Film — Batman Begins (PG-13)

 

By Amy Diaz

Christian Bale mixes the creepy intensity of Michael Keaton with the pretty-boy-ness implied in the animated series to create a believably dual role-having protagonist for Batman Begins, one heck of a great comic book movie.

Where the recent Spider-Man movies have had, at their heart, the idea that Peter Parker is deep down a really big geek, Batman Begins does an extremely good job of giving us a Bruce Wayne who is truly believable as a billionaire socialite/costumed vigilante. Bale looks the part of entitled scion of wealth — at one point, Wayne delivers an insincere but perfectly executed drunken speech telling off the upper-crust guests at his birthday party. There is a perpetual smirk about Bale that makes this behavior seem completely natural. Yet when the Kevlar-encrusted Batman is sailing up alley shafts and gliding down from rooftops, Bale seems equally at home. Unlike the too crazy-eyed Michael Keaton or the too Ken-doll-ish Val Kilmer, Bale is as close to perfect for the role as you can probably get.

That all starts with Bruce Wayne seeming both at ease and horribly out of place in a Chinese prison where he has decided to bunk for a while to get an immersion class in getting the crap beat out of you. He graduates to getting-the-crap-beat-out-of-you-by-professionals with the appearance of Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson playing an angry Jedi without all the Lucas white-hat nonsense). Henri brings Bruce into a secret society of vigilantes and teaches Bruce the ropes of fighting and covert surveillance after which Bruce, like Anakin before him, tells his master to suck it and takes off.

Bruce returns to Gotham where he regains his place in society by out-trashy-behavioring the Hilton sisters. This, of course, being his cover for spending his nights using bleeding-edge military technology to take on the vast criminal networks of this corrupt-to-the-core city. With the help of butler Alfred (Michael Caine, heartbreakingly good) and inventor Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Batman collects an arsenal of gadgets that allow him to enter the most dangerous corners of Gotham undetected. He also makes an ally in Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the only honest cop in the city. Gordon helps him to track down Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), a crime boss who, it turns out is not the city’s biggest problem. Part of that honor goes to a mad psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), known to his patients as Scarecrow.

There is, of course, a girl — there’s always a girl. But assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) seems to exist primarily to serve as the most strident and unappealing example of virtue possible. Also, to have boobs that Batman can rescue. Because theirs is not even a love story on par with the flavorless Kim Basinger/ Michael Keaton match — the real love in this movie is between Alfred and Bruce.

Don’t get me wrong — there are elements of the Keaton/Tim Burton Batman that I liked very much. It mixed in a retro visual element that heightened our sense of comic book fantasy. We truly got a sense of the way in which Gotham dwarfs its inhabitants in that movie with a slight 1930s-noir touch.

Likewise, the animated version of Batman that appeared in several forms, mostly as a half-hour television show, also capture a nice tales-of-the-naked-city feel and added a darkness to its lead that, weirdly, was never equaled by the live-action movies.

Batman Begins seems to have blended the better elements of the two, giving us a Gotham that seems to exist in modern times but also in every time. Touches of 1930s gangster mingle with 1970s cop movies and present-day technology and dress. Batman Begins is not exactly the Technicolor fun that the Spider-Man or even X-Men movies were but it is completely engrossing and at times awe-inspiring.

If the movie suffers from a bit of clunkiness, I think that comes of its being the origin story. Though telling the first chapter of something gives you plenty of material, it can also bog the story down in too much exposition. I get the sense that with the next movie, we’ll see more lightness, more agility now that we have our characters in place. And, unlike the previous Batman movies, Batman Begins does indeed leave you wanting a next movie.

 
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