad guys that feature some of the most respected actors in Hollywood. Caine makes for a wonderful Alfred who becomes a surrogate father to Bruce Wayne and even if I prefer Michael Gough’s stolid take in the previous films to Caine’s slightly convenient calming presence, Nolan’s devotion to making even the most sideline character have something important to say is admirable. Oldman cuts a nice take on Jim Gordon as does Freeman as an employee of Wayne Enterprises. Neeson had just started to really take ownership of his action man presence – even if his villain is one of the more boring in filmdom. The big thumbs down here is Holmes as the lone female in the boys club. Even without being in the presence of better actors, Holmes is totally out of her league here in a performance that can nicely be described as laughable.
The kick starter to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is overall a winner because it’s not a film that just exists to lay the groundwork for subsequent sequels. It’s a film that could (and does) stand on its own with high concept intentions and a solid delivery from most (not Holmes) involved.