Let?s start with the Beginning.

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I liked it.

Look, you’re going to see Batman Begins, and I hate to tell people what to expect. If you want my basic review, there it is: I liked it. Go see the movie now, and come back later. I’m not even writing plot spoilers but you should be able to see this movie without someone telling you how to feel, like I did.

The first time I saw the first Tim Burton Batman movie, I’d fallen for a lot of hype. I went to see it during an opening night midnight show at the Chinese Theatre. The thing is, I was seriously underwhelmed. If you remember all the hoopla over that Batman film, it was inescapable. I later came to enjoy the movie for what it was; a modern telling of Batman with the camp sensibility of the 60s television series. But, you know, with the then-recent release of Frank Miller’s landmark mini-series, I was hoping for a lot of things I didn’t get.

As the years passed, I lost interest in the entire franchise. The movies were keeping up with the camp I’d loved in the TV series, but hadn’t needed for a long time. They were star vehicles with big pointless explosions, pretty to the eye, but grating on my soul. The Batman that I grew up with was the 80s stuff and the 70s reprints from the DC Digests, the detective. He had a great rogues gallery, some mystery and a passion for Justice, but underneath it all, he was a hero.

I rarely even read the current comics. The character is neat, but way overexposed. Occasionally I’ll look at the new books, especially those that stand out a little more, but those are few and far between. Of course, it’s been over ten years since I last read Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. Like I said, the books are few and far between.

And then people went gaga over Frank Miller’s Sin City, a movie which I hated, but also had an incredible hype-machine. Fans of the film loved it because they said it captured the book perfectly. Well, the fans of that film and I will have to disagree. But it seemed like comics adaptations were becoming more popular, and that’s great, especially for the work of Frank Miller.

Which pretty much brings us up-to-date as far as this review is concerned. The new film, Batman Begins, written by David S. Goyer (Dark City, the Blade trilogy) and directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) is a landmark accomplishment. That is, the film they created was more interested in the characters than it was in the marketing.

Even though I was able to avoid most the hype this time, I couldn’t avoid some of the recommendations that my friends were making. People who’d seen a screening in Los Angeles were dropping all the hype-bombs. At least one girl who appeared to have no prior knowledge of the Batman mythos called the film “a movie worth seeing.”

So, I went back to the Chinese Theatre again, back to the place where I was so disappointed 16 years ago, and this time I was thrilled.

Though the film doesn’t recall the comics slavishly, there are plenty of fan-references that had me shivering and white-knuckling. There are plenty of moments built for people who know the comics (at least as deeply as I know them). The film made me remember all the things I loved from my post-Miller love of Batman: Fear and Vengeance, and kept it rooted in the thing I enjoyed first: compassion. It’s a wonderful balance, and the film maintains it throughout. A lot of the plot is reminiscent of the Batman: Year One book, but takes on a life of its own. The essence of Batman in the Bob Kane days was the fear he instilled in the criminal, but the thing that makes him a hero is his compassion.

Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister not only drew a vividly emotional landscape, they created a visceral atmosphere; it was breath-able. The entire film is rooted in a world that is simultaneously startlingly fantastic and grounded in reality. As a means to explore the Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), Nolan and Pfister created a fertile ground. From the first moment of the film, their intent is clear.

A lot of people had never heard of Christian Bale (last seen in the Machinist, and as the emotion-fighting, gun-toting, assassin in Equilibrium), but he has all the pieces in the right places. He’s been a name to know for a long while now, so open up some space in your memory-banks. His is my favorite Bruce Wayne to date.

The supporting cast is pretty wonderful too. Michael Caine turns out a shining performance worthy of all his old acclaim and Liam Neeson, knocked me out. Katie Holmes (who created the tour-de-force title character in Pieces of April) turns in a simply charming performance.

My only complaint about the film is a small one. The Bat-mask seemed to obscure some of Bruce’s/Bale’s intensity. It’s cool looking on paper, but then using and moving with masks is a difficult thing. People spend years on their mask technique. Usually masks don’t work in films, like the Green Goblin’s in the first Spider-man film, no matter how excellent the actor underneath.

Still, after a decade and a half, there’s finally a Batman film I would recommend to my friends, a film that played to the strengths of the Bruce Wayne and Batman that I came to love in my youth, and one that I’m sure will inspire plenty of young people to learn more about the once-again heroic Batman.

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