Anybody who has had a healthy diet of DC Comics in childhood, adolescence, youth, or even later, would have often wondered about the character called Batman. Unlike the other super heroes, Batman does not have super powers...he can not punch planets like Superman, or throw web lines like Spiderman but despite all these shortcomings (??), his is a name that the underworld of Gotham City trembles at.
How does Batman hold a grip so compelling?
How has Batman been able to innovate enough to compensate for the lack of super powers?
How did the Bat-suit, the Bat-mobile, the Bat-line, and so many other things come up in the first place?
What, in the history of Batman, has made an otherwise luxury-loving millionaire like Bruce Wayne into one of the most dynamic characters that fiction has ever known, the Dark Knight who knows how to use fear to remove fear?
As the bearded and unkempt Bruce Wayne is seen getting up from a nightmare in his prison bed, Batman Begins grabs the viewer's attention right away...what is a millionaire like Bruce Wayne doing in a prison located in some God forsaken corner of the world? As events unfold, we view the journey of Bruce Wayne, the adolescent who wants to avenge his parents' deaths but in the process, gets lost amongst crime and criminals. We are shown how Bruce Wayne becomes a petty thief while roaming around the world in his quest for the unknown and ends up in a prison from where he goes out in search of his life's purpose.
The League of Shadows makes its appearance and Christopher Nolan skillfully uses his action director to give the Batman addicted viewer some non-gadgetry and slick action sequences as Bruce Wayne trains with the mysterious Ducard at Ra's Al Ghul's headquarters to conquer his fear, to find the purpose of his life, to become what the world shall know as Batman.
As Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City, he knows what he wants to do and starts about it with the ease that only a legacy like the Waynes' can offer. Right from ordering 10,000 masks to avoid suspicion to using shelved defense projects (due to lack of money, primarily) as his comrades-in-arms, the journey from Bruce Wayne to Batman is something that all Batman fans would have loved to watch. The credit should go to the director who, despite trying hard (a little too hard, perhaps) to maintain or even increase the darkness that Batman is known for, has managed to show this transition in a pretty lucid manner.
Christian Bale, of course is no match for the earlier Batmen...he doesn't even come close to Kilmer or Keaton but then again, he seems to just fit in the tale, such is the power of the legend that Batman is, especially for the die-hard fans. It must be said, however, that for people not really into Batman but who went to the movie for its own merits, Bale's shortcomings would have been pretty highlighted. Katie Holmes, popular for all different reasons even before the movie came, looks good but that is all Batman ladies have to do, unless they do something spectacularly villainous or attention grabbing like the Catwoman Michelle or the Poison Ivy Uma.
Particularly impressive, however, turn out to be the two villains with a rather constrained (in terms of Batman villains) performance from Liam Neeson who plays Ducard and an equally mature but more sinister Scarecrow depiction by Cillian Murphy. The villains have always been important parts of Batman movies and right from Jack Nicholson to Jim Carrey to even the beefy Arnold, there have been attempts (if not real executions) at some good performances. Fortunately, the villains of Batman Begins do not fail but unfortunately, they are given too less a scope to show their evil properly.
In fact, by the time the villains become active and as the second half takes over, much of the charm that Batman Begins promises in its first half has already been exhausted and it is back to what Batman movies do best...one action sequence after another, with villains being ambushed in dark corners and the dark knight's gadgets flashing around with gusto. At this point, it will only be fair to mention the support cast in Morgan Freeman (who plays the Q to Batman's Bond), Michael Caine as Alfred, and of course, Gary Oldman (the to-be Commissioner Gordon) who jointly make the second half more interesting than it actually is. And oh! Did I say it yet, Bat Mobile rocks :-)
As the Bat Signal is finally mounted upon the roof of the Police Headquarters, Detective Gordon is shown asking Batman for help on a particular villain who has been troubling Gotham for long and who has, as Gordon says, a flavor for the theatrical, just like Batman himself. Batman flips over the card that Gordon hands to him and the pack of cards' legendary Joker is seen smiling from the criminal's identity card. What a way to join the threads, what a way to complete the story, what a way to build expectations for the next Batman movie...