movie film review | chris tookey

Batman Begins

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  Batman Begins Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
6.91 /10
Bruce Wayne/Batman: Christian Bale , Alfred: Michael Caine
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Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Bob Kane and David S. Goyer

Released: 2005
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 140

What makes a man dress up as a bat and turn himself into a one-man police force? Thatís the tricky question posed by Batman Begins, and the film answers it triumphantly. This is by far the most entertaining blockbuster and scintillating action movie of the Summer. And it owes its success to two talented young Britons who had to leave this country to succeed.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Still only 31, the extravagantly handsome, Welsh-born actor, Christian Bale first achieved fame as a child in Steven Spielbergís Empire of the Sun. Since then, his performances have ranged from the lamentably wooden (Equilibrium and Captain Corelliís Mandolin) to the distinctly impressive (American Psycho and The Machinist). Over the last twenty years, heís done what most sensible actors do: explored his abilities and learned his craft.

He now has the apparently effortless authority, athleticism and charm that eluded previous Batmen Michael Keaton (too creepy), Val Kilmer (too boring) and George Clooney (too pleased with himself). Baleís ability to do little but suggest a lot makes him easily the most convincing and interesting Batman/ Bruce Wayne ever. Thanks to this movie, Bale may well leap over Hugh Grant to become Britainís most bankable movie actor.

Thereís a dark side to Baleís performance, and rightly so, for there is a part of this batty superhero that must always remain a dangerous vigilante; but he also makes us like the disturbed multi-billionaire Bruce Wayne and empathise with his problems. Watching him develop from damaged, parentless child into fully-fledged superhero, we are able Ė as we did through Tobey Maguire in the Spiderman series Ė to imagine what it might feel like to become a superhero. Itís mildly troubling, but also cathartic and even inspirational.

Batman Begins is also sure to catapult a young Englishman on to the Hollywood A-list. Director Christopher Nolan learned his craft with a small British film, Following, but Ė unable to find finance in this country - he moved to Hollywood to make the cult hit Memento and a competent remake of the Norwegian film noir, Insomnia.

All three of these pictures showed promise, and Memento became a cult hit. But nothing in them suggested an ability to cope with a big budget, special effects or the pace of storytelling necessary to make a big Summer blockbuster hit, so credit should go to the people at Warner Brothers who spotted that Nolanís films have all been about conflicted characters undergoing identity crises, and guessed that the 34 year-old Londoner might be the ideal person to reinvigorate the Batman franchise.

They guessed right, and as a result Warners look like having their biggest commercial success since the Harry Potter hits started coming. Nolan finds just the right look. Tim Burton was much praised for his direction of Batman 1 and 2, but to me his Gotham City always looked a little too arch and art-directed. This time, Batmanís habitat is like a working city Ė a living, if polluted, social entity.

Nolan, like most modern film directors, gets in too close and edits too frenetically for us always to appreciate what is going on. He badly needs to calm down. But he wisely avoids over-using digital technology, which gives the movie more realism than most comic-strip flicks manage. He also gives his excellent leading man room to breathe and develop, so his film has a humanity and an interest in character that have been lacking in most Hollywood action product of late.

Batman Begins isnít perfect. The principal villainís identity can be guessed too early, and Liam Neesonís guru figure is a bore, spouting platitudes such as ďYou fear your own power, your own anger ó the drive to do great or terrible thingsĒ and ďTo conquer fear you must become fear.Ē

The usually reliable Tom Wilkinson doesnít convince as an Italian-American gangster boss. Heís so busy getting the accent right that he forgets how to be scary. Cillian Murphy Ė though undeniably weird with his staring, blue eyes Ė looks too juvenile to be Gothamís dodgiest psychiatrist, alias The Scarecrow. And the much-publicised Katie Holmes is pretty but anodyne as Batmanís first girlfriend. If she does cruise to stardom, it wonít be because of this movie.

Fortunately, others in the cast fare much better. Morgan Freeman is beatifically cool as the scientist who makes Batmanís gadgets. Gary Oldman, not before time, takes on a Hollywood role that doesnít require him to snarl throughout, and is endearingly mild-mannered as the last good cop in Gotham City. Michael Caine takes over from Michael Gough as Alfred, Bruce Wayneís benevolent butler. All three are effective in roles that may not stretch them as actors, but make full use of their capacity for warmth.

There are all the thrilling action set-pieces you could desire, but what the film does best is answer the question of how and why Bruce Wayne came to be Batman. As a prequel to Tim Burtonís first Batman film, itís much more imaginative than George Lucasís attempt this year to make the antecedent to Star Wars.

Perhaps Batman Begins takes itself a tad too seriously. I found the first half-hour, in which Bruce Wayne is mysteriously released from an oriental prison camp and undergoes ninja training at the top of a mountain, pompous and heavy going Ė itís like an uninspired episode of the old TV show Kung Fu. Itís when Bruce returns to America and finds his fatherís corporation taken over by Rutger Hauer, and Gotham City taken over by gangsters, that the story gathers pace and interest.

This is certainly one of the better movies to have been inspired by a comic strip. I donít think it achieves the heights of Spiderman 2, but itís at least on a par with the first Spiderman; and it has none of the thuggery and lasciviousness that diminished the best-looking movie in this genre, Sin City.

Weíve had a run of disappointing blockbusters this year; and Batman Begins stands bat-ears and caped shoulders above Kingdom of Heaven, Revenge of the Sith and Mr and Mrs Smith. Itís too dark for small children Ė note the certificate Ė but for those 12 and over, itís terrific fun.

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