Getting The Bat back on track was a long time coming but I guess it had to happen. Leaving a once thriving franchise in tatters, with millions of fans still shell-shocked and trembling at the very thought of an Arnold Schwarzenegger ice pun, would have been too cruel.
So Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) stepped in, bringing with him a darker, grittier style usually suited to gloomy thrillers. Starting from the top, Nolan re-introduced the character completely from his origins all the way to him becoming Gotham City's saviour. This meant no Joker killing Bruce Wayne's parents (petty robber Joe Chill doing the deed instead) and a lot of time spent with Wayne being a ninja trained by Liam Neeson as part of the League Of Shadows, a vigilante group led by Ra's Al Ghul.
The second half of the film would be pure entertainment. Batman in Gotham kicking ass, or at least trying to. The villains he faces include Falcone, a mob boss played by Tom Wilkinson, whose accent gets pretty cartoonish, but in a good way.
"Begged... like a DOWAAG!"
Also part of the fun is Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow but alas, although the bad guy has potential, he is just not given much screen time. This is one of my biggest complaints about Begins: Scarecrow is just not a real threat. Oh sure he attempts to burn The Bat alive at one point...
"You need to LIGHTEN up." lol
But at no point is he a real physical force or a huge problem. Yes he puts Bruce Wayne's old pal/love interest Rachel Dawes (whinily played by Katie Holmes) in deep shit but he folds, like, instantly. You mean the man responsible for harnessing that hallucinogen spray thing isn't immune himself? And he gets his ass kicked by Rachel never to be seen again? Come on. That's a missed opportunity right there. Now I'm not saying dress up full-on like the Scarecrow in the Animated Series but at least try and be as imposing! Hell, the main bad guy isn't even THERE half the time in this movie, give us something!
Oh well, for all my gripes, Batman Begins is still a good flick. The Bat's origins, although unnecessary and way too episodic, work brilliantly as a build up to Batman's first appearance. And after 10 years of Batman & Robin being the last thing we remembered of the character, I gotta say the "I'm Batman" scene kicked my ass and everything after was a treat. The plot is great, very layered and subtly dense. Unfortunately it is let down by several over-dialoged scenes in which Liam Neeson is left to say the words FEAR and MAN about a hundred times. We get it: the film is about BatMAN facing his FEARs.
I should mention the supporting cast which boasts a good Alfred in Michael Caine, the ever-reliable Morgan Freeman as Bruce Wayne's very own Q Lucius Fox and Rutger Hauer as a slightly shady (but not shady enough IMO) member of Wayne's company.
On the whole, Batman Begins is an excellent comeback for the character. Sure the first half, after watching it once doesn't feel quite as useful and it all feels a bit subdued with so-so villains, a so-so love interest and so-so threats but it works just enough to make us forget about Joel Schumacher's last effort and get us excited about The Dark Knight.
Because it's not what the movie is underneath but what it did, that defines it.
No masterpiece then, but definitely a step in the right direction.