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Batman Begins in Ernest

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne Batman stands moodily in a cloudy dark brown sky. Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane

Nearly everyone agrees that Batman Begins is the first film to get ol’ Bats right, but they’re all just plain wrong.

Michael Keaton did an excellent job portraying the big guy in the 80’s classic, and even Val Kilmer captured some of the caped crusader’s world-weary edge. What everyone who wore the cowl failed to achieve — all the way back to Adam West — was to make to us believe in that other guy: Bruce Wayne.

The wealthy owner of Wayne Enterprises has been written over the years as dour, flamboyant, or petulant, but is usually simply Batman without the hardware, caught between campy battles. What Batman Begins has done is show us the man before, during, and after the birth of the legend. Without an appreciation of the boy who would be Batman, he’s just a cartoon parody — with or without the rubber nipples. Begins goes to great lengths to flesh out the subtle difference between a person who truly fights for justice, and a person who simply likes beating up bad guys.

Another unusual feature of this film is the wealth of screen legends filling out the supporting roles. Who would expect a movie featuring Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman to front the unlikely couple of Christian Bale and Katie Holmes? Thankfully, none of the old masters distract from the larger narrative, and the leading lady is really just a secondary thread. The romance angle seemed a little unnecessary in a movie about solitary spiritual transformation, but this is a Hollywood production, after all.

So, listen to nearly everyone when they tell you this the first real Batman movie you’ve ever seen — even if they’re logic isn’t quite right — and let us hope that the edge stays sharp on this promising new franchise.

Written by in June of 2005. Last edited March 2017.

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