After years and years and years of waiting for another decent Batman film, I finally got to see Batman Begins last night.
A year or so ago, the film's website had nothing on it except for a single photo of the Batmobile. Every day since then my anticipation and anxiety grew and grew. Surely they couldn't mess it up this time? All they had to do was make a half-decent film to get the franchise back on track and to get rid of the nasty aftertaste of the Joel Schumacher years.
After all this time it turns out that Christopher Nolan has failed to make that hoped-for half-decent film. It's more than decent. Much more. He's made what I think is the closest thing possible to the perfect Batman film.
I spent the first half hour waiting for the story to slip up somewhere, waiting for a disappointing interpretation of one of the characters. It never came. The cast consists of lots of great actors (mostly British) who have a tendency to phone in a performance when they just need to pay for a new storey on their house (I'm looking at you Oldman, Freeman and Caine), but they were all great. Oldman in particular has become James Gordon - maybe it's just the moustache and the glasses, but he looks like Frank Miller has drawn him straight onto the screen. Christian Bale was always a good choice for the big guy, and doesn't disappoint. Rather than just being moody rich guy/moody costumed guy he acknowledges that Bruce Wayne and Batman are both disguises and that the real person is lost somewhere in-between the two.
One of my biggest worries was the casting of Katie Holmes. Batman's main motive should never be for a love interest, but fortunately the writers acknowledged that and her character – Bruce's childhood friend – actually plays an important role in showing us what he was and what he is becoming. (Oddly, she continues Schumacher's trend for casting wonky-mouthed girls. After Drew Barrymore and Alicia Silverstone I thought that was it, but apparently Holmes finds it necessary to spend the whole film with her mouth at a 45 degree angle.)
Nolan has wisely opted to keep the CGI to a minimum, using as many proper stunts and real locations as possible. His use of Chicago as Gotham City works so much better then Spider-Man's computer-synthecized New York. One area of the city is obviously a set/model (and a huge one at that), but as it's the slum surrounding the menacing psycho-factory Arkham Asylum it works well. This is the realest Batman ever committed to screen. That, combined with the decision to show Batman in his early years when he's still finding his feet, suggests that their is enough scope to spawn a whole series of films without running out of ideas.
By the way, if you go back to the Batman Begins website now, you'll find it's crammed to the cowl with all sorts of treats - pictures, synosis, downloads, etc. Probably the best thing on there is the comics section, where you'll find Bob Kane's own two-page origin story from 1939, and an updated version by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee from 2003. Both are excellent - even if the updated version does get incredibly schmaltzy in the last panel.
So, in summary, Batman Begins is ace.