BATMAN TRULY HAS BEGUN
Coming from the guy who couldn't groove to the four previous glossy Batman films (yes, even the first), I am happy to report that Christopher Nolan's version hits just the right key, just the right note and just the right style. "Batman Begins" is, to say in two words, simply awesome.
The film opens in a prison camp somewhere out in Asia where Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) routinely takes heat from the brutal guards but has no problem roughing up the prison inmates when he needs a good fight. Waiting for him in his cell is the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) of League of Shadows, a league whose mission statement becomes more apparent later in the film.
Ducard quickly trains his new student on fighting & stuff; the basic requirements to become a Hollywood tough dude when time is short. We see which of Ducard's influences later evolve into Bruce's Batman character, allowing us for the first time in a movie to see it all from the beginning.
We see how the entire story unfolds. How his parents were murdered by street thugs. How his fear of bats led one thing to another. How a corporate executive (Rutger Hauer) took over the family company giving Bruce nothing of his family legacy to hold on to. How Mr. Fox (Morgan Freeman) from the science department with nothing to do finally gets to put all those cool gadgets to work apparently too expensive for the military to contract. And how Gordon (Gary Oldman) rises through the ranks starting at the lowly position of sergeant.
Only an hour and fifteen minutes later do we see Batman for the first time, who with the help from his loyal servant Alfred (Michael Caine) attempts to take back the city of Gotham currently rotting under a corrupt government, half of which has been bought out by the thug Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson).
Falcone's henchmen pillage the streets on a daily basis and constantly run drugs in and out of the city. When one gets taken down by a rare honest cop, the evil Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) declares him insane and transfers him to his own facility for careful monitoring, thus keeping him out of prison.
The assistant district attorney, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), is onto the scheme and will become a target of Crane's villainous identity, Scarecrow, who has waited far too long to be in a Batman movie. With a toxic concoction of inhalants he puts his victims though a confused trance turning regular objects into what that person fears.
His plan to infect Gotham's water supply isn't new to the city's populace, and is eerily similar to the plot of "The Tuxedo," but it works as far as comic book plots are concerned and is -- to say the least -- a rather creative way of using "microwave" technology to reek havoc on a massive scale.
Someone at Warner Bros. had the right perception to sign the underrated Christopher Nolan to this $100 million blockbuster project, and whomever it was had to have taken notice of his stylish "Memento" and wonderfully shot "Insomnia," two great films that have the dark elements the "Batman" series needs. Had those films been around more than a decade and a half ago one must wonder if the executives behind the original "Batman" would have been so quick to select Tim Burton to materialize the first Dark Knight movie.
And picking Christian Bale to don the black mask was just as wise a pick. Bale, who has rarely failed to impress me having been in quite a few great movies such as the bizarre "American Psycho" and the coolest film you've never seen, "Equilibrium," is the best looking Batman onscreen - even if it takes a moment to get adjusted to his style; speaking angrily through clenched teeth.
I'm a skeptic when it comes to comic book movies. "Batman Begins" joins a short list of titles I find to be of interest above spectacular special effects. "For every "Batman Begins" there's an "Elektra," and for every "Sin City" there's a "Hulk." But when movies like "Begin" come around I don't mind enduring the byproducts. This may be the fifth installment of the bloated franchise, but it alone has resurrected the series. Batman truly has begun.