Batman Begins

5 stars


20th June 2005

How to kill a franchise: Lesson #1
Take one hard-boiled, well-established hero and dress him up in ill-fitting rubber, complete with cod-piece and bat-nipples. Strip away the cool Gothic vibe and replace it with super-gay neon and eye-rapingly cheesy special effects. Finally, have your newly camp crusader spout the kind of shit that George Lucas would balk at, and stand aside as your franchise digs its own grave and dies with its arse poking out of the soil.

It's only fair that a character with as much potential as Batman gets a shot at redemption. Joel Schumacher might have done his best to kill the franchise stone dead with his 'interpretation' of the DC Comics character, but as we all know, Bruce Wayne doesn't take that kind of shit lying down. With the corpse of Batman & Robin still stinking up the place, it was certainly a brave gamble to resurrect the Dark Knight, but instead of finding new villains for the camp crusader to exchange puns with, the powers that be sensibly decided to start from the beginning and tell the origin story: don't pretend you've never wondered - just how did Bruce Wayne come to think that dressing up as a flying rodent was a good way to tackle crime? Batman's birth is chronicled down to the smallest detail; the ethos, the costume, the cave, the car... absolutely everything is covered and introduced in the most wonderful way, lending Batman Begins the very rare quality of being part of this world, yet still seemingly extraordinary. Finally, after film number five, a crime-fighting bat doesn't sound so stupid after all.

Want to know how to make a film this good? Easy. You hire a fantastic director, in this case Chris Nolan of Memento fame - undoubtedly a man on the up, his visual style is affecting and engaging without ever relying on eye candy. You hire a writer to work up a fantastic script that stays faithful to the outstanding source material - David S. Goyer, you are officially forgiven for Blade Trinity. But most importantly of all, you hire a man who can play all elements of your character perfectly, a man who convinces both as a billionaire playboy and a slightly unhinged fighter of injustice - step forward Christian Bale, you've brought a real weight to both sides of this particular American psycho. Hollywood take note - hacks like Schumacher and friends might dazzle you with special effects and outrageous storylines, but you'll only get real results by buying into talent.

Where other Batman movies failed, Nolan's vision succeeds admirably. Where before the focus was on Batman's foes, here there's never any doubt that Wayne is at the centre of things - we come to learn about Bruce's parents, the empire they built up and the legacy they left him, how their murder drove him to 'seek the means to fight injustice' and how the city of Gotham became in such dire need of a saviour. Make no mistake, the neon-soaked sapid universe of Schumacher's Batman is gone forever - Begins is the darkest, most sinister and downright frightening movie in the series, making even Burton's Batman look tame in comparison - it does beg the question, how much more black could it be? As our hero hoists a bent cop hundreds of feet into the air and barks questions at him in the style of a particularly aggressive Nazi commandant, you understand why criminals are terrified of the big bad bat. Nolan's caped crusader is almost more bogeyman than Batman, a man who aims to defeat those who prey on fear by turning their fear against them. It's deadly serious, it's bleak and at times it's humourless, but it by God, it's effective.

It always helps to have an amazing cast to round off the edges, and Nolan has roped in the cream of British acting talent among others. Michael Caine replaces butler Alfred's plum tones with a cockney twang and makes the character around a hundred times more interesting in the process. It's a real kick to see Gary Oldman play a nice guy for a change, lending police sergeant Jim Gordon a whole new dimension, while conversely, it's equally thrilling to see Liam Neeson let loose and play a kickass bad guy as the shady Ducard. Cillian Murphy manages to make villain Scarecrow seem terrifying (even though he's basically a bloke with a sack over his head) and Morgan Freeman delivers yet again, like you ever doubted he would, as Wayne Enterprises' resident R&D bod Lucius Fox.

Comic book movies have undergone a revolution over the past decade. We've leapt from Hasselhoff-fronted shit piles to multi-million dollar money-spinners, but now everyone has a new figurehead to look up to - the silhouette perched in the moon-drenched skyline of Gotham. What Nolan has achieved cannot be overstated - he's dragged the franchise back to life, creating a universe not far detached from our own, but one that's bustling with fascinating characters with their own stories to tell, all of them as rich as any other character in moviedom. If, by the time the final scene rolls around, you're not bouncing up and down at the prospect of the sequel, you're quite simply a little bit batty. Maybe you'd prefer a movie like Batman & Robin. I hear it's going pretty cheap these days.

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