Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox
Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon
Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul
Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes
Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow
Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone
Rutger Hauer as Richard Earle
Sara Stewart as Martha Wayne
Richard Brake as Joe Chill
Gus Lewis as Young Bruce Wayne
Emma Lockhart as Young Rachel Dawes
Linus Roache as Dr. Thomas Wayne
Culled from bits and pieces of several decades of Batman lore – some of the pulpy roots of the 30s, the renaissance of the 70s where Ra’s Al Ghul was introduced, Frank Miller’s definitive Batman work of the 80s – the production churned them up and came up with something new and immensely entertaining.
The most interesting aspect of this new Batman film is how scary it is, something that has always been attributed to Batman but never quite shown on screen. Many of the early Batman scenes of Batman Begins are shot like a horror film, with the menace of Batman unseen, sneaking about through sound effects. And The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is genuinely terrifying when his fear gas is in effect.
The other thing that makes the movie work so well is that it is the first Batman film, strangely enough, that’s actually about Batman. Because of their inherent nature, the villains and various colorful side characters have always drawn the attention of other filmmakers, but this Batman film is solidly about Bruce Wayne and how he is and why he does what he does, and everyone else revolves around him. The film takes time for each part of him – as a boy, a questing young man, a vain playboy and an intense crime fighter. The first half of the film is a bit slow as a result – as Bruce Wayne is fully introduced and decides to become Batman – but it’s more than made up for once it fully kicks into gear.
Director Nolan has wisely decided to tone down the mustache twirling and overacting that many comic movies often easily fall into, choosing for a more introspective style. The villains are intense, not manic, and that only adds to their menace. It helps that Nolan has assembled an extremely talented and genuinely note perfect supporting cast (most notably Caine and Oldman) that occasionally overshadow Bale, but only occasionally.
The most incredible achievement of the film is how it has taken several disparate storylines – crime lord Falcone’s (Tom Wilkinson) hold on the city, the Scarecrow’s experiments, Richard Earle’s (Rutger Hauer) takeover of Wayne Enterprises, Ducard’s (Liam Neeson) plan for the city, and Bruce Wayne’s own character arc – and has wrapped them together into an incredibly satisfying whole that also manages to elegantly set up the next set of Batman films and the new Batman universe as a whole.
It may be too scary intense for younger children, but for everyone else Batman Begins is just about the perfect summer movie.
Batman Begins is rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.