Batman Begins – Movie Review (****)

(Originally posted on 6-18-05)

Four stars… I gave Batman Begins four stars. I give four stars pretty rarely. It’s not like I am Rex Reed or, you know, what’s his name, the made up guy that used to show up in all the ad copy for every movie under the sun from a couple of years ago.

I don’t have any fast and hard rules on what constitutes the earning of four stars, but the main points that I take into consideration are that the film actually accomplishes what it sets out to do, that it brings something special or extra to the mix that was not expected, that the characters are for the most part defined by more than just the simple necessities of the plot and that the performers conform to their roles and not the other way around. Based on those criteria alone Batman Begins delivers.

The final overriding element, of course, is that it works for me, since they are my reviews and I am the final arbiter of everything star related that contains my (albeit unknown) byline. And Batman Begins worked for me. More so than any other movie this year.

This movie set out to re-energize a struggling franchise. It sets out to reboot, to start from the ground up and rebuild and to reset the expectations. And that is exactly what it does. Now whether or not they can continue to match the quality here and to even set the bar higher on any following films is still up in the air.

What really struck me about this entry into the series that I haven’t really seen in any other version of the story, movie, book or comic book, is how deep the trauma was to the young Bruce Wayne in the loss of his parents. I think this is the first time where we really get an idea of how formative Bruce’s father, Thomas, was on him and how deeply Bruce mourned the loss. Linus Roache brings a real depth to, what to now has been, a cipher of a character. And we can finally get an idea of what is driving Bruce Wayne to obsession.

And this is true of all the characters. You really get a sense that they all exist, to a certain extent, in their own lives and just aren’t there to service the plot. Michael Caine is iconic as Alfred the Butler. Alfred is finally more than the guy that adds some proper British comic relief and irons the Bat-cape. Gary Oldman brings the same weight to the pre-Commissioner Jim Gordon. You understand that his life goes on, even when Batman isn’t there. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, though the weakest character in the movie, still stays true to her motivations throughout the movie and rarely acts contrary to what you would expect of her as a character.

Director and Co-Screenwriter Christopher Nolan (Memento and Insomnia) has taken a page from Sam Raimi (Spider-Mans 1 & 2) in how to build an appropriate story and how to choose an appropriate villain. Instead of the two being separate issues, he has chosen the villains in order to reflect the central conflicts that the main character is battling. In this case the fear of fear and the drive to fill the emptiness of the loss of a loved one and the lack of justice associated with that loss. Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow, Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul and Liam Neeson as Ducard all deliver in their appointed roles, all the while not coming across as if they were invented solely to be villains to Christian Bale’s Batman.

And finally Batman Begins succeeds in creating a Comic Book Super Hero movie that conforms for the most part to the practical physics of the world that surrounds it.

This is not a movie for the really young – it is dark and violent and character driven. It is, more appropriately, a movie for the naïve and jaded optimist in the grown up geek in the rest of us. And that’s me. And for me, it worked.

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