starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson and Katie Holmes
You see, as with Sith, I was nervous going in. My nervousness about Batman Begins centered not on the repeated nut-kicking of my childhood by Lucas over the past five years (Sith), but rather around these four reasons:
Fortunately, director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan clearly knows his Batman, in a way Joel Schumacher and even Tim Burton just did not. This is a dark, serious movie, which just happens to be about the birth of a super-hero. Because that hero is Batman, it works, and damn well. Nolan and David Goyer's screenplay is excellent -- based in large part on pieces of Batman: Year One and Year One companion stories like the Long Halloween, this is a gripping, well-paced story of a man coming to terms with his past, the death of his parents, the injustice of a society where he is rich and so many are poor and desperate, and the hope that things can be better. And, oh yeah, a story about putting on a suit of black armor and a cape and kicking people's asses.
Because the writers and director take the subject matter seriously, the actors are allowed to do so as well. While there is ample humor in the film, especially in the friendship between Bruce Wayne (Bale) and his family's long-time butler, Alfred (Caine), and between Wayne and Freeman's Lucious Fox, there's no attempt to pepper the thing with cheesy one-liners. All the actors (and a finer set of actors for this film I can't imagine) grab onto these roles as they would any other, and wring truth out of them. There's no self-consciousness about being in a "comic book movie" here, as can be sometimes seen even in other excellent comic book films, just simple, straight-forward realism, perhaps heightened a bit under the circumstances, but not strained in the least. Oldman, Hauer, Wilkinson, Murphy, Caine, Freeman, Bale and Neeson all do wonderful jobs, as does Katie Holmes, in a role which, thankfully, figures strongly into the plot not just as a romantic distraction, but as a smart, integral, important character, who helps shape Batman not through her need, but through her expectations that Wayne live up to his potential. Seldom do you see a female character like that in a comic book film (unless she's one of the superheroes), and it's certainly never been seen before in a Batman movie.
Fast-paced, action-packed and filled with bits that will delight comic fans and non-fans alike, this is a truly fine movie. Some have complained about Nolan's fight scenes -- that they are too fast and difficult to follow, but I loved them. The kind of staged, choreographed, extended combat normally seen in a film like this doesn't really make sense for Batman. Batman hits hard and fast from the shadows, lurking, waiting, and striking down his opponent at a moment of weakness. Batman doesn't stand still, exposing himself to gunfire and goodness knows what else -- he's just a man, after all. These battles may not seem as satisfying to some as a ten-minute Jackie Chan-style martial arts fight scene, but they are appropriate to the character. I'm sure that, as Batman takes on some bigger hitters in future films (like Killer Croc and Bane), we'll get to see longer fights, and everyone will be happy. But I really liked what Nolan did with these.
Did I say "future films?" Yes, I did. Word is Bale has signed on for two more Batman movies. If they are anything like this one, I'm there, opening night, midnight show. Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Christian Bale and the rest of a superb cast have revived what seemed a doomed franchise, much to my delight and the delight of comic geeks everywhere.
As my brother said, "If only Revenge of the Sith had been this good."