|Arts & EntertainmentFood For ThoughtHomeward BoundJust BusinessRoad TripThis & That|
by Norman Wilner, Zap2it.com
"Batman Begins" could just as easily have been called "Batman 1.0": It doesn't so much go back to the beginning of the Caped Crusader's venerable career as completely reboot it, starting from scratch to create a deeply dramatic, heavily mythological and utterly amazing new version of the big-screen Batman. Regular folks will like it fine, but if you're a comic-book guy, well, there's only one way to put it: Best. Batman. Ever.
In a few bold strokes, Christopher Nolan, director of "Memento" and "Insomnia," dumps all the baggage of the disastrous Joel Schumacher movies, as well as the more excessive stylings of Tim Burton's films, to fashion a more contemporary, realistic world into which the Dark Knight might be born.
But the audience is well ahead of the story; the trick is not the whos and whys of Batman, but the hows, and for its first two-thirds, "Batman Begins" takes great pleasure in re-introducing us to troubled orphan Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), whose quest to avenge his parents' random murder takes him to the ends of the earth and back, as he struggles to find a way to give purpose to his life. And then it's full-on action, as Wayne cloaks himself in his alter-ego to save his beloved Gotham City from menacing supervillains.
In what appears to be Tibet or Mongolia, Bruce studies with the warriors of Ra's al-Ghul, and adds ninja technique to an already impressive repertory of fighting skills; things go badly, however, and our hero eventually returns to Gotham, and his fatherly butler Alfred (Michael Caine), where he applies himself to the creation of a secret identity designed to strike fear into the city's superstitious, cowardly criminals.
Nolan's script, written with David S. Goyer, lends a kind of mythical inevitability to every scene, with the movie's sleek visual style occasionally lingering on ice formations that suggest a hero's cowl, or a shadow that masks Bale's determined face at just the right angle. (In a sole wink to the earlier movies, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's score always seems just on the verge of breaking into Danny Elfman's grand Gothic theme from the Tim Burton films.)
The film only seems to stumble in Bale's scenes with Katie Holmes, sadly miscast as Bruce's childhood sweetheart-turned-district attorney, and in a couple of fight sequences, where the cutting prevents us from getting a good look at the specifics of the action. It's a necessary evil, since Batman's close-quarters combat is supposed to be devastatingly swift, but it's still disorienting.
But these are minor reservations in the face of overwhelming strengths: Glorious visuals, an almost airtight script, and top-notch performances -- not just Bale's intensity and Caine's warmth, but fine supporting turns from Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson, among others. This is the "Batman" we've been hoping for. Bring on the sequel.
Warner's enhanced-widescreen DVD presents the film in an absolutely pristine transfer, with the theatrical trailer as the sole extra. A two-disc special edition is also available, apparently loaded up with all sorts of goodies and an exclusive comic book, but wasn't provided for review. If it's anything like the label's new special editions of the Burton and Schumacher films, though, it's probably worth a look.