Batman Begins

The bridge to a deeper, more satisfying aesthetic experience.

"In that day a man shall cast his idols . . . to the moles and to the bats." Isaiah ii. 20.

A Batman with psychological realism? Why not? The glut of visually stunning films, especially sci-fi such as Star Wars and comic-book adaptations such as Sin City, leave little that Hollywood hasn't tried with CGI and triumphed. The turn to character study in one of the darkest comic book characters of all time, Batman, is timely and successful in most ways in Batman Begins.

Like Tom Cruise's Nathan Algren in The Last Samurai (2003), Christian Bales' Bruce Wayne needs a warrior monk's training to purge himself of his guilt over his parents' deaths and prepare to become the avenger of evil in Gotham City. After a grueling seven years under the sometimes cruel training of Liam Neeson's Henri Ducard, Wayne returns to deal with a city in need of repair and an old girlfriend, Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes, along with the irreplaceable butler, Alfred, played with impeccable irony and warmth by Michael Caine.

The overly long plot relating to the bad guys is nothing special, the city and its elevated transportation bearing a resemblance to Spider-Man's playground. What is interesting for 140 minutes is the sometimes-unromantic narration of Wayne's morph into the superhero, reminiscent of the angst-ridden Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2 (2004). Not surprising when you consider Batman Begins' director, Christopher Nolan, directed a now cult classic of psychological acrobatics, Memento (1996). At times it is uncertain what tone Nolan wants overall (he moves from irony to gravity at will) and notwithstanding Wayne's reasonable disorientation over his parents, Nolan carefully presents a character searching for a purpose in life. Overcoming his fears, prominently one over bats, he neatly assumes an alter ego of a batman, taking on the best characteristics of his enemy, fear, and fashioning an ubercop for an anarchic city.

Part of Batman Begins' success lies in Nolan's ability to keep us from Batman for almost half the movie, immersing us in the motives of Bruce Wayne and the machinations of the criminal world without our demanding the appearance of the caped crusader. Judging from the preview audience's clapping at the film's conclusion and their rapt attention throughout, this film may be the bridge to a deeper, more satisfying aesthetic experience of a preeminent genre, comic book adaptation.