Batman Begins review, Batman Begins DVD review
Starring
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson
Director
James Mangold
Batman Begins

Reviewed by Jason Zingale

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ost fanboys have been holding their breath ever since they caught wind of Warner Brothers’ plans to reintroduce the Batman franchise on the big screen, but it’s finally safe to breathe again; "Batman Begins" is a knockout. Thanks to director Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer, they finally got it right this time, and now fans can finally experience Batman the way it was meant to be seen. While Tim Burton’s original version of the film boasted a much darker, gothic look at the man behind the mask, his two films contained only a sliver of the darkness that Nolan manages to squeeze into "Begins," which plays out much more like a film noir crime thriller than your average summer action movie. "Batman Begins" oozes suave intelligence and excellent action, and finally gives comic book fans a much-needed faith that their favorite hero can indeed soar again.

Especially darker and grittier than past trips to the Batcave, "Batman Begins" focuses on the emergence of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) alter ego vigilante through a series of three different time periods in his life: at age eight, twenty-two, and thirty. Loosely based on Frank Miller’s innovative graphic novel, "Batman: Year One," the story finds Bruce Wayne far, far away from the safety of Gotham City in a wintry third-world country, where he has taken pilgrimage inside of a prison with the purpose of understanding the criminal mind. After being imprisoned for some time, Bruce is invited by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a follower of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), to join the cult leader’s infamous League of Shadows, where he is promptly trained in a number of martial arts and stealth tactics. Ducard personally trains Bruce to encounter his own fears, namely the frightening memories of his parents’ murder and, of course, the mysterious bat cave he fell into as a boy.

Upon returning home to Gotham City, Bruce vows to rebuild his father’s empire by eliminating the rising crime, and imposing fear in criminals and the corrupt. With the help of the family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and Wayne Industries researcher Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce creates Batman as a symbol of justice and hope. Fighting crime by night and playing the role of billionaire playboy by day, Bruce quickly discovers the effects of his dual life, especially when protecting childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) from a crazy psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), and his own disturbing alter ego The Scarecrow, who uses aerosol hallucinogens to evoke fear from his victims.

"Batman Begins" is a visual rollercoaster that begins and ends with its production design. If you were a fan of Burton’s gothic environment, or Joel Schumacher’s vibrant neon world, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the simple, yet incredibly detailed Gotham City. Complementing the film’s harsh atmosphere is a fantastic A-list cast born for their respective roles. As much as Michael Gough seemed the perfect fit during his time on the previous Batman films, Michael Caine is Alfred Pennyworth. Gary Oldman is also great as Lt. James Gordon, while Morgan Freeman turns in a fun performance as the newest addition to the Batman team.

Equally remarkable is Liam Neeson as Bruce’s master and Cillian Murphy as the scary-as-hell Scarecrow, but what’s most important about this film is its lead star, Christian Bale. Bale has been, without a doubt, one of the most powerful actors of his generation. Unlike past actors who have donned the cape and cowl, Bale is not only the perfect Batman, but also the best Bruce Wayne that has come around. Stealing a tint of his performance as Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho," Bale offers the insecure reserve of Bruce Wayne’s dark past in his unforgiving eyes.

Essentially why "Batman Begins" is such a success is because the story finally focuses on the hero instead of the villains. It’s nice to finally have a succinct background to Bruce Wayne/Batman that fans can refer to. While future films may eventually hand the responsibility over to the featured baddies, at the end of the day, it’s Batman that everyone has gone to the theater to see, and Christian Bale does a bang-up job with one of the most demanding gigs in the industry. This summer is sure to offer plenty of entertaining films to check out, and you may miss out on some of the big ones in the process, but "Batman Begins" is not to be missed.


Two-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD Review:

The two-disc Deluxe Edition of "Batman Begins" is a keen example of how DVDs should be made, but it's not without its faults. The most noticeable omission is the lack of any audio commentary from director Christopher Nolan or any of the cast members. This is easy to disregard since the rest of the extras are rich with interviews. The first disc presents the film in a widescreen video transfer and a Dolby Surround 5.1 soundtrack and also includes the 2005 MTV Video Awards Batman spoof, but it's on the second disc where you'll find all of the goodies.

Disc two is set up like an interactive comic book that directs you to all of the special features by flipping through the pages, and there's also a few easter eggs that aren't very hard to find. Seven production featurettes are scattered throughout, and focus on a number of different elements like the comic book influences ("Genesis of the Bat"), the reinvention of the Batmobile ("Batman - The Tumbler"), the design of the costume ("Cape & Cowl"), and the creation of Gotham City ("Gotham City Rises"). Among the best of these features, though, are a select few. The featurettes on the development of bringing the Batman franchise to the big screen ("The Journey Begins") and Bale's martial arts training ("Shaping Mind & Body") are probably the most informative and the most enjoyable of the bunch, and the several art galleries are also interesting to browse through. Let's not forget about the 72-page booklet that accompanies the DVD, featuring three "Batman" comics that inspired the script for the film. It's things like this that make DVDs worth collecting, and this is one DVD that's bound to be on everyone's Christmas list.

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