Yes, I am raving, RAVING! about this film. And whether skeleton-emaciated (see below) or bar-room brawler hulk-y (see movie) I love, absolutely LOVE! Christian Bale. And since at the moment my own words can't express how much I loved this film, this is a wonderfully written review:
By Todd Gilchrist
Christian Bale is an actor I have respected since his earliest days on film; Empire of the Sun remains to this day one of my favorite movies, and signifies my own transformation from wide-eyed movie watcher to serious film student and, later, professional appreciator.
In Batman Begins, the 31-year-old Brit transforms his chiseled countenance yet again, beefing back up after his thin-man turn in The Machinist and playing both sides of the Batman coin with equal credulity. He invests us so deeply in the plight of this angry young man that we follow him willingly into the folds of the Batcave, and believe instantly that adopting this alter ego is his only way of coming to terms with his childhood trauma.
What’s more, Batman Begins boasts the best-ever cast in the history of the Batman films, and features the best collective performance from an ensemble you’re likely to see in this or any other comic book adaptation. The inclusion of Liam Neeson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman isn’t a simple matter of stunt casting like that of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn in Batman and Robin; rather, they plumb their respective talents for a wealth of credibility and a real-world tone that hasn’t been achieved before.
Bale plays Wayne as a withdrawn, bitter young man who has stature and wealth but remains powerless to regain the thing that means most to him - his parents. That part of the back story, however, has long since been established; his abilities, connections and drive, meanwhile, have never been sufficiently developed.
In the years before he straps on grey tights, a black mask and some cool gadgets, Wayne abandons his birthright, wanders the world in search of impossible answers, and lands himself in prison, where he routinely receives beatings from the other inmates. It is there that he meets Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the man who offers to train him as a crime fighter and give his feelings focus.
Assisted by his henchman Ducard (Liam Neeson), Ra’s trains Wayne to fight - martial arts, stealth, etc.- and teaches him the discipline of their sacred order, which maintains a balance between the forces of light and darkness by cleansing the earth of corruption and crime. But when Wayne refuses to join their coterie of foot soldiers, who vow to employ any means necessary to accomplish their task, Ra’s is killed, his order is scattered to the four corners of the globe, and Wayne realizes that he must regain the world of the living.
Returning somewhat ceremoniously to Gotham after a seven-year hiatus, Wayne adopts his role as figurehead of Wayne Enterprises uneasily, but uses its wealth as a tool in his crime-fighting arsenal. Receiving assistance from his family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and a slightly disenfranchised Wayne Enterprises employee named Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Wayne conquers his own fears and vows in order to, as he puts it, ‘use fear against those who pray on the fearful.’ Pretending to be a rich, empty-headed playboy during the day, Wayne assembles a vast arsenal to fight crime, and takes to the skies to bring down the mob bosses and criminals who rule Gotham’s streets.
Nolan’s one shortcoming is his unease with directing action scenes; an early scuffle renders all of the participants drenched in mud and indistinguishable from one another, and some of the other segments feel assembled in the editing room rather than in the filmmaker’s imagination. But as far as the characters and story are concerned, Batman Begins achieves the kind of superlative emotional fluidity that last summer’s did, and produces the same kind of irresistible empathy that Sam Raimi was able to imbue unto Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter- ego.
As a longtime reader of the Batman comic books, I thrilled at the prospect of watching a truly new story, rather than some vaguely different installment of the same old good-versus-evil conflicts that dominated previous films and the funny papers which inspired them. Thankfully, I was fully satisfied by the film; the time Nolan takes to generate a real sense of humanity in Wayne makes for indelible viewing once the movie magic takes over. He combines viscera and palpable emotional dimension in an unforgettable cinematic alchemy, fulfilling the history of the character as well as creating a new screen mythology which will inspire decades of directors, storytellers and mythmakers for years to come.
Neeson, who prior to Kinsey has made his mark playing authority figures and mentors to troubled young men (Star Wars: Episode I, Kingdom of Heaven), here trades on that persona as a teacher whose lessons cannot be blindly followed, engendering the central moral ambiguity that exists beneath Batman’s crime-fighting certitude. Freeman, on the other hand, makes a sly play on the secretive and subtle characters he’s portrayed in films past, and turns a throwaway character into a great comedic fulcrum in a film that’s occasionally light on laughs. Meanwhile, as Wayne’s butler Alfred, Caine continues to expand his filmography with worthy turns in worthier films, and beings an irreverence, intelligence, and most of all, sensitivity to a historically stolid character.
With all of the mucky-muck character and plot business out of the way, it’s equally exciting to consider Nolan’s take on those wonderful toys, which have a three-dimensional quality that previous installments lacked, but nevertheless inflame the imagination just as much. For example the Batmobile, which must eat Humvees for breakfast, is hands down the coolest vehicle in Batman history; doubly cool is its actual existence, which highlights an important element of the film's appeal - tangibility.
Hardly can one remember a movie released in the past five years that actually performed all of its stunts, generated its effects, and imagined its conceptual universe in actual space, not created with the assistance of a team of computer animators. But Nolan does the seemingly impossible, and turns rote fight choreography and car chases into real-world scuffles and sequences that grunt and weave while - gasp! - actually obeying the laws of physics.
In the end, Batman Begins isn’t just a summer rabble-rouser, nor a quiet character study. It’s a gothic, well-acted and expertly executed epic that promises some of the most riveting drama and exciting action you will see all year. To top it off, Christian Bale brings credibility to Batman's cowl and tips off a collection of superlative turns, even from actors for whom great performances are commonplace events.
This is the best Batman movie ever, not because it’s the newest, but because it’s the most believable: the hardware, the relationships, the story all feel fully real, and that’s a rare achievement for a film of any type, much less comic book adaptations with their pulse squarely on the pocketbook of the American public. That said, the overall effectiveness of Nolan's film all but guarantees the existence of future installments, which come well-deserved.
So consider the franchise officially reborn, sing the praises of a summer spectacle, and let the Bat-mania begin for the first time, all over again.