As a die-hard Batman fan it was 2005's Batman Begins that restored my faith in the movie franchise. After things had started out so promising with Tim Burton's edgy, exciting Batman back in 1989, each successive film seemed to get more ridiculous and channel the campy style of the 1966-68 television series.
Co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins marked a fresh start for the Caped Crusader. Nolan essentially wiped the slate clean, and as the title suggests, went back to the beginnings of the Batman legend. The film goes back and explores the troubled and conflicted childhood of billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) that ultimately drove him to dress like a bat and become a vigilante seeking justice.
We learn that Bruce was once what many would consider a spoiled child, living happily with his parents at Wayne Manor. Bruce's idyllic existence was shattered when both his parents were killed during a mugging in deprived Gotham metropolis. Wayne is never the same, and seethes with anger. Bruce plans to exact revenge on his parents' killer after the man is released for ratting on a crime boss, but that opportunity is thwarted when someone puts a hit on the killer first.
Wayne disappears for seven years, traveling the world and trying to understand crime and the criminal mind. Eventually he ends up in a prison camp where he is regularly tortured. One day, a mysterious man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) offers him the opportunity to hone his fighting skills, embrace his anger, and find purpose in his life. After accepting the offer, Bruce is schooled in the martial arts of Ra's Al Ghul's shadow hand. Ducard's goal is to enlist him in his amoral League of Shadows. It is here that Bruce has to choose between good and evil.
When Bruce steadfastly refuses to kill someone to become a member of the league, Ducard becomes his arch enemy. Bruce is determined to return to Gotham and fight for justice, seemingly unaware of the load of trouble he's in. While some background information on Bruce Wayne was given in the earlier Batman films, Christopher Nolan's decision to give a more in depth explanation of Bruce Wayne's early life was a wise one. Understanding Bruce's fear of bats (the result of a childhood trauma), and his distaste for criminals because of his parents' murder, makes it easier to understand the Batman persona Bruce would eventually adopt.
Nolan shows the story out of sequence, in flashbacks, but never out of order, bringing Wayne back to Gotham City, where he was raised. A monorail created by his father (Linus Roache) glides through the modern metropolis and a tower emblazoned with the Wayne name stands in the city's center. But Gotham, marred by crime and poverty, is slowly dying in the grip of a mob boss (Tom Wilkinson) and his henchman (Cillian Murphy).
No matter the problems, Bruce remains steadfast in his belief that Gotham will stand tall again. Taking on the persona of a billionaire playboy in public, Bruce begins working at Wayne Enterprises. At the same time, a crime syndicate is planning an attack on Gotham that could have catastrophic repercussions. Nolan allows the tension in the film to build slowly, bringing out the batsuit, batmobile, and other cool gadgets we've come to expect along the way. Nolan again makes a good choice by describing the origins of each gadget along the way.
Christian Bale heads a wonderful cast as the caped crusader. The Welsh actor seems to have a real feel for the dark moods of Bruce Wayne and the unwavering commitment of Batman. He is joined by Michael Caine, who, as Alfred the Butler, really acts as a surrogate father to Bruce/Batman. Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, an old friend of Bruce's father whom Bruce comes to trust. Both Caine and Freeman are consummate actors who can deliver excellent performances in whatever roles they play, without detracting from the lead character. Gary Oldman is perfectly cast as Sgt. James Gordon. The weakest performance here is turned in by Katie Holmes as Bruce's friend Rachel Dawes, who also happens to be the Assistant District Attorney of Gotham. With her cheerleader delivery, Ms. Holmes seems too young to be the Assistant District Attorney of a major city.
With Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan resurrected a film franchise many feared was dead. The film is energetic, engaging, and fun. If the Blu-ray version of Batman Begins in this limited edition set doesn't excite home theater buffs, I'm not sure what will. Packed with special features, this one is a must-have for any Batman fan.
The first major item on the disc itself is the "In-Movie Experience", which basically replaces a regular audio commentary. The filmmakers take you behind the scenes as you're watching the film, providing small image inserts, comics, special effects, and the like, all on screen along the way. (You must use a Blue-ray player with BonusView or BD-Live capability in order to access this extra.)
After the "In-Movie Experience" you'll find another exclusive high-def bonus, the first six-and-a-half minutes of the IMAX "Prologue" (16×9) to the movie's sequel, The Dark Knight, in high definition.
Following the "Prologue" is a section of "Additional Footage" that contains "Reflections on Writing Batman Begins" with David S. Goyer, two minutes; "Digital Batman," the effects you may have missed, a little over one minute; and "Batman Begins Stunts," two minutes.
The longest section is called "Beyond the Story," which includes eleven sections. There is MTV's "Tankman Begins," a cute parody lasting about five minutes. Next is "Batman: The Journey Begins," a fourteen-minute documentary on the development and casting of the film. After that is "Shaping Mind and Body," twelve minutes on Christian Bale's transformation into Batman. Then it's "Gotham City Rises," twelve minutes on the creation of Gotham City, the Batcave, Wayne Manor, and more. Following that is "Cape and Cowl," eight minutes on the development of the new Batsuit; "Batman: The Tumbler," thirteen minutes on the reinvention of the Batmobile; "Path to Discovery," a fourteen-minute look at the first week of filming in Iceland; "Saving Gotham City," thirteen minutes on the miniatures, CGI, and effects for the monorail chase scene; and "Genesis of the Bat," a fourteen-minute look at the Dark Knight's incarnation and influences on the film.
The extras on the disc conclude with "Confidential Files," which lists and explains "Hardware," "Enemies," and "Allies and Mentors" in the story; and a stills gallery. A widescreen theatrical trailer is also included. There are English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The gift set also contains some neat additional items. First is what Warner Brothers calls "lenticular" artwork. Then, there are five collectible postcards, a thirty-two-page booklet containing script pages, storyboards, and film stills from The Dark Knight prologue; a sixteen-page DC Comics adaptation of The Dark Knight prologue; and a coupon worth up to $7.50 to see The Dark Knight.