Batman Begins (Blu-ray)

Following the murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne (Bale) disappears from Gotham City and is presumed dead. A few years under the tutelage of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), Bruce returns to Wayne Manor trained in Martial Arts and soon acquires a penchant for winged rodents. Wonder what he’ll do with all that inheritance ...

Why exactly has The Dark Knight been so highly anticipated? Is it because it features the last complete performance of the late great Heath Ledger? Is it because it features Bats’ most (in)famous nemesis — the fiendish clown prince of crime, The Joker? Or is it because there hasn’t really been a blinder of a blockbuster all year? There are many possibilities as to why Bat-fans the world over have been frothing at the gills to catch a glimpse of the caped crusader soaring across the big screen once again, but the one thing that is certain is that no one would have been quite this excited had it not been for Batman Begins.

Before Nolan had grabbed the bat by the horns, it looked as if the Batman franchise was, for want of a better word, fucked. With Batman and Batman Returns, Tim Burton had created a frankly stunning pair of movies that were moody, gothic, atmospheric classics. However, things famously went tits-up when the reins were handed over to Joel Schumacher. Taking his cues from the tongue-in-cheek 60s TV series, he managed to turn a brilliantly dark and dingy saga into a glossy, camp abomination. One of the most popular characters in comic book history had been reduced to a joke thanks to a lot of neon and a few pairs of rubber nipples. Fans were up in arms, Batman Triumphant was scrapped and it looked as if the Bat had well and truly had his day. That all changed in 2005.

After buzz of a new Batman movie had circulated for a few years, it finally emerged that Memento helmer Nolan would be bringing the Dark Knight back to the big screen. However, this wouldn’t be merely Batman 5, this was a new beginning for Gotham’s favourite son. The consensus seemed to be that as long as it was more like Burton’s films as opposed to Schumacher’s, fans would be happy. What few people expected though, was that it would end up being the best of the bunch. To watch Batman Begins is to realise just how much the character of Batman had been neglected over the years. Even with Burton’s efforts, the focus had been more on the villain rather than the hero of the piece. Being the most interesting character in comic book history, it was a criminal injustice that it took so long for anyone to actually take a good hard look at the Dark Knight himself. Luckily, it was sorted out for Batman Begins.

Delving into the origin of Batman, looking at his martial arts training and further exploring the damaged psyche of Bruce Wayne, it’s the first Batman movie to actually focus on the caped crusader. We finally get to see what makes him tick and, most importantly, why exactly he chose the bat as his symbol. That’s why, until The Dark Knight, this film stood as the finest Batman film of the lot. Well, that and the level of realism the film harbours. Bale’s Batman isn’t the invincible symbol of stoicism that he once was. A new, more human hero, he bruises, cocks up landings and lacks the grace and charisma that made the character previously seem invulnerable. Likewise Gotham is no longer the gothic concrete jungle we’d seen before, instead it’s a cold, desolate metropolis just like any other American city. The result is a film and character that are actually relatable — a feat that no previous superhero movie had achieved. So realistic is it in fact, that it warrants barely any suspension of disbelief. Sure, it’s a film about a man dressed up to look like a flying rodent, but you’re utterly convinced that for this guy, in this city, at this time, it’s the most sensible thing he could possibly do.

As for the performances, not one of them can be knocked. Bale carries the cape with pride and respect (even if he does put on a silly voice) while the rest of the star-studded cast do nothing to try and steal the limelight. Particular mention however has to go Murphy for his portrayal of sinister shrink Jonathan Crane, aka The Scarecrow. Oozing venom and menace, dispite his scrawny demeanour, he proves himself as dangerous a villain as anyone we’ve seen before. Finally, it just wouldn’t be a Batman film without the Batmobile. Replacing the tricked out cars of yesteryear, Bats’ new ride is The Tumbler. A one-man tank designed to drive over everything and anything, it provides the film with a few of the coolest scenes ever to grace celluloid.

The overall result is a film that did the impossible — brought Batman back from the dead. Breathing new life into the character, Nolan’s vision provided us with the most thorough and resonant superhero movie of all time. Sure The Dark Knight is better, but not by much. After all, how the hell are you supposed to improve on perfection?

EXTRAS ★★★★ A preview of The Dark Knight; Batman Begins spoof Tankman Begins; an "in-movie experience" where Nolan and Goyer reveal the movie's backstories as you watch (only available if your player has BonusView or BD Live capability); several making-of featurettes (The Journey Begins, Shaping Mind & Body, Gotham City Rises, Cape & Cowl, The Tumbler, Path to Discovery, Saving Gotham City, Genesis of The Bat); featurettes on the development of the script, the stunts and the digital efects; and a stills gallery and the theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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