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Batman Begins (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Batman: The Journey Begins: Creative Concepts, Story Development and Casting. Shaping Mind and Body: Fighting Style. Gotham City Rises: Production Design. Cape and Cowl: The New Batsuit. Batman – The Tumbler: The New Batmobile. Path to Discovery: Filming in Iceland. Saving Gotham City: The Monorail Chase Sequence. Genesis of the Bat: Batman Incarnations from the Mid-1980s to the Present. Confidential Files Character/Weaponry Gallery. Still Gallery of Design Ideas Developed to Market the Movie. DVD-Rom Weblink.

HAVING gone super-camp in Joel Schumacher's wretched Batman & Robin, Bruce Wayne goes super-dark in Christopher Nolan's re-imagined take on DC Comics' greatest superhero - with mightily impressive results.

Batman Begins, as its title suggests, takes a look at the origins of Gotham's Dark Knight, taking time to explore the mixed-up psychology of its central protagonist, as well as the reasons why a city might come to depend on him.

Much like the hero himself - it is a film of two identities; one that looks good and comes bristling with energetic action sequences, and another that's all about the characterisation.

As he showed in his previous films, Memento and Insomnia, Nolan knows how to tell a story, no matter how complex the narrative involved.

As such, Batman Begins is tailor-made for the director's multi-layered approach, beginning at two points by simultaneously juxtaposing the life-altering trauma that shaped Bruce Wayne's destiny as an eight-year-old child, with his decision to follow a path that will enable him to fight crime as the ultimate symbol of fear.

Hence, the first act functions as both a history lesson and training montage that cleverly integrates all of the key characters into the drama of the second half, which continues to remain engrossing even as the action comes to the fore.

As Batman himself, Christian Bale is both quietly charismatic and broodingly intense, expertly conveying the dual personality of a man still wracked with guilt over the murder of his parents and torn between the desire for justice over revenge.

Yet the screenplay, by Nolan and David S Goyer, is keen to play up the struggle between good and evil and the thin line that exists between them.

When rescued from a Far Eastern prison by Liam Neeson's mysterious Ducard, Wayne is trained to become a deadly Ninja assassin incapable of applying sympathy to those who do wrong.

Yet he turns his back on such extreme methods in a bid to find his own path, almost killing Ducard in the process, but determined to put a stop to the underworld activity that is threatening to consume Gotham city.

By becoming Batman, he thereby uses the symbol of his biggest childhood fear as a weapon against his enemies, who are many and no-less extreme.

First up, is Tom Wilkinson's straight-forward mob boss, Carmine Falcone, before he is 'replaced' by an even more cunning medical experimenter, in the form of Cillian Murphy's Dr Jonathan Crane and his alter-ego, The Scarecrow.

Both turn out to be mere pawns in a far bigger criminal masterplan, however, that involves the wholesale destruction of Gotham and its people.

Yet Batman is not alone in his crusade against them, picking his allies carefully and employing them with stealth.

Hence, Gary Oldman has a pivotal role to play as a sympathetic police officer, while Michael Caine adds a lot of dry humour to the role of Wayne's butler, Alfred, and even Morgan Freeman seems to be having fun as the resourceful engineer, Lucius Fox, who supplies many of the weapons Batman uses to fight crime.

And then there's Katie Holmes' childhood friend, Rachel, who has since become an assistant district attorney, thereby providing Wayne with both a law-savvy conscience and potential love-interest.

Given that there is so much to establish, it's little wonder that the film is almost two and a half hours in length.

Yet it seldom drags, striking a near-perfect balance between story and action.

Early on, there are plenty of bone-crunching fight sequences to offset the character-building, while the first introduction of Batman and the Bat-Mobile are both competently handled, as is the tense finale.

Indeed, there are only minor criticisms that don't really detract from the overall enjoyment.

Holmes is probably too much of a goody-goody type and is the least interesting of the performers, while a lot of the action takes place at night, making it difficult to see some of what's taking place.

Younger children may also find some of the material a little too harrowing, despite the 12A certificate.

Yet in all other aspects, Batman Begins is a colossal achievement that rivals the very best in blockbuster entertainment.

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