For the first time since anyone has donned the cowl and cape of Bob Kane’s imagination, never before has the costume worn the actor; Bale is Batman with or without it.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a man driven by guilt and vengeance. No longer interested in merely righting the personal wrongs in his own life, he seeks the means to stop all criminals from doing evil against the innocent. After losing his way in his quest, a man named Ducard (Liam Neeson) offers Bruce the means and training to become fear itself and turn it against the corruption of his home town, Gotham City. Wayne returns years later to that find things are worse than ever since he left and that darker forces than those he remembered are now pulling the strings in Gotham’s underworld.
“Intensity” is the best word to describe what Christian Bale brings to the role of Batman. Long before the trademark cowl and cape arrive, Bale demonstrates that Batman is a state of mind and not merely the costume. Comic fans of Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” who had problems with Tim Burton’s “goth” vision or Joel Schumacher’s neon-erotic fantasies will find plenty to love about this all-serious, completely-believable Batman story. Not only does it show how Batman becomes Batman, it sets up the future of Gotham City and Batman’s place in it.
Forget Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Adam West, and even Michael Keaton; Christian Bale brings to Batman what Hugh Jackman brought to Wolverine: believability in the face of absurdity. Prior to this version, casting with each subsequent film seemed more about how someone looked (or mugged the camera) in their costume and less about an interactive character in Batman’s world. Paraphrasing from Wayne’s World, we know it’s a bit part, but can’t we get a better actor for this? With the talents of Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone, and Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul, everyone’s performance contributes to the whole to fulfill a smart, complete story that doesn’t get lost on the cutting room floor or undermined by the “It” actor/actress of the year. Even Katie Holmes gets to be more than just be the damsel in distress, and “weapons guy” Morgan Freeman didn’t exactly phone in his part, either.
Want to nitpick? The steadicam fight scenes are a bit jerky to watch, but you’re also talking about someone trained to quickly take down six opponents at once; don’t look for any unrealistically-cool, slow motion, Neo Matrix, kung-fu shots here. There is a bit of faith required for the “evil master plan” to work, but it’s explained well enough for the film to get by. And why is it that Batman can’t seem to keep his identity a secret throughout a film anymore? (“Oh hi, Vick – come on in.”) Gotham City is no longer restricted to a soundstage and model miniature but wears the city of Chicago dressed in layers of CGI; Batman’s world now seems closer to the real world than ever before.
This film is not appropriate for small children and possibly too intense for younger lads watching “The Batman” cartoons on Saturday morning, and the running time to fit all the necessary plot in. While Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was hailed for its achievement, it was the sequel that strayed away from the comic book imagery and embraced the film medium; Christopher Nolan raises that bar once again by starting where everyone else eventually got to. Here’s hoping that everyone involved with this production are already signed for the inevitable sequel, because Bale’s Batman is exactly the kind of promise that summer blockbusters are supposed to deliver.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)