Batman Begins is an attempt to resurrect the beleaguered Batman franchise after the travesty of the last two Batman films. In light of the incredible success enjoyed by Marvel Comics with Spiderman and the X-Men, DC obviously felt the need to respond in kind. Thankfully they finally managed to get it right, great casting, a quality script and an excellent director have ensured that Batman Begins is one of the best comic to screen conversions ever made.
The tone is set right from the opening as we squint through a swirling pattern of black wings, a huge torrent of bats which blends seamlessly into a fast moving shot through the undergrowth of the Wayne Manor gardens. Bruce is about to have his first encounter with terror as he falls down an old well and disturbs a swarm of bats. Just a few days later the Wayne family visit the opera and on leaving early at Bruce´s insistence his mother and father are gunned down right before his eyes in a botched robbery.
Bruce is raised by the doggedly loyal family Butler, Alfred. He grows into an angry and unhappy young man and ends up journeying through the criminal underworld in an attempt to understand what he seeks to destroy. The League of Shadows find him and train him to use his power for a greater purpose so that when Bruce finally returns to Gotham to reclaim the Wayne Empire after a seven year absence he is ready to start the legend of Batman.
The storylines and characters portrayed here are faithful to the original comic books borrowing most heavily from Batman: Year One. The film captures the same sense of gritty urban decay, the terror provoked by Batman´s actions amongst the criminal underworld and the sense of hope he creates for the citizens of Gotham. The threads of story which gave birth to Batman are skilfully tied together here and the character is most definitely the same Dark Knight that Frank Miller wrote about.
In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne creates the Batman persona, borrowing technology from the Wayne Empire and using his vast wealth to construct the bat cave. When combined with his relentless training and fighting experience Batman is frighteningly tough but he remains within the bounds of reality and we are reminded that he is after all just one man. The super villain of the film is the Scarecrow, a demented psychiatrist who has developed a fear inducing spray which he has been using on the depraved inmates of his chilling institution, Arkham Asylum.
The acting in this film is fantastic from an almost perfect cast. Christian Bale is Batman, without a doubt the best portrayal of this character I´ve ever seen; while Michael Keaton could cut it as Bruce Wayne how could you ever believe him as Batman? Bale bridges the gap effortlessly and in a way brings the two closer together, I liked the suggestion that his mask is actually Bruce Wayne and that Batman is who he really is.
Michael Caine brings his usual sense of reality and dry humour to the part of Alfred. Cilian Murphy was great as the rather clinical, sneering Dr Crane (Scarecrow) and Tom Wilkinson turned in a really good performance as the leading criminal boss, Falcone. Liam Neeson plays Ducard, Gary Oldman is Commissioner Gordon, though he is not yet the Commissioner here and Rutger Hauer plays Earle the graspy managing director on the Wayne Empire board. Each one is excellent in their respective roles with the only disappointment provided by the irritating Katie Holmes as Bruce´s childhood friend and potential love interest, DA Rachel Dawes.
The writing is also a very high standard, the plot holds together very well, the pacing is perfect and the dialogue is delivered so well by the cast that Gotham City is brought to life. Bob Kane and David S Goyer get the writing credits, Kane for character stuff (he has a long history of working on Batman projects) and Goyer for the story which is beautifully told.
Nolan has had a pretty meteoric rise as a director, going from his debut film with a budget of just £10,000 pounds a few years ago to this Hollywood megalith with a budget of £100 million. He proved his incredible talents with cult smash Memento and handed a project of this magnitude he does not disappoint. Batman is captured brilliantly, as he swoops down on screaming hoods from above, or stands motionless, perched atop a skyscraper surveying his city. The sequences shot from the perspective of people infected with the hallucinogenic fear gas are really chilling and imaginative featuring some really impressive special effects. If I had to make a criticism it would be of the close up fight direction, the choreography is probably really good but you can´t tell because the camera shows a series of fast cut close up shots which are disorientating and slightly jarring.
Nolan has captured a more realistic Gotham than Burton´s heavily stylized vision and it seems especially suited to the story being told here. The film is over two hours long but it feels much shorter and Nolan manages to pack in an awful lot of action without allowing things to get cluttered. Batman Begins doesn´t feel lightweight as many comic book films do and this has a lot to do with Nolan´s expert direction.
Batman Begins is excellent, the film Batman fans have been waiting for, mercifully lacking the cringe worthy elements which made the last couple of films so very, very bad. The Dark Knight is finally brought to life convincingly on the big screen and you should make sure you catch a glimpse.