While I did not expect that this film would be as visually mesmerizing, eerily dark, and wonderfully stylized as were Tim Burton's two Batman movies, I was hoping that, at the least, Nolan's contribution to the series would be enjoyable. However, not only are the things that made Burton's films successful entirely absent here, but they have been replaced by such juvenile and insipid elements that the movie is actually less entertaining than are Joel Schumacher's atrocious but occasionally fun installments.
Perhaps the film's single worst flaw is its lethargy. The bulk of the movie revolves around Bruce's evolution into a superhero, but this tale is often painfully slow moving. Nolan tediously reveals how his protagonist witnessed his parents' murders as a child, how he was scarred by that event, how he became a pathologically vindicative youth, and how he received training from Ducard at that man's palatial mountaintop hideout somewhere in Asia. Once this part of the tale has been told, the action shifts to Gotham City, where Bruce fortuitously discovers secret weapons his father's corporation had been developing, purchases various pieces of equipment he will need as a vigilante, and learns how iniquitous Gotham has become. Sadly, few of these events are especially enthralling.
I will concede that there probably are persons who will be interested in learning about the preparations Bruce has to make in order to become Batman, but I found these to be about as fascinating as I would watching a movie about Superman washing, drying, and pressing his tights and cape. While a joking discussion with friends about such things could be fun, actually watching them is just tiresome.
Fortunately, there are parts of Nolan's story that are more intriguing. The concluding portion of Batman Begins, in which the hero battles organized criminals in Gotham and tries to foil a plot to release a potent fear inducing hallucinogen throughout that city and thereby start a panic, is reasonably fast paced and exciting. It simply comes too late and has been allotted too little time for the characters participating in it to be satisfactorily developed.
In fact, the film's several villains are, without exception, expendable, bromidic creations devoid of a hint of personality. Not one of them is likely to make any impression on the viewer whatsoever. For that matter, none of the tale's good guys are involving either. Rachel is a pretty, devoted nonentity. Alfred is a decent, loyal nonentity, and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Gotham's only reputable policeman, is an honest, brave nonentity. Nolan does, however, try to develop his protagonist. Of course, he does so in such a clumsy, sophomoric way that he is never able to immerse the viewer in that character's existence. While Bruce Wayne's shallow, contrived troubles are incessantly explored, the director's handling of them just comes across as childish.
Even the film's action sequences, which should have provided its best moments, are disappointing. Most are very dark, composed of tight, visually restrictive shots, and edited in a choppy, abrupt fashion. Because of such qualities, it is often difficult to discern exactly what is happening on the movie screen. Rather than being shown a thrilling, skillfully enacted battle between Batman and a gang of his opponents, for instance, the viewer is, instead, presented with a sequence of murky, incoherent images. He thus sees a blurred object that could be fist followed by another blurred object that could be a foot followed by another that could be something else. Then, having witnessed this confused whirlwind, he is shown Batman standing amidst the bodies of his defeated foes. The effect achieved is not exciting.
Actually, the movie is never especially appealing visually. Nolan generally gives it a dark, realistic feel, but his drab, earthy touches do little to enhance the story of a superhero. Instead of making Batman Begins more believable, these qualities simultaneously render it bland to look at and emphasize the falsity of its conceits. Whereas a stylized film about a superhero can conjure up some strange world in which such impossible characters can live with a vibrant intensity, a realistic movie just reminds the viewer of its absurdity. The former allows the viewer to lose himself in its fictional landscapes. The latter prevents him from ever believing in the world with which it strives to deceive him.
While Batman Begins is certainly not a terrible film, it is hardly beguiling either. Burdening it with the pedestrian visual styles and empty psychobabble that childish adults think make a film mature, Nolan has created a sadly puerile movie. It is watchable, but it is not impressive.
Review by Keith Allen
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