***1/2 (out of 5)
June 15, 2005
Christian Bale as BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN
Michael Caine as ALFRED PENNYWORTH
Liam Neeson as HENRI DUCARD
Morgan Freeman as LUCIUS FOX
Gary Oldman as LT. JAMES GORDON
Ken Watanabe as RA’S AL GHUL
Katie Holmes as RACHEL DAWES
Cillian Murphy as DR. JONATHAN CRANE/THE SCARECROW
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
When it comes to comic books, I’ve always been DC guy. That’s nothing against Stan Lee and the whole Marvel empire. It’s just that when I was collecting comic books, I simply couldn’t afford to keep tabs on two universes. And since I was already a Superman and Batman fan, I went with DC.
When it comes to the movies, however, I’ve always been more partial to the Marvel characters. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the best comic book movies made have been from the Marvel universe. And with a few exceptions (like “Daredevil” and “The Hulk”), these characters have made pretty good heroes in movies. Also, I’m not carrying the baggage of how it was done in the comic book and don’t get cheesed off when they change the mythology.
Since the demise of the Batman films almost ten years ago, we haven’t seen many DC stories on the big screen. “Smallville” and “The Adventures of Lois and Clark” aside, we haven’t seen any big-screen attempt of major DC hero since the godawful “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” (My posthumous apologies to Christopher Reeve – you made a great Superman, but it was all too clear that getting involved with the storyline was a big mistake for you.)
Of course, I’m going to completely ignore last year’s “Catwoman” atrocity. I don’t even classify that as DC because it was so insanely off base. Rather, let’s blame that on a hallucinogenic fever dream of the Warner Bros. executives.
Keep in mind that I come to “Batman Begins” not as a casual fan, but as a geek who grew up living, breathing and eating Batman. This will make my few reservations about the film understandable.
Off the bat (no pun intended), I will say that “Batman Begins” is probably the best Batman film ever. I don’t give it undisputed top honors because I did dearly love “Batman Returns” (and I know I’m in the minority on that one). But Christopher Nolan does an excellent job bringing the Dark Knight to life again on the big screen. He managed to either explain away (e.g., all of Batman’s gadgets) or completely sidestep (e.g., nipples on the Batsuit) the problems that plagued the other films.
“Batman Begins” isn’t’ necessarily more about Batman than Bruce Wayne, but rather it gives us a look at Batman and Bruce Wayne as two parts of the same character. This was never fully achieved before. In previous films, sometimes the actor was much better as Batman (i.e., Michael Keaton) and other times he made a better Bruce Wayne (i.e., George Clooney). In “Batman Begins,” Christian Bale rocks as both.
His only problem is the overuse of the gravely Batman voice. With so much more story devoted to the man wearing the cowl, it seemed that Bale struggled a bit trying to act through his orders to talk like Michael Keaton.
The best part of this film was the casting. The only weak link is Katie Holmes, who is pretty enough but not that great of an actress. And don’t worry… if you miss the nipples on the Batsuit, you’ll see enough nipples through her tight sweaters in the last half of the film to satisfy anyone.
Christian Bale is a kick-ass Batman. But for that matter, Michael Caine is a kick ass Alfred – much better than the geriatric and senile version that Michael Gough gave us in the last series. Gary Oldman is incredibly convincing as a young Jim Gordon, and you just don’t get any better than Liam Neeson as the evil Qui-Gon Jinn to the Batman in training. Other great players in this film include Morgan Freeman as Batman’s Q and Rutgar Hauer as the smarmy head of Wayne Enterprises.
There are parts of this film that deviate from the original mythology, and I have to admit that this isn’t totally forgivable. But at least they aren’t awful (like Alfred bringing Vicki Vale into the Bat Cave… what was up with that?).
I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan, but he seemed to be forced by the blockbuster nature of this film to make some choices that didn’t seem quite right. Nolan is a low-key director, but the climax of the film seemed to be heavy with studio-mandated action, when it wasn’t really necessary. But if he signs on for “Batman Begins 2” (or whatever it’s gonna be called), maybe he’ll be allowed to do his own thing this time.
Overall, “Batman Begins” isn’t perfect, but it’s one heck of an improvement over the films in the past – and it’s a great way to welcome the DC heroes back to the silver screen.