Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan and
David S. Goyer
Producers: Bob and Harvey Weinstein
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, and Cillian Murphy

Everyone always wants to do the origin story for a comic book character. How did Superman come to Earth and find out he could fly? How did David Banner (TV Show) find out his insurance premiums would go up every time he got angry? The problem with this is that, by and large, we know all this stuff. We know Superman’s planet blew up and his father sent him to live with us puny humans. We know that the Web Head was bitten by a radioactive spider, and we know Banner got more than a sun tan from gamma rays. To show it all step-by-step is just going over old territory. And so I applauded Tim Burton when his 1987 Batman started with Bruce Wayne already in full costume as the Caped Crusader. We still got the little flashback info that his parents were killed in a robbery, that this event scarred poor Bruce into wanting to rid Gotham City of crime, but we also got right into the action.

So when I first heard Warner Brothers, after the disaster that was Batman and Robin, was planning to do Batman Begins–the story of how millionaire (now upgraded to billionaire in this movie) Bruce Wayne first donned mask and cowl to fight evil by night, I said, “Why?” Then I heard they had chosen Chris Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) as director and Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Machinist) as Bruce/Batman. To say my jaw dropped would be an understatement. Add in Michael Caine (The Hand) as Alfred the butler, Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) as Detective Gordon (this is, after all, the beginning), and Morgan Freeman (Seven) as a gadget guru at Wayne industries, and this is the best cast ever in a Batman movie. Together, this dream team works to return the Dark Knight to his former glory.

The story involves Bruce Wayne coming to grips with the death of his parents. Afraid and wrestling with guilt over their murders, he flees Gotham for some nameless far east country. There he finds a tutor in the ways of the Ninja, Henri Ducard (Darkman Liam Neeson), and learns how to come to grips with his own fear and turn it around to strike fear info the hearts of evil doers. When he returns to the big city, Wayne goes about putting together the perfect costume, building a Batcave, collecting all kinds of helpful gadgets–including the way cool new Batmobile, and trying to court the future Mrs. Tom Cruise. The foe this time out is the Scarecrow–who wants to put a drug into the cities water supply, then vaporize it so that everyone inhales and starts killing each other–but for the first time, the movie is not about the “villain of the week.” This is dark, dark stuff. Bale is wonderfully brooding, and Nolan treats the material seriously. There are no bad puns here, no tilted fun house camera angles, and (thank you!) no nipples on the Batsuit.

As good as it is, however, there is one flaw. The fight scenes, and there are several, are filmed in extreme close-up with hand held cameras. To compound the problem, the editing is so fast that it is hard to tell who is fighting who and who is winning until the scenes are over. I mention this only because it is noticeable and because I want anyone going to see this film to be aware that, other than this problem, this is a truly great work. Not only is it one of the best comic book films ever made, it is hands down the best movie so far this year.

4.5 out of 5 stars