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Batman Begins review

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Batman Begins review
Christopher Nolan recreates Batman and breathes new life into the franchise in Batman Begins, allowing fans to forget the torture of the Joel Schumacher years.

Batman has received mixed treatment on the big screen. In 1989 Tim Burton took on the franchise and brought two well-respected movies pitting the Dark Knight (Michael Keaton) against the villains of Gotham. Batman's adversaries were well conceived and interesting, the mood was dark, and fans of the franchise and casual moviegoers alike were impressed.

Then things all went a bit wrong. Given the script to 1995's Batman Forever, Burton and Keaton wisely jumped ship as the franchise descended into the campery of the Sixties TV show where neither story nor characters were particularly well conceived nor interesting under the direction of Joel Schumacher. Although Forever was decent, the dire Batman and Robin seemed a large and confident final nail in the bat's coffin.

Director Christopher Nolan has now performed a veritable miracle in resurrecting the character and the franchise. Whereas the Burton films were dark in image Nolan also brings darkness to the psychology of Bruce Wayne, now excellently played by Christian Bale. In the first two movies the villains' histories were told, but the story of Batman himself has previously only afforded the odd flashback. We knew he was an angry man, but we now discover that he's a tortured soul driven by fear, the main theme of the movie. However, the gloom is never too over-bearing, thanks to some well-placed humour.

Batman Begins is also by far the most complex Batman movie. In the past there have been a couple of mismatched villains artificially slammed together for no good reason other than there were not enough ideas for one. Here, half of Gotham City is corrupt, and there is a much greater sense of Batman being a crime fighter rather than a man in a costume having a scrap with a couple of eccentrics. Here, it is hard to pin down 'the' villain. The characters are far more three-dimensional in this movie than the previous Batman outings, where, particularly in Batman Forever and Batman And Robin, they were as flat as a comic book.

The complexity also brings with it a new kind of realism. The technology and gadgets, handed out by Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox, are given more credibility as inventions of Wayne Enterprises which were turned down by the military rather than hi-tech hardware that is inexplicably sitting in a millionaire's cave. Gotham City also looks its best since the franchise began, as a dark and rainy expanse of high-rise buildings. Equally impressive is the set in Tibet, where the hero-to-be hones his skills under the training of the vigilante group The League of Shadows led by Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and Ducard (Liam Neeson).

Given the well-formed characters they have to work with, the cast all carry out their roles admirably. Bale brings a new intense interpretation of Batman, coming a very close second to, or even surpassing the role-defining Keaton. Gary Oldman (Gordon) does well as one of the few good cops in the city, Katie Holmes is a pleasure to watch as D.A. and love interest Rachel Dawes, whilst Cillian Murphy is wonderfully unnerving as Dr. Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow. Other big names include Rutger Hauer as the wrongful leader of Wayne Enterprises and Michael Caine, an inspired casting as Bruce's faithful butler Alfred, helping to infuse some light humour to temper the film's darkness.

In summary, Christopher Nolan has created the darkest, most complex and most interesting interpretation of the Dark Knight to have graced the cinema screen in what is also the closest to his original conception in the comic books. There is nothing to be complained about from anyone – Batman fans will be pleased by the faithful dark atmosphere, whilst it stands alone as a great film for anyone as the saviour of a previously-rotting franchise.

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