A review of “Batman Begins” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for violence and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

 

 

The boy in the bestial batsuit is bigger and better than ever thanks to a dark veil of secrecy and the menacing genesis of family skeletons.

To manipulate the fears of others you must first learn to control your own.  Words to live by in the life of poor little rich boy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who watched as his wealthy parents were murdered at the hands of thugs and who consequently grew into a mistrustful adult.

 Bruce’s unease is fodder for evil thoughts and deeds, for the darkest corners of the mind to spring their coiled demons.  His impossible anger over the untimely death of his loved ones has strangled his grief and left Bruce an emotional shell of a man.

Until he takes matters into his own hands by seeking spiritual wisdom in a faraway land, engaging in “more than just a man” martial-arts training with sinuously shady Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and coming into lockstep with members of the demonic League of Shadows who worship a New World Order.

Will Bruce forsake his father’s dream – the revitalization of Gotham City – to quell his own demons?  Or will he strike at the heart of criminality by becoming a vigilante of the night?

Director Christopher Nolan of Memento fame has breathed fresh air into the legend of the angst-ridden superhero for whom a winged nocturnal mammal is a symbol of courage and incorruptibility.  Nolan and company have succeeded in turning this DC Comics classic into a neurotic but affecting tale of the perfect anti-hero.

Thanks in no small part to Bale whose own bristly edge perfectly complements Batman’s perpetual search for personal salvation.  Along with trusty English butler Alfred Pennyworth (played to humorous perfection by Michael Caine) Batman takes on Gotham’s criminal element on a wing and a prayer and a large measure of family pride.

Chemistry rules in this shadowy fantasy; between Bruce and gal pal assistant D. A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) who is none the wiser as to Bruce’s alter-ego, Bruce and Alfred, and Batman and his blackened armor and sweet ride.

Best of show moments abound; Bruce Wayne in a sinister cloud of swirling bats set to a pounding Hans Zimmer beat, bad boy psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (a freakish Cillian Murphy) donning a frightful burlap mask and spreading panic-inducing toxin, and intense Gotham cityscapes suggesting Fritz Lang on crack. 

Narrative warmth is proffered in the form of one Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Wayne Enterprises lifer and the calm beneath the storm that may be Gotham’s undoing.

This fundamental Greek tragedy is marbled with veins of comedy; humorous equipment failures and zingy one-liners that blend effortlessly with smart scripting.  A few dumbed-down moments cater to the action-only crowd but are ultimately swallowed up by first-rate plot machinations and deliciously dastardly wrong-doers.

As summer blockbusters go this one’s a keeper.