Friday, December 23, 2005

Batman Begins

2005, US, directed by Christopher Nolan

Proof that it is possible to make an intelligent movie about a comic book hero: the key to the franchise renaissance is the surprising emphasis on relative realism. Batman Begins carefully grounds the powers of its hero in a reasonably credible version of the world, rather than ascribing them to more standard science fiction sources, as in, for instance, the recent Spiderman movies. In narrating Batman's rise from the troubled psyche of the rich, rudderless Bruce Wayne, director Nolan also has some genre-blending fun: Wayne's physical skills are learned in a kind of shaolin temple, with all the ninja-kicking action that implies, while his accoutrements mostly come from the secret labs of a trusted employee of his dead father, one Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman having a lucrative good time), a clone of James Bond's good friend Q if ever there was one.

Nolan develops an aesthetic entirely different from that invented by Tim Burton for the 1989 film that set the series in motion: this new Gotham drips with menace and thwarted potential, with no hint of (deliberate) camp. It's a dystopia more like that of a film like Seven than the average comic book backdrop, and it's that sense of very real threat that gives the film much of its bite. The film is also anchored firmly in the post-9/11 world: the central villain is motivated by belief rather than by the more traditional dreams of vast wealth or untrammelled power; it's rather bracing to be confronted by such themes in the context of a film like this. Batman/Bruce Wayne is played with great conviction by Christian Bale but there are also several excellent supporting turns, not least from Michael Caine, who does much with the part of the Wayne family's beloved butler.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States