Batman Begins (2005)

Starring: Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, Rutger Hauer

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Christian Bale - the best Batman ever

First there was stiff-necked Michael Keaton, who fought a succession of colourful and classy villains against a beautiful backdrop of twisted spires, grimacing gargoyles and gleaming snowscapes, courtesy of Tim Burton, the man who put the goth into Gotham. Then there was pouty Val Kilmer and his pretty boy sidekick Robin (and the less said about them the better), followed lastly and most disastrously by grey-haired ladies' man George Clooney, whose uninspired outing in the famous cape was so dull I couldn't wait to get out of the cinema.

But now there's Christian Bale in Batman Begins, and frankly his caped crusader kicks the rubber-clad arses of those who came before straight into the home for retired superheroes.

Batman Begins takes us back to the origins of the legendary comic book hero, explaining just how billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne comes to don a pec-hugging bodysuit and pointy ears in order to protect the good citizens of Gotham City.

Devastated by the murder of his parents, who are shot down by a crazed mugger when he was a child, sweet little Bruce grows up into a desperate, rootless wanderer, frequenting the criminal fraternities of the world's underbelly in a fruitless search for self. Eventually, having landed himself in a South East Asian jail, he encounters one Ducard (Liam Neeson, reprising to perfection his now familiar 'wise mentor' role - although watch out for the unexpected twist.). Ducard rescues him and takes him to a Ninja training school run by the mysterious League of Shadows, a dark and ruthless band of crime fighters whose methods of terrorist mayhem Bruce finds hard to countenance.

Michael Caine as Alfred in Batman Begins Morgan Freeman as Fox in Batman Begins

Flunking out of vigilante class, our hero leaves school literally blown to pieces and returns to Gotham, the lordly family pile and his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine in one of his most endearing roles to date). With the help of Q-style mad inventor genius Fox (Morgan Freeman, also splendid) and the city's one honest copper, Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman in 'playing good guy' shocker), he starts to put together the cool tools of his trade.

But with Wayne Enterprises now in the hands of sneaky smoothie Earle (Rutger Hauer, looking eerily like Jerry Springer), who's none too please at the son and heir's resurrection from the dead, and Gotham as a whole firmly in the grasp and on the payroll of Mafioso mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, sporting a somewhat dodgy De Niro-esque accent), it looks as if he's going to have his work cut out if he's to save the city from drowning in a stew of greed, corruption and death.

Cillian Murphy as creeply Dr Jonathan Crane in Batman Begins

Throw in the creepiest psychiatrist on celluloid (Cillian Murphy), a shipment of mysterious drugs, a missing microwave machine (a deadly weapon, apparently, not a means of heating up yesterday's curry) and plenty of cannon fodder henchmen and all in all you have the perfect recipe for some top notch, breathtaking, breakneck action.

But the new improved Batman doesn't just strike a blow for Gotham City: he's punching well above his weight for comic action heroes across the big screen. Forget the Hulk and the Punisher, Daredevil, Electra and the forthcoming flops that are the Fantastic Four - lightweights the lot of them. Even the somewhat superior Spiderman pales into insignificance beside Bale's moody, lantern-jawed legend, by far the best Batman to date.

Katie Holmes plays Rachel, the token love interest in Batman Begins

And, perhaps best of all, there's no need to cringe with embarrassment every time he opens his mouth, because for once we have a director (Memento's Christopher Nolan) who has not only thought to hire a fabulous cast of famous faces, but has also bothered to give them something decent to say.

Stir in supercool special effects and great groovy gadgets, a dense plot we can really sink our teeth into; liven it up with a dash of humour (mostly courtesy of veteran sidekicks Alfred and Fox); lace thoroughly with a hefty dose of disbelief suspension and there you have it: a Molotov cocktail of a movie that's ready to blow.

As a comic book based movie, Batman Begins, like Sin City, is in a class all of its own. Dark, exciting, clever, moving and immensely powerful, it's a definitely the film to see this summer, bat fans.

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