Batman Begins - Good beginning
| Batman Begins is a good beginning. While I enjoyed the film very much there were enough things about it that disappointed me that I won't use the hyperbole that most other reviews are using on this film, but I will say that this is a very strong film and a great beginning to the possible trilogy that director Nolan hints he wants to make.
First let's talk about what's good. Well there are a lot of good things about Batman Begins. This is probably the first live action adaptation to treat Batman as if he exists in the real world. The animated series of the 90s was strong in this area too and remains truer to the spirit of the Batman but we haven't seen this kind of treatment in live action films yet.
Also, the cast is remarkable. I say this knowing that most people don't go to summer blockbusters for the acting but honestly, the majority of the cast (especially Cillian Murphy, Michael Cain, Gary Oldman and surprisingly Katie Holms) imbue their roles with such life it makes the film that much richer. They treat their characters with the kind of respect that makes this story less cartoonish and more human. Therefore the audience can treat it with more respect as well.
Nolan and Bale do an excellent job of fleshing out the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his relationships with those around him. The villains are often the stars of "superhero" movies but in this case they are there to flesh out who the central character is. Even more importantly, Begins explores how Bruce relates to Alfred, how Batman relates to (not yet) Commissioner Gordon and how these ties are formed. It is the interpersonal relationships that make this such a strong picture and not simply a summer action movie.
Unfortunately, there are things about Batman Begins that I didn't like. Nolan's approach to the film is a bit clumsy and lacking in any sense of style. The film looks like it could be any action movie starring any action hero. There is little that screams Batman about this film. In his quest for real-ness Nolan has cheated out on personality. It almost doesn't matter that this film is an adaptation of Batman, instead it could be about any screwed up billionaire that fights crime.
Also, like most origin stories, the telling of the background details often distracts from the flow of the story telling (see the first Spider-Man movie for the most obvious example of this leading a film awry). Nolan rushes through most of this so that he can get to the narrative and it all feels a bit choppy and, honestly, a bit sloppy. If this was going to be the definitive Batman movie, the plot points needed to be integrated into the story more naturally (see the first Superman movie for the best example of how to do this well).
By the time we get to the end I was disappointed that the villain's plot was so "Blofeld" over the top. The whole film spends so much time trying to set these characters in the real world and then comes up with such a supernatural, take-over-the-world style scheme. The film seems to want to set up a battle of wills but ends up needing sci fi tech doomsday weapons and a ridiculous train crash. Is this James Bond or is this a real world Batman?
My most nitpicky complaint is the murder of Bruce's parents. First they change the venue from a cinema showing Zorro to an opera for no real reason. Then they avoid employing the most iconic of Batman images, the falling pearls. Maybe they felt that Burton's 1989 film did this so effectively that they didn't want to be compared to it.
Having said all that, I still really enjoyed the film and I believe that if Nolan continues on the course he set up with this first instalment, Batman Continues (or whatever silly name they use) will be a stunner of a movie similar to how Spider-Man 2 improved hand over fist on the first film in that franchise. Still, to me Burton's film remains the best screen adaptation of this character but I am holding out great hope for the next movie.