Batman Begins

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner15/06/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 140 mins

Christopher Nolan single-handedly resurrects the Batman franchise with Batman Begins, an emotionally engaging, impressively directed and beautifully cast superhero flick.

After the mess that Joel Schumacher made of Tim Burton’s Batman franchise, you could be forgiven for having lost faith in the series completely. Fortunately for Warner Brothers and for Batfans everywhere, Batman Begins has been entrusted to Christopher Nolan, who brings a dark, emotionally complex sensibility to the film and delivers what just might be the best Batman film yet.

The Story

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film co-written and directed by Memento director Nolan, Batman Begins thrusts you straight into the action, with bearded billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) locked up in a Shanghai prison, where he meets the sinister Du’card (Liam Neeson, playing yet another mentor).

Wayne is swiftly recruited into the League of Shadows, a vigilante organisation headed by Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and based in a Himalayan monastery that specialises in flashbacks. However, when the League demand that Wayne give up his compassion, he fights his way out and returns to Gotham City, intent on avenging the deaths of his parents at the hands of a mugger.

Once in Gotham, Bruce sets about lining up some allies for the coming fight against crime. These include: honest police sergeant James Gordon (Gary Oldman, cast against type and playing a nice guy for once); faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine); weapons expert and sidelined Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and childhood friend-turned-foxy DA Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), a character created for the movie.

He then finds himself embroiled in a dastardly plot that involves an alliance between crime kingpin Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and fear-mongering psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).

The Acting

The acting is terrific; no-one puts so much as a foot wrong. Bale is head and shoulders above Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney – he’s utterly convincing as both Batman and Bruce Wayne and the fact that he was Patrick Bateman in American Psycho only adds to his performance, suggesting that full-blown psychosis is never too far away.

Katie Holmes is better here than she’s ever been – it’s her most mature performance to date and she completely drops the simpering ‘Joey Potter smirk’ that was her trademark. On the strength of this, she really doesn’t need Tom Cruise to boost her career. All the supporting performances are wonderful, but the stand-out is Cillian Murphy, who is both weirdly charismatic as Crane and genuinely terrifying as The Scarecrow.

The film looks absolutely amazing, courtesy of set designer Nathan Crowley, who even manages to top Anton Furst’s Art Deco Gotham from the Burton films. Nolan eschews CGI effects in favour of miniatures and models and it really pays off, making the city look as physically real as possible. In fact, there are hardly any obvious CGI shots, except for the swarms of bats and even those are pretty good.

The Problems

That’s not to say that the film is perfect. For one thing, the “new” Batmobile isn’t nearly as cool as the PR department would have you believe. However, the biggest problem is the fight scenes: Batman’s ‘ninja fighting style’ (known as the Keysi Fighting Method, it says here) works fine when he’s taking out ninja henchmen or crowds of thugs, but there are three major fight scenes and they're filmed in a way that you can't tell what's going on.

Yes, it's quick, yes, it's "the way Batman fights", but you don't see anything and by the end, you really want to see a fight. It's the same with the big Liam Neeson swordfight sequence that's in the trailer - it's all choppy editing and you don't get any sense of them using the space they're in, which is kind of ironic considering a) the jaw-dropping Icelandic scenery and b) the point of the scene.

The Conclusion

That said, the film delivers pretty much everything you could hope for from a Batman movie, unless you think that Batman begins and ends with Adam West in tights, cheesy puns and cartoon bubbles saying “Pow!” Here’s hoping both Bale and Nolan sign up for the sequel. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 13/12/2019 10:53

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