If you go down to your local multiplex, you will probably find a movie based on a comic book. When these movies are good, they are good. When they are bad, they generally stink. Warner Bros., which is part of the media group that owns DC Comics, comes back to comic-based movies with "Batman Begins." And it is not just good; it is great.
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in “Batman Begins.” (Warner Bros.)
"Batman Begins" is just what the title says. The film presents the transition that takes Bruce Wayne to Batman. As a child, Wayne witnesses the death of his parents. When his opportunity for revenge is thwarted by the Gotham crime boss, Wayne develops further angst.
He leaves Gotham and journeys across the world, ending in the home of Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Ghul leads an international crime fighting syndicate, and there Wayne is taught the ways of the ninja. Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) works to groom Wayne to become second-in-command of the syndicate, but when he is asked to execute a man accused of murder, Wayne violently protests and leaves. He may want to bring justice, but he will not be an executioner.
Wayne returns to Gotham, determined to clean up its corruption and crime. With the help of his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), an executive at Wayne Enterprises, Wayne hides his identity and gathers the tools to bring justice to the city.
He of course stumbles upon a plot to literally eliminate Gotham City from the earth. The question is: How does Batman stop the plot and save the city?
"Batman Begins" hits every note. Movies are partly about presenting symbols, and there needs to be defining scenes of symbolism. There is such a scene in the film. Night has fallen on Gotham City, and the camera pans the skyline. There, standing like a sentinel over the city, is Batman, looking down on the city he loves, righting wrongs in the shadow of the night. In this moment, you know who this man is.
Christopher Nolan, who directed the outstanding film "Memento," knows not to portray Batman as a psycho or campy caricature. Nolan knows the source material, and the names of characters and the look of the film speak to this fact. "Batman Begins" is important in the cycle of comic book movies because this movie is more about the man than the superhero.
Christian Bale is spot on as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He is buffoonish as Wayne's playboy millionaire, while being cold and calculating as Batman. Bale is the best actor to play Batman, far better than Michael Keaton, who was in Tim Burton's version.
Michael Caine is Alfred Pennyworth, who supports his employer and does all he can to care for his charge. There is an air of tough love for Bruce, and Alfred always reminds Bruce who he is. His nobleness reminds one of Sir John Gielgud, who was Hobson in "Arthur."
The best performance in the film comes from Gary Oldham, who plays Jim Gordon en route to becoming police commissioner. Oldham looks like the rendering of Gordon in the comics. Furthermore, Oldham's movements and mannerisms show this is a good cop in a bad town—a man trying to do right when all around him are doing wrong.
There is nothing wrong with this film. It treats the source with love and care, which is good news for those who've spent years collecting the comics and learning the smallest facts about a character. "Batman Begins" delivers in every way.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements. Reviewer's Note: This movie is not for children because the images could produce nightmares.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
Cast: Bruce Wayne/ Batman: Christian Bale; Alfred: Michael Caine; Henri Ducard: Liam Neeson; Rachel Dawes: Katie Holmes; Jim Gordon: Gary Oldham; Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman; Carmine Falcone: Tom Wilkinson; Dr. Jonathan Crane: Cillian Murphy; Ra's Al Ghul: Ken Watanabe.
The movie's official Web site is here.