(I think I was the only person in the world who didn’t see Spider-Man 3 at the cinemas over the weekend. So, this means I can’t read most other blogs at the moment, nor can I write a review of the film, for obvious reasons. Therefore, I shall continue my film review catch-up with comic book-related movies. That’s a link, isn’t it?)
Taking the classic Batman: Year One story by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli as its starting point, this is the tale of how Bruce Wayne got his groove back. Having seen his parents killed in front of him (after going to the opera to see Der Fliedermaus, naturally), Wayne (Christian Bale) goes through life waiting for the opportunity to kill the man who gunned down his parents. When the killer is bumped off for turning evidence against Gotham City’s top mobster, his confession to his life-long friend, now assistant DA, Rachel (Katie Holmes) and her subsequent verbal retaliation make him leave the USA for distant shores, in order to understand the minds of criminals in order to stop them for good.
It is while he is rotting in a prison in Tibet that he is visited by Ducard (Liam Neeson), a mysterious stranger who offers him the opportunity to achieve the goal he seeks. What he finds is a secret group, the League of Shadows, run by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), who mete out justice to entire cities where necessary throughout the ages (having sacked Rome and burned down London). Here, Wayne is trained to the peak of physical perfection and taught some handy ninja skills, as well as confronting his fear of bats and the death of his parents, under the tutelage of Ducard.
When he refuses to kill a criminal and join the League in order for them to sack Gotham, which is now a cesspit of vice and corruption, he destroys their base and returns to Gotham where he decides to save Gotham from itself by becoming a vigilante. In this, he is helped by the family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) who provides the brief flashes of humour in this dark tale, as well as Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), an old friend of his father who works in the research division of Wayne Enterprises, which is being run and set up for public offering by Earle (Rutger Hauer). He also develops a connection with one of the few good cops on the force, Sgt Gordon (Gary Oldman).
Meanwhile, having busted up a drugs run while the mob boss Falcone was present, Dr Jonathan Crane, a psychiatrist in Arkham Asylum who has been helping Falcone keep his men out of prison by wrongly testifying that they are insane, reveals himself to be working for someone else and uses a hallucinogenic powder to send him insane, and we learn of a secret plot he has been working on involving putting this substance into Gotham’s water supply.
As you can see, there is a lot of plot going on in this film, which is why it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to get through it all, but there is never the opportunity to get bored as there is always something good to get your teeth into, be it the quality of acting (if you can handle Wilkinson’s Chicago tough guy accent – why couldn’t they got an actual American for that role? Not that I mind all the British actors in this film, but for what is an extended cameo, they could have got someone who sounded more natural), the subtext of fear that underpins the themes of the film (explaining the use of the minor villain, the Scarecrow, as a major part of the story), to the bonding between Bale and Caine, to the careful direction of Nolan, who takes the film and subject matter seriously, to provide one of the most thoughtful and enjoyable blockbusters of this or any other year. Even the romance between Wayne and Rachel (which could have worked badly) is handled well, with a very appropriate resolution.
After the debacle that was Batman and Robin nearly killed off the possibility of seeing the Dark Knight on the silver screen again, it’s a delight to see a film that captures the special qualities of the Caped Crusader, with the aspects of reality (that can exist within a movie based on a billionaire who dresses up as a bat to beat up crooks can be allowed) that bring home the appeal of the Batman; he could be you or me, if only …