I’ll try to make this brief, ‘cause there’s not much point covering too many of the same bases that a bazillion other reviewers will already have covered. In short, Batman Begins is among the best comics-to-celluloid conversions I’ve seen. It’s surprisingly realistic, well-paced, and rarely disappointing.
What interests me most about the movie, looking back on it, is that on one level it’s the story of a man’s search for a replacement father-figure or mentor. Bruce finds what he needs halfway around the world… or does he? He learns many valuable lessons, but “Ducard” isn’t really the right fit. No, that would be Alfred, the man he actually rejects any number of times previously. Maybe I’m reading too much into this aspect, but hey, I’m just amazed that the movie manages to have this thread without it being obnoxious or blatant.
So, the cast. I liked seeing Gary Oldman in a fairly low-key role, and he does solid work here. His Jim Gordon is sensitive, somewhat harried, but unerringly devoted to the way things should be.
Morgan Freeman, for all that it looks like he’s mostly gliding his way through his part, is so damned enjoyable that I really didn’t care that he wasn’t trying all that hard. It’s not like he had a lot to do, and he did get a couple of sly, understated moments. “Oh, you wouldn’t be interested in that,” he says with a twinkle in his eye…
Michael Caine is a joy to watch, and while his Alfred isn’t quite the cooly composed and dry-witted butler we’ve seen in other renditions, he brings a heart to the role that works perfectly given the structure of this particular plot. He serves as the true mentor to Bruce, even after being rejected any number of times, and he is believable as the able and brilliant collaborator.
As for Bruce’s first mentor, the false one, Liam Neeson dips into his Qui-Gon Jinn bag of tricks pretty heavily, but manages to be dark and menacing in the right ways at the right time, and he’s never over-the-top.
Kat(i)e Holmes? She has very little to do besides look pretty and be Bruce’s other conscience from time to time, whcih she does passing well, but not that well. And while I’m here, can I just take a moment to say that “TomKat” had better damned well be the last of the “celebrity couple monikers” we have to suffer hearing about every single day? “Bennifer” was bad enough, but “TomKat” is just silly. What next? Oh, wait, I don’t want to know.
Anyway. The last actor I want to talk about before I wrap this up is Christian Bale. Is he a good Batman, and is he a good Bruce Wayne? That’s always been the problem, of course, the fact that there are two roles to play. Superman’s a goodie-two-shoes no matter whether he’s in costume or in disguise, but Batman is practically schizophrenic. Previous attempts have been hit-or-miss, with some actors doing the playboy billionaire part well but failing to convince as the Dark Knight, and others wearing the cape-and-cowl fairly well but faceplanting in a tuxedo. I think Mr. Bale does… okay. I’m not the first and won’t be the last to think that his “Batman Rasp” is a bit silly, but in all other respects his Bat-work is fairly decent. I’m not sure he’s the best Bruce Wayne we could’ve gotten, but he’s actually quite good enough to do the job. My biggest complaint with his work was a tendency towards a deer-in-the-headlights stare when surprised by events. That may have been the directing, but there you go.
So what about the story, the plot, the much-touted realism? The grounding in a kind of reality this film gives you is superb. You believe in this world and these characters. Sure, at the end there’s a kind of models-and-set-pieces action-flick feel to things, but until that point the movie is unrelentingly glitz-free. That’s not to say it isn’t stylish and flashy at times, but it doesn’t feel fake. This is the kind of genuinely dramatic, grounded-in-its-world movie that The Hulk tried so hard and failed so completely to be.
I’ll end with an observation that I didn’t make, myself, until the end of the movie. There is no opening credits sequence. The movie just… begins. Only when I saw the end credits roll did I realize this, and it made me love the movie that much more. I’m not knocking what Marvel’s done with its franchises, but having this movie just thrust you into the story from the moment the theater lights go down adds something immeasurable to the realism of the overall picture.
Batman Begins. If all goes well, it will continue with as good of quality as it’s started with. I hope.