22.jpg (126 K)What does it take to create a legend? Batman Begins tells the tale of one man’s battle against corruption, of a man who feels the need to dress up as a bat in order to do it. The thing about the movie is how plausible it makes this entire venture seem, or at least how it treats the venture as if it is plausible. The movie is grounded, if that makes sense, in the reality of Bruce Wayne’s humanness (the bat suit doesn’t make an appearance for almost a full hour). We know (and I use the word “we” to refer to those of the comic book intelligentsia familiar with the origins of Batman) that it is the tragic loss of his parents at the hand of a street criminal, and his subsequent thirst for Justice, that drives him into his new life. But the exact path that this journey entails hasn’t been depicted until now. This movie, with the hopes of reinvigorating the Batman movie franchise, chooses to explore the tortured psyche of a man who would don some sophisticated latex and fight crime, examining the issues that shaped the man into the hero he is destined to become.

42.jpg (218 K)Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, and writer/director of the brilliant Memento) returns the Dark Knight mythos to center stage. Christian Bale (Equilibrium, American Psycho) is wonderful as Bruce Wayne (capturing his playboy spirit and tortured angst better than, say, Val Kilmer who was my favorite Bruce Wayne) and captivating as Batman (who, odd as it may sound, had been done best by Michael Keaton). The star power of this movie doesn’t stop there: Michael Caine (the faithful manservant, Alfred), Rutger Hauer (Earle), Ken Wantabe (Ra’s Al Ghul), Morgan Freeman (scientific genius, Lucius Fox), Gary Oldman (Lieutenant James Gordon), and Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard) all give rousing turns chewing up scenery. The camera work gets a little too close to the action, at times obscuring the fight scenes and at other times conveying the speed of the action.

72.jpg (225 K)The movie provides a depth to the character and nature of Bruce Wayne/Batman, explaining his identification with bats and his relationship with his parents. It also shows that Batman couldn’t be Batman alone, but needed quite a bit of help to perfect his method. Lucius provides the tech, Alfred the wisdom in covering his tracks, and Bruce Wayne has to develop his playboy persona.

The complex plot of the cadre of villains to destroy Gotham City aside, this movie is (spiritually) about two things: being lost and fighting corruption.

24.jpg (169 K)As the movie opens, Bruce Wayne has chosen to live among the criminal element in order to better understand the criminal mind. However, what he is unaware of is that he had become lost (despite his intentions of joining in the mission of the pursuit of Justice): lost in impossible anger and pain, at the loss of his parents. How we respond to tragedies in our lives form us. We can become embittered and vengeful or maybe we can grow through the trial. His anger and pain, the need to pursue Justice, drove him but also threatened to destroy him unless he put it in check. Part of his learning meant realizing that Justice equals harmony while revenge is only about making himself feel better.

We come to varying points in our lives when we realize that things aren’t as they should be. Our world seems implacably marred by corruption—as we live in a state of fear, despair—careening down a path of destruction and death. We have the feeling that something is missing, but we don’t know how to fix it. This incompleteness drives us; however, in our rush to fill this void, we run the risk of filling it with the wrong thing. Maybe the discontent we feel needs to be re-thought. Maybe it isn’t entirely bad. Maybe the missing pieces in our lives should move us toward some sort of conclusion about life.52.jpg (207 K)

“All of this is not me. Inside, I am … I am more.” Bruce Wayne
“It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” Rachel Dawes

As one lesson learned, compassion is what separates the Batmans of the world from the Ra’s Al Ghuls of the world, since Batman isn’t willing to defeat evil by any means necessary. Bruce Wayne also comes to realize the power of symbol, the power of story to teach, inspire, and transform others. Thus he creates the myth of Batman, an ideal and example for others to follow. (Batman, however, apparently also has no compunctions about the sheer amount of property damage that he inflicts in his pursuit of Justice.)

31.jpg (248 K)The constant fear is another symptom of the corruption. Crime, despair—this is not how men were meant to live. Gotham City, this modern day Babylon, is rotting; excess decadence is its chief sin. Its taint takes many forms, infiltrating every aspect of their society until it blooms full form in the mob, the crooked police force, corporations run amuck, the Scarecrow, and Ra’s Al Ghul. No society stands a chance of survival if its good people choose to do nothing.

“To manipulate the fears of others, you must first master your own.” Ducard.

A trinity of good people are at the heart of the movie: Batman, Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and Lt. Jim Gordon. They provide the hope for the city, serving as r
eminders that those without decency must be fought. Until all evil is defeated, we are to fight corruption where we see it, be it where the corruptions starts (in our own hearts) or as it becomes symptomatic in society (crime).

Even moreso, and better done than Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith, this is the movie that we’ve been waiting to see—the movie that returns the character of Batman to where he should be. The movie succeeds because it emphasizes character and story over special effects and nipples on the bat-suit, creating an adult drama from what my grandmother used to refer to as “funny books.”

And I couldn’t be happier.