discards the previous four films in the series and recasts the Caped Crusader as a fearsome avenging angel. That's good news, because the series, which had gotten off to a rousing start under Tim Burton, had gradually dissolved into self-parody by 1997's Batman & Robin
. As the title implies, Batman Begins
tells the story anew, when Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) flees Western civilization following the murder of his parents. He is taken in by a mysterious instructor named Ducard (Liam Neeson in another mentor role) and urged to become a ninja in the League of Shadows, but he instead returns to his native Gotham City resolved to end the mob rule that is strangling it. But are there forces even more sinister at hand?
Cowritten by the team of David S. Goyer (a veteran comic book writer) and director Christopher Nolan (Memento), Batman Begins is a welcome return to the grim and gritty version of the Dark Knight, owing a great debt to the graphic novels that preceded it. It doesn't have the razzle dazzle, or the mass appeal, of Spider-Man 2 (though the Batmobile is cool), and retelling the origin means it starts slowly, like most "first" superhero movies. But it's certainly the best Bat-film since Burton's original, and one of the best superhero movies of its time. Bale cuts a good figure as Batman, intense and dangerous but with some of the lightheartedness Michael Keaton brought to the character. Michael Caine provides much of the film's humor as the family butler, Alfred, and as the love interest, Katie Holmes (Dawson's Creek) is surprisingly believable in her first adult role. Also featuring Gary Oldman as the young police officer Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as a Q-like gadgets expert, and Cillian Murphy as the vile Jonathan Crane. --David Horiuchi
Batman at Amazon.com
Stills from Batman Begins (click for larger images)
The first disc is filled out by the theatrical trailer and a Jimmy Fallon-starring Batman Begins spoof from the MTV Movie Awards. The second disc consists of eight featurettes (about 105 minutes total) on a variety of topics. "The Journey Begins" covers the early stages of the movie, including the casting and how director/co-writer Christopher Nolan brought in co-writer David S. Goyer for his comic-book expertise. "Shaping Mind and Body" covers Christian Bale's fight training, and other featurettes discuss the sets (the Batcave is shown being constructed out of wood and sheets), the Batman costume, the Batmobile, the monorail sequence, and the hazards of filming in Iceland. All the behind-the-scenes featurettes are solid but somewhat routine, and while "The Journey Begins" is the widest overview, there's not really any centerpiece documentary (all are 8 to 15 minutes, and there's no Play All option). Interviewees tend to be the same throughout: Nolan, Goyer, Bale (the only cast member to get much face time), and other crew members (it's nice to hear from the stunt people).
Potentially more interesting to fans is "Genesis of the Bat," which covers the comic books that influenced the film, including The Long Halloween, Neal Adams's Ra's Al Ghul from the '70s, Dennis O'Neill and Dick Giordano's The Man Who Falls, and Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Interviewees include DC Comics editor Paul Levitz and artist Jim Lee, but the latter's involvement eventually degrades the featurette into a pitch for DC's All-Star Batman line. Filling out the disc are overviews of four gadgets and eight characters, DVD-ROM features, and a variety of poster-art concepts. To get to the features menu, you have to scroll through a multipage Goyer-scribed comic book, which is a good read, but you can't skip it the next time you want to watch the second disc. Note that the second disc offers a French menu and French (but not English) subtitles for the featurettes. --David Horiuchi