In the beginning…

Ben Breier

‘Batman’ series flying high again on the big screen

Credit: Beth Rankin

Superhero movies seem to be all the rage these days. With the release of X-Men in 2000, comic book characters ranging from the notorious (The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman) to the not-so-famous (Daredevil) began making their silver screen transformations. It was only a matter of time before a new Batman movie was announced for consumption, and it comes in the form of Batman Begins.

With Val Kilmer and George Clooney delivering dismal performances in the past two Batman films (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin respectively), some considered this to be a dead franchise. After all, if some of Hollywood’s best actors were flopping in their portrayals of the black knight, who could possibly fill Batman’s shoes?

Enter Christian Bale, a relative no-name in the business whose work is primarily known through the independent film community for his work in American Psycho and The Machinist. He does an absolutely phenomenal job portraying Bruce Wayne in the film, supplying the character with the subtle charm that Val Kilmer failed to exude on all levels, and the bad-ass attitude that nice-guy George Clooney simply could not execute. Comparing Clooney and Kilmer to Bale is a bit of a misnomer, however, because their performances just aren’t anywhere near the quality of Bale’s work.

Thankfully, Bale isn’t the only highlight of this movie. Liam Neeson, fresh out of his Jedi tunic, takes on the role of Henri Ducard. Ducard is an upper-level operative in a Far Eastern group with plans to purge the corrupt from modern-day society. He ends up training Bruce Wayne to become part of his ninja squad, the League of Shadows. This is a pretty straight-forward role for Neeson, as he just finished playing Obi-Wan Kenobi’s trainer in the Star Wars prequels. Although his role isn’t quite the same here, some of the nuances of Henri Ducard parallel those of Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars universe.

As Ducard completes his training with Bruce Wayne, he informs his protégé of a plot to destroy Gotham City, which is considered to be a hotbed of corrupt villainy. After Wayne takes out the terrorist headquarters while simultaneously sparing the life of Ducard, he decides to head back to Gotham in order to purge the city of treachery himself by enforcing justice as Batman.

Upon returning to Gotham, Wayne discovers that things are not exactly how he left them. Wayne Enterprises is about to become a publicly traded company, and crime rates are skyrocketing throughout the slums of Gotham City. Wayne begins to use experimental technology developed by Wayne Enterprises to become Batman, utilizing the help of Lucius Fox, the man responsible for developing the better part of Batman’s technology. As Fox, Morgan Freeman is responsible for some of the best displays of comic relief throughout the movie, something that hasn’t been done well in these superhero revival flicks, with the notable exception of the Spiderman series.

Slowly but surely, the plot unravels. A drug cartel, led by some of the city’s most powerful overlords, turns out to be more than meets the eye. Hidden within these drug shipments is a hallucinogenic poison, slowly being introduced into Gotham’s water supply in order to initiate mass panic throughout the city. As far as who’s behind this devious plot — let’s just say that most people won’t understand the connection, but those who follow Batman mythology will be pleasantly surprised.

Let’s face it: the story really isn’t anything special, and it’s fairly clichéd. There’s also a surprising number of parallels between certain aspects of the plot and al-Qaida-U.S. relations throughout the movie. I mean, come on, an overseas group of radicals (al-Qaida) is attempting to poison a civilization whose ideals contradict their own (America) with a biological attack on Gotham (New York City), their largest city, with a mentally damaging drug (anthrax).

Every Batman movie certainly would not be complete without a love interest, and in this case, it’s Katie Holmes, who plays the role of Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Rachel. However, Holmes comes up incredibly short, coming off as annoying and predictable at best. She’s the stereotypical feminist equipped with a passion for justice and morality and a brain to back it all up. This role might have worked with another actress, but with Holmes, everything just seems so forced. There’s simply no way that Holmes can be believed as a district attorney with a panache for sleuthing around where she shouldn’t be.

To make up for every moment Holmes appears on screen, Batman Begins features some incredibly stunning action sequences. Rather than dashing into combat, guns-a-blazin’, Batman definitely uses the more tactical and stealthy approach, and uses it well. Swords play a big role in the action scenes, and some of the combat between Wayne and Ducard gives Star Wars’ lightsaber warfare a run for its money.

Aside from Holmes’ atrocious performance and a haphazard plotline, Batman Begins is incredibly well-produced and helped along by some very talented actors, allowing the plot to be a bit easier to swallow. The conclusion to the film is appropriate, to say the least. With an ending like this, it looks like the Batman franchise could potentially begin anew.

Contact general assignment reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].