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Batman Begins should have been titled ``Batman Starts Over.'' Forty years after Adam West and Burt Ward burst on the screen in the campy 60's version, and after Batman (Michael Keaton), Batman Returns (Michael Keaton), Batman Forever (Val Kilmer) and Batman & Robin (George Clooney), we are starting over with Batman Begins (Christian Bale). This new version of the famous comic book tells the story of how Bruce Wayne (Bale) becomes Batman, including the traditional murder of his parents, which sets him on a course to become a crimefighter. In Batman Begins, Gotham City is the dregs of humanity, controlled by bad guys (Tom Wilkinson et al.). Wayne goes on a long journey to figure out who he is and how to become a crimefighter and eventually meets the mentor that all young characters in action movies seem to meet, Liam Neeson. He mentored Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode I, Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven, and now Christian Bale. Here, he is a member of the aptly named, League of Shadows. After learning the ways of the east, Wayne returns to Gotham City where, with the help of his faithful Alfred (Michael Caine), he begins to become Batman. Gotham City is still going from bad to worse despite the efforts of a plucky DA (Katie Holmes) and the last honest cop (Gary Oldman). Wayne Enterprises is being run without Wayne's help by a slimy CEO (Rutger Hauer). But Wayne hooks up with the head of special projects at Wayne Enterprises who is the equivalent of Bond's `Q' (Morgan Freeman). He gives Batman his suit, utility belt and, of course, the Batmobile! Soon, Batman is haunting Gotham City, bringing Ne'rDoWells to justice.
Batman Begins is a stylish, well made movie that certainly gets the Batman Series back on track. The first Batman movie directed by Tim Burton, was pretty darned good but it had all the Burtonesque flourishes. The new film, with Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, Memento) directing, takes a more realistic and, perhaps, depressing view of the story. The movie looks good and the story moves right along. The characters, with the exception of the mob boss that Tom Wilkinson is stuck playing, are at least two-dimensional. Bale is well cast. He can play Bruce Wayne and Batman equally well. And Michael Caine is inspired casting as Alfred, the faithful butler. Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman are always great. And Gary Oldman is cool as the future Commissioner Gordon. Katie Holmes does well as the DA and love interest but she pales a bit under all the star power. I kinda thought she would kiss the guy in the mask upside down but no, that was another movie. Rutger Hauer is sadly wasted as the Wayne Enterprises CEO. He should be a bad but good cop out shooting people!
Much as I liked the beginning of Batman Begins that explains how Batman becomes Batman, I really loved the ending which nicely signals the sequels which will surely come. This film does a very good job of introducing a Batman who can thrive through several sequels. It's nice to know that this really is Batman Begins and that The Joker, The Penguin and The Riddler aren't dead. We have them to look forward to.