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Batman Begins (8/10)

by Tony Medley

I don’t like superhero movies and I don’t like movies loaded with special effects. Even so, I liked this, which is by far the best of the superhero movies, even better than the first “Superman” (1978). We meet Bruce Wayne (Christian Dale) as a youngster, learn what happened to his parents, follow him as a confused young man, see him being mentored by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a man of mystery on the top of a mountain, to join a subversive vigilante group called the League of Shadows. The League is run by Ra al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). If Ducard is mysterious, Ra is far beyond that.

The underlying theme of the film is coming to grips with the emotions of fear and desire of vengeance. Bruce has a traumatic encounter with bats as a child and also seeks vengeance against his parents’ killers. Ducard tries to teach him how to deal with the fear and how to combat the need for vengeance, but they are recurring themes.

When Bruce returns to his hometown of Gotham it’s a mess, run by crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and his shrink in arms, psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (a creepy Cillian Murphy). Oh, yeah, director-writer (with David S. Goyer who also developed the story) Christopher Nolan adds something new that was never in the comic book, Bruce’s love interest, Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Nolan says he created the character to “represent the life Bruce Wayne might have if he weren’t tied into his destiny of having to create a very dark alter ego through which he helps people.” Bruce’s moral compass, butler Alfred, is appropriately interpreted by Michael Caine.

Lucius Fox (a charming Morgan Freeman) is to Batman what Q (generally Desmond Llewelyn) was to James Bond, a guy who comes up with some really neat gadgets, including the Batmobile and some other great stuff. Fox is not well treated by ambitiously avaricious Wayne Enterprises CEO Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer).

There are a few funny lines, but none as good as my favorite line from a Batman movie, when Michael Keaton says, “I’m Batman,” in “Batman Returns” (1992).

Maybe the best part of the film is creation of the city of Gotham by production designer Nathan Crowley. Unlike other movies that rely heavily on Special Effects, there was minimal reliance on CGI. Most of the sets we see are miniatures, built at Cardington, a former airship hangar located an hour north of London. The building used is 812 feet long and 180 feet high at its apex (vs. 45 feet high for the average soundstage). The floor area is equivalent to the area of 16 Olympic-size swimming pools. To get a feel for its size, it could park 8,338 double-decker London buses inside. Throughout the film, Gotham looks like a real city, except for the climax when it does look more like a miniature than the real thing.

So with this attention to detail in creating a city from scratch, explain this. Batman is attacked with some sort of poison that puts him to sleep for two days. We cut to his awakening in bed with Alfred by his side. “How long have I been asleep,” he asks. Replies Alfred, “Two days.” The problem is that he is a cleanly shaven as a freshly picked plum. Did the loyal Alfred shave him while he was in his coma? Or did the filmmakers who can create a believable metropolitan city from scratch neglect to realize that if a man is asleep for two days, he will awaken with a two-day growth of beard?

The plot is pretty ridiculous and logic is never even tried in the story devices, which are full of amazing coincidences. Like, how can Batman listen in on private conversations? How does he arrive at crucial moments in the nick of time? Why is he standing on a steeple of a tall building at the end of the film, all by himself? Oh, well, this is a cartoon. Forget logic.

Even though it’s 138 minutes of nonsense, it’s appropriately dark and foreboding, but action-packed and fun. There’s really nothing to worry about. Just sit back and enjoy the action. That’s what I did.

June 9, 2005