Superhero Month: "Batman Begins" Review

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When the young Bruce Wayne's parents are killed by a mugger, he sets out on a journey to discover the means to fight the injustice. He finds a possible answer through a man named Ra's Al Ghul, the head of the League of shadows. With help from Ghul, and his assistant Henri Ducard, he learns the skills he needs to rid Gotham of criminals. On returning to Gotham, he finds the city ruled by crime and corruption.
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Superhero Month: "Batman Begins" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (intense action violence, disturbing images, some thematic elements)
Length: 140 minutes
Release Date: June 15, 2005
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Action/Adventure/Crime

"Batman Begins" is the aptly titled first film in the rebooted Batman franchise, and it tells the origin story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a billionaire heir with a dark past. When Bruce was just a child, his parents were tragically murdered, leaving loyal servant Alfred (Michael Caine) to look after him. He is haunted by his parents' death and grows up with a thirst for revenge. He becomes obsessed with crime, so much so that he decides to take some of his inheritance and traverse the globe to study criminals and see what makes them tick.

He ends up a criminal himself, locked in a Bhutanese prison where he is repeatedly beaten because of his surliness. His fate changes drastically when Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) saves him and recruits him to join the mysterious League of Shadows. While in training to join the League, he is taught mind control, sword fighting, and a whole host of other useful skills. When he finds out that they are really a group of terrorists, he bails and returns to Gotham City, where he is prepared to fight crime using his new skills.

Once home, he finds that the ruthless Earle (Rutger Hauer) has taken over the company his parents left to him. Crime has also run rampant in Gotham City, and the milquetoast Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) seems to be the only good, honest cop left. As if that's not enough, his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), tries to rekindle their romance at a very inopportune time. While all this is going on, the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) and Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) are readying plans to destroy the city. A whole lot is at stake as Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who works for Bruce's company, comes up with the first prototypes for the suit and batmobile so that Bruce can become Batman and fight back. All of his gadgetry and technology is rough around the edges instead of having the usual polish that viewers might expect from a superhero movie. However, that is exactly the point-Batman is just beginning, as the movie's title suggest. Batman and his allies still have plenty of kinks to work out, and it is a lot of fun to watch them as they try to do so.

Several superhero franchises have been either created or rebooted in recent years, and the origin story is often at the heart of the first film in the series. Some risk is always involved in retelling a beloved character's back story, because diehard fans, who form a big portion of the ticket buyers, already know how it all began. Thankfully, director Christopher Nolan crafts a tale so intriguing that even those who might be burnt out on origin stories will enjoy seeing the oft-told tale unfold on the screen. Much of the credit for this goes to the time and detail Nolan puts into Bruce Wayne's history, which the original "Batman" in 1989 either glossed over or completely omitted. For example, no mention of R'as Al Ghul is made in "Batman," but he is an important character who helps shape some of the character's later stories, which is likely why Nolan introduces him here. It's the little details like this that go a long way towards making "Batman Begins" really soar.

Many of the films director Nolan had previously helmed were mindbenders, such as "Memento" and "Insomnia." He brings the smart sensibility he displayed in those films and expands upon it in the fantasy world of Gotham City, creating a rich, layered universe where a character like Batman is both believable and necessary. Working from a script by David S. Goyer, who had previously worked on the "Blade" franchise, Nolan carefully uses computer-generated images to enhance the script without making them the focus of film. Too often in summertime blockbusters, CGI becomes a distraction that can sometimes make a film look like it has no heart. Nolan never lets this happen in "Batman Begins," however. The film's heart might be the moody, dark, and somewhat broken one of Bruce Wayne, but it is heart nonetheless.

The job of a rebooted movie is to set the characters up for a series of future movies. In this respect, and so many others, "Batman Begins" succeeds wildly. It is a rare summer movie that has all the explosions and confrontations that will keep action film buffs entertained while still appealing to those who like to watch a more cerebral film. In fact, this isn't just rare for a summer film, it's rare for any time of year. Nolan has set the bar to a much loftier height for all future superhero movies, rebooted or not. Only time will tell whether others will ever reach that bar.

Rating: 4 out of 5