REVIEW: "Batman Begins"

Thank God George Clooney was in the "ER," thank God Val Kilmer was vacationing on "The Island of Dr. Moreau‚" and thank God Michael Keaton was chasing a white bug named "Herbie‚" Why? Because Christian Bale is Batman. Forget what you have seen. Let go of the four previous films and embrace the new. "Batman Begins" is the new beginning chapter of the Dark Knight and it couldn't have been done better.

Gotham is the home of billionaire Bruce Wayne and the turf of Batman. It has been redefined and given a more realistic face lift by Christopher Nolan. Nolan has built a whole new Gotham City that looks like a cross between Chicago and New Jersey. This isn't some CGI-loaded fantasy city. Everything in this Gotham looks real. No CGI of cars racing down the arms of oversized statues; just elevated trains reminiscent of Chicago's South Side. This is what Bob Kane envisioned; a city with a pulse, a beat, a rhythm and a certain darkness that only bats can navigate.

The characters, we know them all; but to take these larger than life characters and make them more human would take an ensemble of Hollywood's brightest stars and veteran talent. Lead by Christian Bale, "Batman Begins" has arguably the best talent Tinseltown‚ has to offer. Bale does something that neither Keaton, Kilmer nor Clooney had ever been able to do -- give us all of Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is not just two characters, he is four. Batman is just one side of Bruce, which includes the introspective and guilt-ridden Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne the shrewd businessman, and Bruce Wayne billionaire playboy. Bale brings to the screen all four aspects of the character. Bale's portrayal of Bruce Wayne is matched by Michael Caine's role as Alfred Pennyworth. The chemistry of Bale and Caine is just like the graphic novels and the animated series; a father and son relationship based on brutal honesty and sincere compassion.

Unlike previous "Batman" films, there is no shallow leading lady. Katie Holmes plays Rachel Dawes, Wayne's childhood friend and potential love interest. She remains potential because some things are just not meant to be. Dawes is a stronger and more enigmatic character because there is a history there. There is no superficial relationship between Wayne and Dawes. The two have a familiarity that both Bale and Holmes make energetic on the screen.

Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman play Detective James Gordon and Lucius Fox respectively. It almost seems unfair to have two great actors as Freeman and Oldman playing these characters.

Liam Neeson plays Ducard, Wayne's mentor and nemesis. The twist between Ducard and Ra's Al Ghul played by Ken Watanabe leaves Bruce Wayne fishing for answers and trying to understand if the death of his parents was a random criminal act; or the beginning of a much larger plot that has been going on for hundreds of years. Ducard and Ghul play a psychological cat and mouse‚ game that dangles the Scarecrow, Dr. Jonathan Crane as bait for the Batman to fall for. Cillian Murphy does an excellent job playing the bought-out psychiatrist putting things in place for the coming of the Demon's Head. Being that Dr. Crane is a character never before used on the big screen, Murphy shows that fear is just as much a weapon as an umbrella that shoots .50 caliber bullets.

This movie was made possible by the great writing skills of David S. Goyer. Goyer has brought to life the vision that Frank Miller had in mind when he re-vamped the Batman character with the graphic novel "Batman: Year One." Goyer's writing and the direction of Nolan has made a movie that truly is what hardcore comic fans have been begging for all these years.

The running question this summer is, "is 'Batman Begins' better than 'Star wars Episode III?'" The answer is "yes." A better story goes a long way. Both have dynamic and iconic characters but the blend of a better story line and arguably the better talent makes Batman Begins the summer's biggest blockbuster. Do not go to the theatre thinking that this is a comic book movie; this is nothing of the sort. This is an action/drama that just so happens to use a comic book entity. So put down your lightsabers and take a dive into a world that is as much real as it is fantasy.

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