BATMAN BEGINS

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Christopher Nolan? reboot of the long-dormant BATMAN franchise (thanks for that, Joel Schumacher) met with almost universal acclaim on its cinematic release earlier this year. Mainstream critics praised its intelligent, adult approach to the sometimes-camp superhero genre, geeky fanboys loved its darkness and its acknowledgement of the roots of the character and its studied, reverent style. Everyone agreed it was damn good movie, a classy hero-in-spandex flick restoring some much-needed kudos to the genre after recent embarrassments such as ELEKTRA and CATWOMAN. I? here to cautiously join in the celebrations ?but with just a few little reservations.

BATMAN BEGINS does just that. And then some. Once again we?e plunged into the tortured world of Bruce Wayne, multi-millionaire business mogul still tormented by the death of his parents at the hands of brutal gangsters when he was just a wee bairn. Bruce goes into splendid isolation as he tries to come to terms with their deaths and, following a period of training with a bunch of killer ninjas, decides to become a costumed crime-fighter. He adopts the guise of the creature which terrified him as a child ?the bat ?and soon finds himself plunged into combat with merciless killers determined to bring about the downfall of his business empire, and a more maniacal adversary who uses fear as a weapon.

BATMAN BEGINS is a contemplative, cerebral movie. Bruce Wayne is a dark figure, his world is grim and filled with death and despair, his city is cold, industrial, forebidding. Batman? world isn? much fun. Sadly, neither is BATMAN BEGINS ?and that? my main problem with it. As a movie, it? largely joyless. It? a common fault with many contemporary superhero films ?THE X MEN and SPIDER-MAN included. They?e so wrapped up in the angst of becoming super-powered, of the huge burdens they have to bear coping with their grief and their extraordinary abilities, the characters just forget to have fun. And no matter how much the audience is able to admire the craft and artistry of the movie, it? hard to feel any genuine, sweeping thrilling enjoyment of the experience because it? just so dour. BATMAN BEGINS is really the ultimate example of this. Bar the odd one-liner from Michael Caine as Alfred and the odd wry put-down by Bale as Bats, there? nothing much to laugh at here (apart from Katie Holmes desperate floundering attempt at love-interest). This is why FANTASTIC FOUR (derided by so many) was such fun; the characters looked as if they were actually enjoying themselves, having fun with their super-powers and relishing being a bit special. But BATMAN BEGINS wears you down with its relentless grimness, its constant air of doom and gloom and desolation. The first hour is particularly heavy-going as Batman himself doesn? even put in an appearance until halfway through the movie ?and when he does it? hard not to be disappointed by seeing the same old style of clumsy, unconvincing costume. As with Tim Burton? more seminal 1990s movies, the Batsuit just looks awkward and uncomfortable, and the fight scenes are leaden and graceless. Batman swoops and soars but there? precious little thrill in it ?and Bale doesn? help with the gravely intonation he gives the character when he? wearing his batcowl.

I was no particular fan of Jack Nicholson? Joker in the 1989 movie (although I?e reappraised him having recently watched the movie again in its new bells-and-whistles special edition DVD release) but he gave the film a gravitas BATMAN BEGINS can? begin to match with just Liam Neeson as Rhas Al Ghoul and baby-faced Cillian Murphy, totally unconvincing as the Scarecrow. It? amusing that, having ploughed a cold, psychological furrow during its first two acts, Nolan suddenly realises as he canters towards the third act, that he? putting together a summer blockbuster and the story quickly descends into the usual all-action, all-spectacle wham-bam we?e become accustomed to over the last few years ?and the film perks up no end because of it.

BATMAN BEGINS is heavy-going in places but it? interesting enough to never become boring. The sequel? assured ?let? hope next time they can lighten things up a little bit (without drifting into BATMAN AND ROBIN territory) and let Batman actually enjoy what he does. Maybe the audience will enjoy it a little more too. Meanwhile, I? going back to my Adam West BATMAN movie, if it? all the same to you. Still never bettered.

THE DISCS: A beautiful evocative transfer and a thumping soundtrack. It? a two-disc set packed with ?aking if?featurettes but completists will be irritated by the lack of a commentary track. Watch out for that ?ltimate Edition?just in time for the sequel?]>

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