The atmosphere and mood of this Christopher Nolan-directed film was pitch perfect throughout. This version of Batman is much darker than the Michael Keaton Batman films from the 80’s and 90’s and it works to perfection.
You really understand Bruce Wayne’s motivation for coming up with his superhero alter-ego in this version. Nolan’s trademark non-linear storytelling (patented in his remarkable film “Memento”) is used to great effect in the first act. He goes back and forth in time, chronicling Wayne’s childhood (in particular, the famous mugging sequence) and the subsequent aftereffects of his parents’ death. He intertwines scenes of an adult Wayne enduring torture in a prison camp, as he researches ‘the nature of evil’.
Batman doesn’t even make an appearance for the first hour of the movie; it doesn’t matter. This movie is about story and character development, not high-tech action sequences.
And does it ever work well!
Christian Bale is an excellent choice as the Dark Knight. He’s fantastic at playing the ‘playboy’ portion of Wayne’s character; you really see the depth of his performance in scenes with his childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes, played by Katie Holmes. He has an image to maintain as a carefree richboy, yet you can see that it pains him to act in such an immature manner around Rachel. Very nuanced performance by a talented actor. He also handles the physicality of the Batman role with ease.
The supporting cast is excellent with one exception. First, the positives. The always brilliant Morgan Freeman has a lot of fun as Lucius Fox, an almost forgotten scientist working in the bowels of Wayne Enterprises. Liam Neeson plays Henri Ducard, a mysterious man who rescues Wayne from the prison camp in the first act but has motives that don’t seem so genuine. Neeson is as effective as usual. One of the main villains of the piece is the Scarecrow and is played to perfection by Cillian Murphy. I don’t know Murphy’s work but he is suitably creepy in this role: he looks as if a stiff wind could blow him over yet he is a very plausible adversary for Batman.
More positives: Gary Oldman actually plays A GOOD GUY in this movie, playing the role of Lt. Gordon to perfection. And Michael Caine is fantastic as Alfred, Wayne’s butler/accomplice/father-figure.
I was not enamored with Katie Holmes. I didn’t like the way she played the Dawes character. She was almost condescending towards Bruce Wayne in the film and I really can’t understand how Wayne would be attracted to someone who treats him this way. I don’t necessarily mind her as an actress but I just don’t feel she was mature enough for the part.
But that’s my only complaint. The movie is extremely satisfying and it BRILLIANTLY sets up the next movie in the last scene.
Excellent, excellent film. Three and a half stars out of four from this reviewer!