BATMAN BEGINS * * * * *
Cert 12A, 140 mins
Erasing all memories of the Schumacher camp turkeys, Christopher Nolan has gone back to basics for a serious, psychologically complex exploration of how Bruce Wayne became Batman.
It?s a dark origin story that sows it seeds when, falling into a vast subterranean cave, young Wayne develops the fear of bats that will later manifest itself in his crime fighting destiny.
But Nolan tantalisingly keeps you waiting. It?s half way in before Batman appears. Before that we see the murder of Wayne?s billionaire philanthropist parents that?s scarred their son. Years later Bruce ( Christian Bale) determines to enact revenge only to be beaten to the kill. Consumed with anger, he vanishes to the Far East, to study the criminal mind.
It's here he encounters the enigmatic Ducard (Liam Neeson) who lures him to the lair of the even more enigmatic Ra?s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), honing his ninja fighting skills and teaching him to use his fear to create dread. However, refusing to kill, Wayne leaves the place in conflagration as he travels back to Gotham.
Back home he adopts the persona of the frivolous playboy while, with the help of faithful family retainer Alfred (Michael Caine) and Wayne Enterprises high-tech expert Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), putting together the armour and weaponry ( including a strikingly revised Batmobile) that will mark his transformation into Batman.
Having taken time to plausibly explain from where costume and equipment derive, Nolan finally unveils the newborn Batman as he swoops from the shadows to launch his assault on Gotham crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Which is when he stumbles upon a far deeper conspiracy involving Arkham Asylum, the Scarecrow ( Cillian Murphy) and a plot to unleash Armageddon on Gotham in the name of cleansing its corrupt soul.
Some may complain that the fights are too fast to follow clearly, but that simply enhances the brutal relentlessness of Batman?s agenda. This is a world view as forbiddingly black as Batman?s costume into which only thin shards of light ever leak.
Glimmers such as Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), one of the last decent cops in Gotham, and childhood friend Rachel (Katie Holmes making the most of a nebulous role), fighting her own battles as Assistant DA.
It?s a sober, almost Calvinistic film and, brooding with a similar edge to that essayed in American Psycho, buffed up Bale inhabits both Wayne and Batman with a driven intensity and intelligence.
It?s not just for a visual effect that, under the effect of hallucinogens, Batman?s perceived as a red eyed demon.
Yes there are flaws and a few elements needing more development.
But these are minor quibbles when faced with the elemental force Nolan has brought to his re-imagined vigilante hero.
Forget the rest, this truly is Batman, Ground Zero.