Batman Begins (12A)
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Time Out saysThe Dark Knight returns in Christopher Nolan's 're-imagining' of the comic book legend, and the result is one of the most stunning superhero films yet made, a Batman film quite unlike any that have gone before.
Where Tim Burton gave us gothic-bat and Joel Schumacher gave us camp-bat, Nolan concentrates on making his Caped Crusader real, so much so that were the superhero element removed, the substantial leftovers would make a gripping drama about guilt, loss, vengeance and redemption.
Taking their inspiration from the dark graphic novels on the 1990s (most notably 'Arkham Asylum' and 'Batman: Year One') Nolan and co-writer David Goyer have crafted a fantastic story bathed in wonder, horror, mystery and spectacle.
The first hour is all carefully constructed back-story, establishing young Bruce Wayne's fear of bats and his guilt at the death of his parents.
We then follow this troubled soul on into manhood, where an eventful trip to Bhutan helps Wayne come to terms with this fear and grief and paves the way for his transformation into the winged wonder.
At this point the script carefully and logically explains the introduction of the suit, the toys, the cave and the car, allowing us to genuinely believe in the birth of the bat and perfectly setting up the stunning action and drama of the second half.
In the lead role, Christian Bale excels as the psychologically damaged millionaire playboy, managing to be utterly charming, wholly disarming and unquestionably dangerous all at once.
His job is made easier by the note-perfect cast that Nolan has assembled around him however.
As the various shady characters that populate Gotham's underworld, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, Rutger Hauer and especially Liam Neeson excel, while Gary Oldman imbues Jim Gordon (who hasn't made Commissioner yet) with a pathos and honesty that sets him apart from the previous caricatures of the role.
Morgan Freeman is also excellent as technological wizard Lucius Fox, and once you've seen Michael Caine's wonderful turn as Alfred, Wayne's loyal and trusted butler, you’ll wonder why any other actor was ever previously cast in the role.
But Batman isn't just about the characters, and the director clearly knows that, carefully constructing a believable world for the forces of good and evil to inhabit.
Not for Nolan the gothic wonderland of Burton's films, or the neon-lit hell of Schumacher's – his visually stunning Gotham City is a world unto itself, where crime is rife, corruption flourishes and bad things happen to good people on an all too regular basis.
And as the villains, including the demonic Scarecrow and the dastardly Ra's al Ghul, start to prosper, so proceedings become increasingly horrific, making 'Batman Begins' an unexpectedly intense and disturbing affair.
Nevertheless, in spite of these sporadic flashes of terror (and parents would be advised to cover their children's eyes whenever the Scarecrow's gas is in use) Nolan never dwells on the gruesome, and before long we're returned to the heart of the action.
It is here that 'Batman Begins' hits its only bum note however, the close-up, high-impact fight sequences proving hard to follow, so much so that at times you wish that the director would pull back a little so that you can see what the hell is going on.
But that's a minor quibble in what is an otherwise outstanding reinvention of one of the 20th century's most enduring legends.
A comic book adaptation that doesn't patronise or pander to the subject matter and isn't afraid to take itself seriously, 'Batman Begins' respects the source material, develops it in inspired and unexpected ways and elevates it to a seriously sophisticated cinematic level.
An unadulterated joy from start to finish, it's rumoured to be the first of a proposed trilogy from Nolan and Goyer, and if that turns out be true, the Dark Knight can't return soon enough.
Thu Jun 16, 2005