Stories about Batman, the comic-book superhero, have been told many times over. “Batman Begins” recounts the story in a way that brilliantly explains every question about how Bruce Wayne came to be Batman.

“Batman Begins,” directed by Christopher Nolan, shows that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, “American Psycho”) didn’t become Batman overnight. The child of millionaire parents, Wayne discovers his fear of bats early in life. Soon after falling in a cave where a colony of bats resides, Wayne watches as a desperate robber shoots his parents to death. After a failed attempt to murder his parents’ killer and still harboring feelings of revenge, he travels east, to a place where no one knows his name. He meets a man who wants to help him confront his fears, Ra’s Al Ghul. Liam Neeson (“Schindler’s List”) plays Henri Ducard, Ra’s Al Ghul’s prodigy and Wayne’s new mentor. Together, they confront Wayne’s fears and learn to fight them.

Wayne wishes more than ever he could have killed the man allowed to go free after killing his parents. Working with Ra’s Al Ghul, Wayne sees that injustice lies everywhere and feels a need to fight back. After learning the ways of the ninja, Wayne increases both his stealth and strength, which help him face his enemies. Upon returning to Gotham, he sees crime and cruelty have pervaded the streets. The Mob has infiltrated every aspect of Gotham City politics, making it easy to control the city. Wayne teams up with his trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine, “Secondhand Lions”), a lifelong friend, to create his new Batman persona, fight the wrongdoing and save Gotham from total self-destruction.

Help also comes in the form of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, “Million Dollar Baby”), an ex-executive of Wayne Enterprises now working in the technology and invention department. Fox helps Batman fly and gives him the gear for the suit and the car to go along with it. Batman takes shape and sees just how deep the corruption goes and the dark future that lies ahead for Gotham. He finds out the lead mobster, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), is taking orders from someone even more powerful with something even darker up his sleeve. Taking justice into his own hands, Batman enlists Jim Gordon to give him vital information. Gordon (Gary Oldman, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) is a decent police officer caught between what’s morally right and the corruption that no one can control.

The enticing plotline is more exciting to watch due to top-notch acting. Christian Bale takes Wayne’s character into a whole new light, making him seem more vulnerable. He shows Batman protects the real man from the world and lets us know Batman has weaknesses, too. Michael Caine plays Alfred with gentility and care, but shows he’s not just Wayne’s faithful servant. He tells Wayne when something bothers him and has much more personality than past iterations of Alfred, who did little more than say, “Yes, sir.” He gives comic relief with one-liners here and there.

The villains were most impressively portrayed. Tom Wilkinson plays the bad-mouthing, all-controlling Mob boss Carmine Falcone with dark cynicism and perfect delivery. Falcone takes orders from the corrupt court psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, “Red Eye”). Murphy, though scrawny by nature, makes Dr. Crane the scariest of the characters, with the way he smirks at the prospect of evil things. Katie Holmes has a minimal role as the righteous, law-abiding prosecuting attorney, Rachel Dawes. Her story is small and her acting basic, her character not requiring many angles. On a whole, the character interaction was believable and compelling.

Nolan drives the story further with dark shooting and quick cuts. The film has a dark-gray feel, with neutral costume colors and settings. During fight scenes, the tension is felt as he cuts quickly, showing the speed and agility of Batman. The music is high-pitched and fast-paced, coinciding with the camerawork.

The movie gave insight into Batman that has not yet been seen. This time, Batman is more than just a man. He is a man hiding his own fears.

Grade: AB

Second Opinion

Past “Batman” films have left something to be desired, to say the least. Now that Joel “These Suits Need More Nipples” Schumacher is gone, “Batman” can reclaim its former cinematic glory. Director Christopher Nolan (“Memento”) brings a new feel to the franchise, with darker imagery and a much more complex Caped Crusader. Bale turns out an amazing performance as Bruce Wayne and is further elevated by the all-star cast that surrounds him.

“Batman Begins” completely sheds the cheesy shell of past iterations. This is probably the first “Batman” film that children should not see, which liberates the project and allows for more of a psychological thriller than the typical comic-book-inspired material. This is, without a doubt, the best “Batman” yet.

Grade: AB

— Ryan Gauthier, ArtsEtc. Editor