I must admit that I've always been a fan of the Batman concept, and having seen it destroyed by the Burton/Schumacher combo after its strong opening act, I was a bit unsure of what would happen with a new Batman movie or more I should say, skeptic of it. The trailers had been promising, as well as the Oscar cast assigned this brand new vision of the comic book legend's origin, but that has also been deceiving in the past. So, I'm calling this Batman movie, like other franchises with strong starts, disappointing serials and a comeback film, Batman Begins with an Apology.
It was certainly apologetic to those audiences who followed the Burton/Schumacher series faithfully despite its declining quality and increasing campy and pointlessly ridiculous writing and directing. The series seemed like it could neither be saved or redeemed contrary to the actors' best efforts. An actor is only as good as the script and director, so Batman & Robin's disastrous act was preordained in its writing, something already in steep decline since Batman Forever. Yet, Batman Begins redeems the previous failures by providing audiences with that dark, thrilling awe seen in 1989's Batman despite the Michael Keaton controversy.
This new beginning shows the origin of the human, non-super powered Batman, in a fantastical, yet logical and realistic display of man turned one man fighting machine to save his decaying society, bringing justice to his world. Finally, we get to have Jack Nicholson's question in the original Batman answered, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" It would never have been believable that Alfred built everything himself, no matter how skilled an engineer he may be.
As it turns out, and had been previously though indirectly explained, Wayne Enterprises has research divisions that develop some very cool technologies, and being Bruce Wayne has the perk of access to these "wonderful toys" even though they're prototypes. So, with a few modifications like black paint and the Batman logo, they have Dark Knight written all over them. This film shows a bit of the reality of the Batman operation; It can't ever be the sole work of just two people, one for the suit and one for the toys. I mean come on, who would ever believe that Alfred built the cave, the plane, the boat, the car, the suit, the weapons, the belt, and add to that the smarts to anticipate every single situation Batman could ever face…ever, all by himself or with Bruce Wayne for that matter. Of course, it's not believable the way it looked before, but in this one, it's much more real and believable though obviously fantastical.
Being the origin of Batman, the future commissioner Gordon is shown in his role before reaching that post. It establishes his close relationship with the Bat, something that in others wasn't properly explored, particularly considering that Batman is acting above the law. Gary Oldman plays this role beautifully and up to his usual high caliber. The other roles are decently written and played brilliantly by the masters who portray them, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine. It reads like a night at the Oscars. Even Rutger Hauer, who throughout the years had fallen out of favor with his roles in low budget "B" movies, is in full form, more to the quality seen earlier in his career, though the role is small and secondary.
Katie Holmes reprises what I like to call her standard role, but does it very well and serves both complement and persistent driving force throughout the film, though there are one or two scenes with her that are slightly pointless and would have been better served with more relevant content. Also, the continuing portrayal of women as strong, yet damsels in distress is getting tiresome and it would be nice to see a more active role for women in this genre. Some might mention characters like Elektra, but they forget to see how Elektra was easily disarmed by the stereotype placed upon women of the relationship desire dependency and motherly instinct as displayed in the movie that carries her namesake. Still, there was nothing disappointing overall, and in fact, being the only real female role in the film, it was simply great to have her.
My only real criticism of the film is in regards to the fight scenes. Yes, there are some good ones, particularly during Bruce's training, but overall they simply lacked enough detail to be truly enjoyed. It's too fast to really see what's happening, and though it adds a bit to the tension and keeps the pace, it just isn't as enjoyable in my opinion when you don't really see any of the actual skill involved. I keep going back in my mind to movies like Last Samurai with Katie's soon to be husband showing his skill in a realistically choreographed action sequence. That one in particular is a brilliant example as most of the scenes don't look like they're choreographed, and the combination of showing both slow and fast motions gives an even more realistic feel or evidence. Another example is the fast lightsaber work of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen despite the utterly unrealistic settings chosen by Lucas in Episode III Revenge of the Sith.
The few scenes that suffer from that dizzying motion are minor shortcomings for a film that overall has everything going for it. It was engaging, entertaining, had good moments of tension, great acting, and cool action sequences. The art direction was excellent with many of the shots perfectly reflecting the classic, comic book frames embedded within the fans’ minds. The sound and the music were appropriate and well placed, keeping the pace and the mood. Overall, it was money well spent, and I feel comfortable recommending the film to most anyone.
So, in the end, I say to Warner Bros., "Apology accepted."