Batman Begins

9 out of 10


Not A Vigilante, But A Legend .

With the original TV series and 1960's film of "Batman" being so campy despite its undoubted success, it was almost impossible not to better it with some big bucks, and indeed the 1980's version with Michael Keaton was instantly acclaimed and raced to the front of the Oscar queue. Even so, many of us at the time had serious reservations that it was atmosphere driven, centred on a magnificent dark and brooding Gotham City set with little in the way of improvement in storyline. English maverick Christopher Nolan thought likewise too. A graduate of the Cambridge Film Festival who had only directed tiny or no budget films before, he pursuaded Warner Brothers to tear up their existing development spanning several major blockbusters for one of their biggest grossing brands and allow him to rewrite it effectively from scratch. Incredibly their trust has paid off. "Batman Begins" is not some lame prequel that is supposed to slot nicely infront of their existing string of hits, but is a truly original and imaginative classic that you'll want to see again and again.

Unike its predecessors, "Batman Begins" is more than an adventure flick and as such, is extends well beyond the normal 90 minutes of the genre. From the first moments, it is clear the love and devotion that Nolan has put into the project. The nemesis of CGI, he sent the idea of another Lincoln Futura to the scrap heap and had scratch built a new Batmobile that is a cross between an army assault vehicle and a testosterone dream, yet the picture he has crafted is one where the story is truly spellbinding, no matter how amazing the stunts or magnificent the set designs are. With genuine humour and drama this screenplay of such a rare quality unfolds its story. Rather than told as an aside in a flashback, the graphic tragedy of the Wayne family is played out on screen. His fall down the old well filled with bats that gives young Bruce (this time played by Christian Bale) his phobia, the murder of his philantropic parents in front of him and so on, yet the reactions are so much more believeable here.. This is not some law-obsessed clown but a grief-stricken youth who first tries to murder the man who killed his folks, then runs away to China and lands in prison as a petty criminal for stealing. As a well known person who has a grudge to settle, Wayne is recruited by the League of Shadows, a mysterious group, high up in the Himalayas. Believing that "Criminals thrive on the indulgence of societies understanding," they teach him to become a sort of Samurai, "not a vigilante, but a legend" and never to run away but to master his phobia and turn it against the enemies of the poor, the sick and the victimised. Although an extended portion of the film, his training is amazing to watch, not least as the leader of the League, Henri Picard is played by Liam Neeson who was himself once a professional boxer and certainly knows how to fight.

After he returns to Gotham, others begin to assist him. His childhood sweetheart, Rachael Davies played by Commie Katie Holmes is now a prosecutor, frustrated at the impossibility of putting criminals behind bars because of the corruption, Morgan Freeman's crusty old Lucius Fox, the sidelined techno boffin at his father's old company and of course his family's loyal butler. It is also interesting to note here, Michael Caine's continuing metamorphosis from once playing the young trendy man-about-town in such 1960's shockers as "Alfie" into being "Alfred" the butler here and other such roles as the dignified English gentleman.

Unlike previous versions, it does not claim that no one knows that rich Bruce Wayne is, in fact, Batman. Instead, Nolan paints a picture of a city where crime is so badly out of control that the police are utterly corrupt and the power lies in the hands of some very, down-to-earth and believable mob bosses like Falconi, an aging Mafiaman whose never jumped from a window nor even worn a primary colour in his life and whose dress-sense is so drab it would have made Dotti ashamed to be in the Mafia. In particular, Gordon is wholly reworked. Whilst, for years in Britain, the name of Commissioner Gordon has almost become synomymous with crass stupidity for being unable to realise that Bruce Wayne is Batman, Gary Oldman's Gordon here is a chain-smoking stressed-out police sergeant who feels fearfully alone for being one of only a minority in the force who isn't taking bribes. And, like the honest prosecutor and Lucius Fox, he is all too happy to turn a blind eye to the Batman's true identity. Indeed, "Batman Begins" goes well beyond the ordinary genre of the superhero. Highlighting the rancid evil of plea bargaining, it opens up questions of the balance between vengence and justice... "compassion" it says "separates us from criminals".

Throughout, various conventional criminals come and go and you wait and you wait for the major themed criminal to turn up as they always do. Maybe it's Dr Crane (Cillian Murphy) at the Arkham Asylum as the "Scarecrow", the one themed character who appeared in the original comicbook series. No matter what, though, when the Supercriminal does turns up, it is an awesome, jaw-dropping shock. It's an ending that is a twist no-one ever sees coming...and on about the same scale as finding the publicity about "Batman Begins" is no hype - Nolan's epic really is that good.

"A rare blue flower" not to fear watching

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett