Batman Begins

The big budget resurrection of the Batman movie franchise is a smarter than average comic book adaptation but despite the gritty feel and some heavyweight acting talent it doesn’t quite match up to the recent X-Men and Spiderman films.

The recent glut of Marvel comic book adaptations makes it easy to forget that the two trailblazing superhero films of the modern era were both from the DC Comics stable. In 1978 Superman showed that the character could be believable on a big screen, whilst Batman in 1989 was similarly successful. But after director Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton in the 90s the films descended into campy fiasco of 1997’s execrable Batman & Robin. That effectively killed off the franchise but with Warner Bros keen to cash in on the current superhero frenzy they opted to refresh the Batman story with a new approach and a different kind of director. Their choice was Christopher Nolan who made his name with the brilliant Memento in 2000 and he brings a refreshing approach to the Batman character.

Featuring extended flashbacks to his childhood the first section of the film establishes the back story of Bruce Wayne in some depth. After the untimely death of his parents and the lack of justice meted out to their killer, Wayne leaves Gotham City and ends up in the Far East where he dabbles in the underworld. Eventually ending up in prison he encounters a mysterious stranger (Liam Neeson) who offers him the chance to join a secretive organisation of vigilantes known as the League of Shadows. After some gruelling training with them he learns the skills that will help him fight crime on his return to Gotham. Aided by his old butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and a scientist (Morgan) – who acts like Q from the Bond series – Wayne takes on the organised criminals now ruining the city.

The film deserves credit for actually spending so much time on Wayne’s back story when the temptation would be for a full on CGI action fest must have loomed over the project. Nolan takes time with the flashbacks and build up to the point where we finally see the pieces of the Batman puzzle fall into place. He also adopts a refreshingly lo-tech approach to the action which is refreshingly free from the CGI overload of recent blockbusters. The elements that make up Batman – the suit, the gadgets, the Batmobile – are all carefully considered to the point where the fantastical creations of a comic book seem almost plausible.

The approach to the character is also shrewd. Gone is the lurid campy approach that plagued Schumacher’s Batman films and instead we have some solid acting talent with Gary Oldman, Freeman and Rutger Hauer all providing solid support. At times Caine is more Alfie than Alfred with his Cockney mannerisms but he does provide some welcome comic relief. Katie Holmes is a fairly obligatory love interest and her role as an assistant DA and Wayne’s conscience is fairly perfunctory. While the first two thirds of the film strike the right note, there is something a little deflating about the final act in which fails to take the film to the heights of recent adaptations like the Spider-Man and X-Men sequels. Hans Zimmer’s overblown score is also a let down but despite the negatives, Nolan and his team have crafted an enjoyable summer blockbuster and successfully reinvented the Batman character for a new generation.

MORE DETAIL

> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Dark Horizons interview with director Christopher Nolan
> Some production photos
> Plenty of Batman info at Answers.com
> A detailed history of the Batmobile
> Wikipedia entry on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns – One of the key infliuences on Batman Begins
> Batman Yesterday & Beyond – Extensive fansite