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Batman Begins (**)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, Denny O'Neil, and too many others to mention
Batman Begins
Principal Cast
Christian Bale -- Bruce Wayne/Batman
Michael Caine -- Alfred
Liam Neeson -- Ducard
Katie Holmes -- Rachel Dawes
Gary Oldman -- Jim Gordon
Cillian Murphy -- Dr. Jonathan Crane
Tom Wilkinson -- Carmine Falcone
Rutger Hauer -- Earle
Ken Watanabe -- Ra's Al Ghul
Mark Boone Junior -- Flass
Linus Roache -- Thomas Wayne
Morgan Freeman -- Lucius Fox
Larry Holden -- Finch
Gerard Murphy -- Judge Faden
Colin McFarlane -- Loeb
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Batman Begins is a major disappointment, a muddled mess. It begins with an hour-long origin story, which is almost identical to the origin story in the movie The Shadow -- not a great movie, but a better movie than this one. In this version of Batman's origin, Ra's Al Ghul trains Bruce Wayne to cloud men's minds/fight evil, with brief flashbacks to the traditional Batman origin. Sadly, while Bruce impresses Ra's with his ability, he never impresses the audience. He beats up a bunch of people, but we never see how he does it. He never makes any really cool moves. We just see a flurry of arms and legs and then a bunch of people have been knocked down and Bruce is still standing.

Christopher Nolan's reputation rests on indie flicks like Memento. He's not an action director, and he does not know how to direct action. He uses quick cuts of moving arms and legs -- and sound effects to let us know blows are being struck. But we never see blows strike, and we never see faces, which means that we seldom know who is doing what to whom.

The next section of the film, as Bruce prepares to become The Bat-Man, is the most interesting part. And yet, at the end of it, when we should get the famous speech, the DC equivalent of Marvel's "With great power comes great responsibility," it never comes. We never hear the lines, "Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot." And our first sight of Batman, which should raise goose bumps, does not. The costume doesn't really work. It's the ears. The ears look more like mouse ears than bat ears. "I know! Criminals fear mice. I shall become, The Mouse-Man!"

Christian Bale makes a weak Batman. In his Bruce persona, he is made up to look like Christopher Reeve, right down to the loose strand of hair falling over his forehead. Bad move, both because we do not need to be reminded of Christopher Reeve's much greater charisma, and because Batman is nothing at all like Superman. In many ways, Batman and Superman are opposites. Superman walks into a bar and orders milk. Batman orders single malt Scotch.

In one scene, where Batman is tormenting the crooked cop, his face and voice actually seem frightening, thanks to special effects. But the rest of the time, surrounded by actors with more presence than he has, Bale does not command our attention or respect.

Michael Caine makes an acceptable Alfred, though he suffers by comparison with Michael Gough, who was a perfect Alfred. Gary Oldman is good as not-yet-Commissioner Gordon. But without a strong actor as Batman, and with a very weak script, their efforts are wasted.

The CGI of the Gotham slums is effective, though obviously a CGI. The Batmobile is ludicrous, and is used in situations where it serves no purpose except to attract unwanted attention. The dialogue is constantly portentous. "It is not what is inside you, but what you do, that makes you who you are." There is a lot of confusion about the date in which the film is set. Bruce's parents are killed in the great depression, which would make the date of the film about 1950, but nothing in the film has a fifties look -- it is all modern. Throughout the film, people survive falls, fires, and car crashes that would obviously be fatal.

spoiler warning

The end of the movie is particularly ridiculous. Neither Ra's Al Ghul's motives nor his methods make any sense at all. But follow along with this, if you will. Batman's girl friend is being menaced by fifty homicidal maniacs, while Ra's Al Ghul is on his way via public transit -- an elevated train -- to take his diabolical ray to where he can use it to destroy Gotham City. Instead of trying to stop the train, Batman has Gordon take the Batmobile, which Gordon has never driven, to blow up the track ahead of the train. Now everything depends on Gordon. If he blows up the track, the city is saved. If, because he can't figure out how to drive the Batmobile, he doesn't blow up the train, the city is destroyed. Meanwhile, Batman goes to rescue his girl friend. He takes out one, count him, one homicidal maniac, and then leaves the girl to fend for herself against the other forty-nine. Then he swings aboard the elevated train, in a bat-swinging feat that makes Spidey's web-swinging look realistic, and fights Ra's Al Ghul, to no purpose, aboard the train Gordon is on his way to derail.

end of spoiler warning

You will probably want to see the film. Everyone will be talking about it, and you'll want to form your own opinion. But you'll have more fun if you see Madagascar.

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Copyright © 2005 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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