The Batman films of the past have been a hit and miss affair to say the least, starting with Tim Burton's wonderful and originally titled movie Batman, which was the first general release film to be awarded the 12 certificate in the UK. Jack Nicholson was on great form as the Joker, and Gotham has rarely seemed more dark and tangible than in this, my favourite Tim Burton film. However, the trend didn't continue for long, and Batman was removed from our screens in 1997 when Joel Schumacher brought us the dreaded Batman & Robin, which is still a regular fixture on lists of the worst films ever made.
It was with no small amount of anticipation then that I went to see Batman Begins, which as you can probably guess from the title, tells the story of how super-rich Bruce Wayne transforms into super-hero Batman.
Well the good news is, this film is head and shoulders above the dreaded Batman & Robin of eight years ago, but unfortunately action-newbie Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) has failed to do the material justice. The biggest crime he has committed here is filming all the fight scenes in very dark surroundings and using wild, swaying shaky-cam to record the action. The result is little more than a blur of confusing images accompanied by some thuds and crashes, which effectively removes the fight scenes from the film.
What remains is not very well directed or edited, giving the film a disjointed feeling. What's more, Gotham itself doesn't seem to have a consistent style to it, which makes it hard to immerse yourself in the imaginary world of Batman and is a terrible shame after the solid work put in by Tim Burton in the first two films. It's also disappointing to note that I was able to count more transparent attempts to manipulate the audience's emotions than bits of the film that I thought were "cool".
So, back to the good news: Christian Bale does at least make a convincing Batman, although the gravely voice he uses when in costume is a little overdone. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman also put in good performances and it's pleasing to see that these three actors have signed up for the next instalment, which is being planned already. Gary Oldman is also very enjoyable to watch as the young policeman who will eventually become Chief Commissioner Gordon.
Batman Begins as a whole is not all bad by any means, and I get the impression that if I were to see it again knowing exactly what to expect, I might very well enjoy it more, but I can't shake off the nagging feeling that Nolan had all the elements in place to make a great Batman film, and has somehow got it wrong. We can only hope for a director's cut DVD to try and rectify some of these flaws in the future.