Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson
The Bat is back. Eight years after the franchise crashed-out in camp catastrophe, Brit director Christopher Nolan boldly reinvents the caped crusader for the 21st century. But this is no prequel or sequel. Batman Begins does what it says – starts the whole thing over. New concept, new Bat. And this time he's Welsh: Christian Bale is Batman.
Bruce Wayne is a billionaire kid with a bat-phobia. When his parents are murdered he goes off the rails and off the map. Vowing vengeance on injustice, Wayne disappears east to learn the tricks of crime-fighting from the mysterious League of Shadows, and the enigmatic Liam Neeson. Returning to Gotham City, he finds the place corrupted, with only a lawyer and childhood friend (Katie Holmes) and one good cop (Gary Oldman) making a stand. Time to turn the bat-fear back on the bad guys. Aided by loyal manservant Alfred (a brilliant Sir Michael Caine), Batman is born. And not before time as the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is about to unleash some scarily-realised, Constantinestyle nightmares on Gotham City.
From Tim Burton's 1989 opener, previous Bat movies gave centre stage to the villains. This time, Batman himself is the one to watch and Begins is at its inventive best when answering the biggies. What drove Wayne bats? Just where did the bat cave and the batmobile come from? Christian Bale ( American Psycho ) certainly convinces as the pre-bat wanderer, the crusader's billionaire playboy alter-ego, and the snarling Batman himself. And there's some great support from a star-heavy cast of largely British talent – including the ever-excellent Tom Wilkinson. And there are a surprising number of good laughs too with Caine and Morgan Freeman (as Batman's gizmo guru) lapping it up.
After such originality, though, the action is mostly a letdown – shoddy and shortchanging. Poor Bale must be wondering why he bothered to put on the pounds and learn those funky moves: the five or six combat scenes, clearly meant to be bold and brutal, are blurred and botched. Like the Bourne Supremacy on acid. Not so much ‘ooh' and ‘aah' as ‘huh?'. Nolan stages some terrific explosions but his lazy bash ‘em and crash ‘em approach is at odds with the characterful first half. There are nods to other franchises – Bale in Savile Row suit inspects Freeman's Q-style gadgets; tube trains woosh out of control – but this no high-octane Bond or Speed . Nolan's great at character ( Memento, Insomnia ) not so hot on action. There are some great visuals though. Gone is Burton's thirties gothic. Gotham's now a real-world metropolis – chrome skyscrapers against azure skies – with a backstreets underbelly.
Batman Begins brings the comic-book character alive like never before. So well that the bang-crash finale feels like another, and not-so-good, movie. Hopefully any sequel can right the wrongs of Begins and bring out the best in the reborn Bat. Catch it now, though, just in case.