"They told me there was nothing out there, nothing to fear. But the night my parents were murdered I caught a glimpse of something. I've looked for it ever since. I went around the world, searched in all the shadows. And there is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge."

[pause]

" Me."

How to, ah, begin? Ah ha ha ha ha. Every once in a great while, a film will come along that you're not prepared for--at least not prepared for how great it will be. The Matrix was such a movie back in 1999. The trailer looked interesting--despite Keanu Reeves' "whoa"--and it seemed to fit the genre of an early summer action movie. Of course, that description fails to do the film adequate justice. The Matrix turned out to be an all-time classic film, still influencing Hollywood today, despite its mediocre sequels. I found the first X-Men movie to be such a film as well--you hear about it being made, it sounds interesting, but you're not quite prepared for how good it turns out to be. The same can be said for The Usual Suspects. It premiered to little fanfare, and then gained new life as positive word-of-mouth spread. It's now a modern classic in many ways. One of those films no one sees coming.

I'm relatively certain no one other than director Christopher Nolan (Memento) and writer David Goyer (Blade) saw a film like Batman Begins coming. Given its long and unfortunate history as a film franchise up to this point (lately a train wreck due to Joel Schumacher's involvement), I don't think anyone was willing to say another Batman movie was high on the interest list. You may hear news and rumors about the making of the film during development--an acclaimed director like Christopher Nolan gets involved, Christian Bale is cast as the Dark Knight, a completely redesigned Batmobile, etc. Never once do you think that the film will be anything other than another Hollywood popcorn summer action flick. It's not really on your to do list--it's not a must-see. And then you see the film.

It's not very often I get the urge and motivation to sit down and write a full review of a movie I've seen, but with Batman Begins I've found that motivation in spades. It is, by far, is the best movie released thus far in 2005--it even ranks above Revenge of the Sith in my All-Dork List. From this point on, I'll be addressing specific plot points and events, so if you haven't seen it yet, now's your last chance to turn back.

Batman Begins is not an action film. It is not a comic book film. It is not a drama. It's a horror film, pure and simple. It's not about masked serial killers with chainsaws, though. It's a horror film that truly explores the concept of fear. Whether you're a so-called "good guy" or "bad guy," there is always something to fear. How you react to that fear is often what defines you as "good" or "bad." This horror film uses fear to illustrate its characters--fear defines Bruce Wayne and his unyielding quest to rescue Gotham from corruption and evil--fear is a weapon to keep the weak in line, as crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) does--fear is a tangible tool that Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), as Scarecrow, uses for experimentation and pleasure--fear is what keeps Gotham's citizenry from taking back their city from corruption and poverty. Batman Begins is about fear and how one lets it affect them.

I don't think you could describe any of the four previous incarnations of the Bat-franchise as truly being about anything. They were pure action flicks, they were about suspending disbelief and having some fun. They were about caricatures instead of characters. Regardless of how much you enjoy them (at least the first two), they'll always be categorized as "comic book films," for better or worse. Begins is simply a good film that happens to be about a character from a comic book.

Why does this movie succeed where the previous four have seemingly failed to be great? I think it's largely because the material is treated realistically--the story is grounded in reality. You're left feeling like this could actually happen, no matter how far-fetched it may be. Roger Ebert said it best in his review: "The movie is not realistic, because how could it be, but it acts as if it is." This movie transcends its genre as a comic book/action flick--it paints authentic characters, setting and actions in reality. That authenticity is what can make you actually care what happens and about the characters, you make an emotional investment in the story. That is what great films do.

But enough of describing the movie in broad strokes. Who wants to hear about all that thematic crap, right? The good stuff: the acting, the plot, the score, the special effects. They're all fantastic--and largely because of the authenticity with which they're treated.

Batman urges you to not steal his car
Bale as Bruce Wayne

Christian Bale seems to me the perfect Batman. As good as I thought Michael Keaton was in 1989, Bale outdoes him. His intensity seems to get across all of his character's traits all at once--his fear, his anger, and his guilt. I don't know if this is all his doing, but his voice as Batman is how it always should have been--that rasp that changes from quiet confidence with Gordon (Gary Oldman) to unleashed rage when working over a corrupt cop for information.

The rest of the veritable all-star cast, which includes Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson, Katie Holmes, Linus Roache, Cillian Murphy, and Liam Neeson, do what they're paid to do--flat out act. You'd think the number of big-shot actors in the movie would threaten to overwhelm it, but they all offer understated, perfect performances. They, thankfully, don't succumb to the overacting plague that Batman Returns, Forever and Batman & Robin suffered from. As good as Nicholson was in Batman, it doesn't have the weight these actors give their roles.

Okay, I'm starting to bore myself, so let me get on to the good stuff. The new Batmobile. As much as I liked the original in 1989, I can't picture it being anything other than the iteration from Begins. It's a kick-ass, hulking monstrosity of metal, fire and tires. There aren't smooth lines and tail fins. This thing is all business and watching it perform onscreen is simply a delight. (Ooooh, hellooo, would you like some tea and crumpets? No more use of the word "delight" from now on.)

And it's real, too. It's not some ridiculous CGI creation off of some computer. It's a real, working behemoth. Going back to the authenticity point, avoiding dependence on computer effects allows you to get into the movie's plot without being distracted by an obviously computer-generated and spectacular sequence, regardless of how well-done. Here you're just given the meat-and-potatoes practical effects, though these potatoes are XXXXXXXTREME, pro BMX biker-style, yo!

Gotham City itself--it actually looks like a real city. There's none of that gothic or neon crap from Burton's and Schumacher's Gotham City--this is a real city, apparently the largest on Earth, its' crown jewel. It's Manhattan on steroids--but it all looks real. Against that kind of an authentic backdrop (it was shot in Chicago, actually), you again find yourself believing these events could actually happen. There could actually be a guy in a hi-tech infantry suit and pointy ears out there kicking criminal ass.

This Batmobile ain't gonna lose a wheel
Whoops

What I find most amazing about Batman Begins is that Batman doesn't even make an appearance until halfway through the movie! It's all Bruce Wayne up to then. Let me say that again--in the first half of a movie called Batman Begins, there is NO BATMAN. What's truly amazing is that it doesn't matter--the film works incredibly well without him. By the time Bale finally dons the dark cowl (made in Taiwan, no less), you haven't been in a rush to get there. I was completely content witnessing Wayne's journey from childhood to training at Ra's Al Ghul's mountain compound to his quest to reclaim Gotham. The scenery before getting to Gotham City is absolutely gorgeous--and when enhanced with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, it's breathtaking. You'd never expect to see these kinds of vistas and backdrops in a "comic book" movie.

More than just spectacular visuals, the dramatic tension and storytelling that inhabits the scenery is what really sells it. You care about the character(s) you're seeing develop onscreen. It's a movie about characters, it's not about explosions or elaborate stunts or cod pieces. There's a dramatic weight to everything taking place

I mentioned earlier that Batman Begins is a horror film. This becomes particularly apparent in the film's third act, when a large portion of Gotham's population gets exposed to a psychotropic toxin that alters one's perceptions and amplifies their fear. It does not matter if they are good or evil. The toxin, created by Dr. Crane (Scarecrow), affects you regardless of whether you're good or evil, and the results are horrifying. Scarecrow's mask, pretty much a ratty old burlap bag, is scary as f**k when viewed from the point-of-view of an poisoned individual. And it's not just Scarecrow--when another criminal fittingly gets dosed with the toxin, they see Batman as a terrifying demon straight from the depths of hell itself. This is not a movie to be taking kids to unless you want to scare them shitless. Just tell 'em that sniffing glue will have the same effects as this toxin, I guess.

The way Batman's character is treated and shown is something straight out of the horror genre, his appearances in the Batsuit is more akin to a scene out of the Alien movies. Quick cuts and momentary glimpses out of shadow are all you get as you see as Batman swoops down and snatches a petty criminal off into the darkness. And my favorite scene in the movie is as follows:

GORDON
What is that?

BATMAN
Back-up.

If that scene doesn't bring a smile to your face when you see it in the movie, I don't know what will. You see Batman actually using/teaming up with bats. It's hard to explain in words, but actually seeing that is something I never imagined Batman doing, and yet it makes absolute perfect sense. I never though I'd see a Batman movie quite like this--which goes back to what I said at the beginning--I never expected this movie. It's nice to know Hollywood can still produce stuff like this seemingly out of nowhere. For every Batman Begins, there's a thousand Batman & Robins.

Like any film ever made, there are negatives. Though you'd hardly notice them in the first several viewings of this film. Katie Holmes, while not exactly a heavyweight actor, does alright in the relatively unnecessary role of an assistant district attorney and Bruce's love interest (number 5 on the Hollywood movie checklist is a love interest for our hero). Some minor plotholes are present that I don't think anyone will care about if they even notice them (so I won't mention them). The most glaring negative, however, has perhaps the most screen time. What the F is that thing on the bridge of Bale's nose? See a doctor and have that thing lanced off, man! If you see the movie on IMAX, you'll see what I'm talking about. That thing was the size of me.

My hopes for the future is that they start work on a sequel yesterday and get it released tomorrow. The little tease of everyone's favorite laughing, homicidal maniac at the end of Begins clearly left the audiences I saw the movie with yearning for more. As long as idiot studio execs don't start meddling, the Bat franchise is now in good hands with Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. It's amazing, but shouldn't be surprising, that hiring a director of Nolan's caliber results in a great film--one that transcends its genre. It's not an action film, it's not a drama, it's not necessarily a horror flick as I've said--it's simply a great film. It's proof that Hollywood can still get something right once in a while. Okay, I'm rambling now and have no idea what the F I'm talking about, but man was this flick good. See it during its' IMAX run, by the way, if you can. I came away enormously satisfied and can't wait for the next chapter in Batman's rebirth.

My final rating: 10 bats out of 10


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