STARRING: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Rutger Hauer

2005, 140 Minutes, Directed by:
Christopher Nolan

After director Joel Schumacher practically destroyed the franchise with the day-glo camp of Batman Forever (in 1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), Batman is finally back on course thanks to director Christopher Nolan (of Memento fame) and writer David S. Goyer (the Blade trilogy) with Batman Begins.

Okay, so it isn't exactly the course set by director Tim Burton with his ground-breaking 1989 live action Batman movie. Instead of Burton's surrealistic stylistic flourishes, the series is re-invented as a grittier type of action movie, perhaps closer to the Blade movies than, let's say, the Spider-man and Superman movies. (To be honest I sometimes missed Burton's touch during Batman Begins: the dark cityscapes, the memorable Danny Elfman score, the black humour, etc.)

Be warned though: Batman Begins isn't exactly something you'd want your small kids to watch. If you felt safe taking them to the Joel Schumacher Batman movies, it is because those movies were more inspired by the camp 1960s Batman TV series that didn't take the character serious at all. The inspiration behind Batman Begins is those dark, moody and violent graphic novels written by the ilk of Frank Miller, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. Just like you wouldn't want your kids to pick up and read Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, you wouldn't them to watch Batman Begins. This is a Batman for adult action fans, and after the groan-worthy previous two instalments this is quite a good thing.

". . . it'll take a lot to forget those damned nipples on the batsuit, thanks Mr. Schumacher!"

This is indeed Batman begins. The movie attempts to write the slate clean (although it'll take a lot to forget those damned nipples on the Batsuit, thanks Mr. Schumacher!) and start the story afresh by focusing on the title character's origins and early years a la Frank Miller's Batman - Year One. Here Batman is treated seriously again and we have an epic story, told over an epic running time (almost two-and-a-half hours long, which is a welcome change from the typical 90 minutes or so running time of the wham bang thank you ma?am modern era blockbuster) that lets one become fully immersed in this rich fantasy world without one's butt getting too sore like it did during the last half-and-hour of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

The cast is epic too: American Psycho star Christian Bale plays another type of psycho here when one thinks of it, and is simply the best Batman since Michael Keaston's run kicking dust in both Val Kilmer (what the hell where they thinking?!) and George Clooney's faces. Gary Oldman is a young Commissioner Gordon and Michael Caine is an unaging Alfred the butler. Thrown in for good measure we even get Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and even Rutger Hauer!

The plot involves a convoluted one by a shadowy group to save Gotham City by destroying it, the villains no doubt having taken a leaf out of the military planners of the Vietnam war's book. Along the way we have a few plot twists, an appearance by the villain Scarecrow, loads of loud action and more thoughtful introspection on the nature of justice and vigilantism than those offered by, let's say, The Punisher or Dirty Harry or most revenge action flicks.

Listen, go see Batman Begins. It is simply a cool action movie and while the movie is not without its faults (I particularly missed the architectural fetishism of the Tim Burton movies and some fight scenes are shot up real close so that you can't always see just what the heck is happening) it is like seeing your favourite comic book title being written and drawn by some guys with an understanding of the character involved for a change after seeing it being ruined by some talentless hacks.

Sure, small-minded Batman purists will maybe find stuff to moan about (what's with Batman being bullet-proof and actually flying?), but Batman Begins is closer in spirit to the comic book character than anything we've seen on our cinema screens in a long time. And so far it is the most fun blockbuster I've seen this year, and yeah, I'm including the much overrated Revenge of the Sith here too.



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