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Batman Begins

From Riches to Rags to Bat-suit

Was there anyone that saw Batman & Robin that didn't think the franchise was over? Granted, Joel Schumacher did his best to bury the Batman franchise with that rancid piece of meat in 1997, but Batman is nothing if not resilient, and 2005 finds the Caped Crusader back on the silver screen in Batman Begins. This time it's Christopher Nolan (Memento) who takes the helm. David S. Goyer, the current golden boy of comic book to screenplay adaptations, wrote the dark tale, which centers on the evolution of Bruce Wayne into Batman.

Batman Begins takes a different tack than the previous installments in the franchise. For one thing, there is no Batman yet. We begin with a young Bruce Wayne and his loving billionaire parents. Near the beginning of the story Bruce falls down a well on his property and is swarmed by thousands of bats, an experience that will continue to haunt him for years. And on one fateful night, a low-life criminal takes the lives of Bruce's parents, changing his life forever.

Bruce is then raised by his caretaker, Alfred (Michael Caine), but the anger and guilt that builds up within him during those years eventually drives the now-older Bruce (Christian Bale) to flee Gotham and light out into the world to try and figure out what the hell he wants to do. How he will channel his anger and guilt into a productive force?

For several years Bruce travels the earth, living among the poor and the villainous, learning how to survive, shedding his rich kid background. Finally he finds himself under the tutelage of Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a martial arts master who shows Bruce how to become a leader, a legend. One of the most important things Henri does for Bruce is to make him confront his own fears, which is where Bruce gets the idea for his alter ego.

Bruce returns to Gotham City with the goal of cleaning it up and restoring the Wayne name. A terrible depression has turned Gotham into a violent, scary place. With the help of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce is able to create an arsenal of state-of-the-art weapons and armor, which he uses to transform himself into Batman.

The rest of the plot is complex enough to leave alone within the constraints of this review; suffice it to say that once Batman has been born, there is plenty of crime to fight and plenty of colorful bad guys to deal with.

What I really enjoyed about this Batman film is the way in which the first act played out. A series of flashbacks constructs the background and is interwoven with Bruce's travels around the world. The story is very well constructed in terms of Bruce's training to become the Caped Crusader.

One of the problems I have with the film is the fact that the fight scenes are somewhat difficult to decipher. It's hard enough when the environment is dark and the fighters are wearing dark colors, but add a moving camera to the mix and it's nearly impossible to see what is going on. It's a shame because the fighting is well-choreographed and generally pretty bad-ass.

Also, as in every comic book put on the big screen, there are plenty of cops that want to arrest the good guy for doing good deeds. I never did quite get the reasoning behind this. Why do cops hate superheroes with such vehemence? Apparently it is just a part of the formula.

Another problem that I had was with the character of Rachel Dawes, played by Tom Cruise's latest squeeze Katie Holmes. The character really doesn't add anything to the story, and Katie Holmes certainly doesn't add anything to the character. Her moist doe-eyes may have worked on "Dawson's Creek", but not here.

The visual effects, for the most part, are impressive, with the exception of a few scenes with the new Batmobile that look somewhat fake. The backgrounds are fantastic, whether it's Gotham City or the training scenes that take place atop mountains in what seems to be Outer Mongolia. Gotham City exists like we've never seen it before, at once more advanced and more dangerous.

Christian Bale plays the most acrobatic, powerful Batman that we've seen on the big screen to date, bringing a much darker element to the character than Keaton, Kilmer, or Clooney ever did. As a whole, Batman Begins is a dark picture of a man consumed by ridding the world of evil, and an eerie story of his transformation into a legend.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars