The stench left behind by 1997’s “Batman & Robin” took time to fade.
“Batman Begins,” the 2005 reboot of the caped crusader franchise, cleared away any remaining odor left behind by George Clooney’s sole turn as that Dark Knight.
The less said about those Bat nipples, the better.
Director Christopher Nolan successfully rebranded Batman, made a superstar out of Christian Bale and gave every other comic book film permission to be more thoughtful than their predecessors. So why can’t “Batman Begins” fly nearly as high as the second part of the trilogy, “The Dark Knight?” It’s simple. Heath Ledger.
“Batman Begins” features Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, two villains who cannot come close to the menace Ledger brought to any given scene in “The Dark Knight.” Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is an adequate supporting villain, nothing more, and Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul isn’t on screen enough to generate our interest.
Everything else is firmly in place in Nolan’s initial Bat installment, from trusty Alfred (Michael Caine) to the big business flourishes that helped Bruce Wayne fight crime like no one else could.
“Batman Begins” traffics in Nolan’s “Memento”-like storytelling. We watch Bruce Wayne (Bale) training under the tutelage of Ducard (Neeson), part of the League of Shadows, along with snippets of a young Bruce grappling with his new fear of bats. Bruce’s childhood was destroyed the moment his parents were killed right in front of him, and now he’s turned his energies toward becoming an unstoppable force of nature. But his destiny eventually finds him at odds with Ducard’s methods.
We later rejoin Bruce roughly seven years later, and his plans to avenge his parent’s death is starting to come together. But the dark forces swirling through Gotham City won’t be easily vanquished, putting both Bruce, his childhood friend Rachel (Katie Holmes) and the few decent cops remaining in peril.
The moral puzzles sorted out by our hero won’t be completed for another two films, perhaps, but they begin in an intellectually powerful fashion. Rachel provides a moral center to the story, even if Maggie Gyllenhaal’s take on the character proves more intriguing.
“Batman Begins” can be clunky at times – Bale is forced to deliver lines that would be better suited in a comic book film with far less ambition. And there’s no one standout action sequence that lingers in your synapses long after the film wraps.
Yet it’s a wonderfully descriptive origin story, one that blends the fanciful with the psychologically pragmatic. What grown man runs around in a bat costume fighting crime? “Batman Begins” answers with such blunt force – and authority – that the question itself suddenly seems absurd.
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