The good news — the Batman movie franchise is alive and kicking. The bad news — this is not the best Batman movie that could be made.
It is hard for someone that is as much a fan of the superhero genre, regardless of its expression, and is as intimate with a characater like Batman for as long as I have been to be fully objective in reviewing a movie like this. Of necessity, when a character has had as many outlets and incarnations as Batman, the essential question for a fan such as myself becomes — “Is this the ‘true’ incarnation, or the ‘best’ incarnation?”
I am going to try and set those questions aside in this review and just critique movie on it’s own merits. Let’s start with the negatives.
Biggest negative – the mano-e-mano fight scens are done with a very rapidly moving camera and extreme quick cuts. It give the impression of a fight, without really seeing what goes on — that is annoying, particularly during Wayne’s training phase. Christian Bale is good as Batman (far better than either Kilmer or Clooney, and in some ways better than Keaton, but not in all ways) but not outstanding.
Biggest complaint — the movie is so dark it forgets its cartoonish origins. Certainly the Schumacher movies (here and here) were way too campy, but the Burton films (here and here) while dark, never forgot that a guy dressed up like a bat to fight bad guys was essentially silly. This movie takes itself just a little too seriously and expects us to take Batman far more seriously than he should be taken.
Minor irritants — the homage to sequel is just a little too “in your face.” Katie Holmes turns what could be THE pivitol supporting role into just another bit of eye candy. That fact doesn’t really take away from the movie, just keeps it from being better. The big “surprise” regarding the bad guy is not the least bit surprising to any person that is at all a Batman comics fan.
High points — supporting performances by Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and most especially Gary Oldman are superb. Michael Caine truly moved me, and if it wasn’t for the type of movie this is, I would think Oldman a serious “Best Supporting” contender.
Thematically, the movie explores the line between redemption and condemnation. This is the theme that has been most addressed by the underlying legend certainly since the comics code. The movie and the legend seem to contend that the fight for redemption is what matters. I have never been comfortable with this. Redemption demands sacrifice. Wayne’s sacrifice, his parents, is not a result of his demons, so in the end it is insuffcient for redemption, and therefore in the end, redemption can never be achieved. While that drives the legend forward, it never leaves me satisfied.
In summation, Batman Begins is a triple, maybe even with an RBI or two, but it is not a home run. Definitely worth the price of admission, but not wholly satisfying.