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Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Cillian Murphy (Dr Jonathan Crane), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes)

After the passage of years wiped the memory of the Schumacher-era Batman from our minds, the world was ready for the next re-invention of the Dark Knight. But perhaps nobody was quite ready for the radical overhaul that Memento director Christopher Nolan delivered. Suddenly, Batman was all grown up.

Nolan’s Gotham – far from the fantasia of the Tim Burton movies – grounds the film in a credible urban environment, but it’s an emotionally grounded tale too. Until now, Batman’s origin story was a flashback-referenced aside. Here, it’s the essential character trajectory, the driving beat. No villain hijacks this story and Bruce Wayne’s father is no longer a doomed aristocrat to be gunned down, but a dreamer whose heartbreakingly optimistic vision of a future Gotham, all monorails and gleaming towers, is the dream that Batman chases.

There’s a canny structure to David Goyer’s screenplay. The film doesn’t dunk you headfirst into a world of capes, spandex and manly jaws. It builds the Batman universe in tiny, logical increments. Bruce Wayne’s war on crime unfolds as a focused, military operation, and by the end of it all you’re seeing Batmobiles and Bat Signals, but accepting them as absolute necessities – a far cry from the kitsch trappings of Schumacher’s movies. It’s hardly po-faced, though: there’s a great scene in which Bruce and Alfred figure out how they can order custom-sculpted Bat-ears from China without arousing any suspicion.

At the same time, Batman Begins is rich and resonant with a sense of mythology. It doesn’t wink at its pulpy source material, instead it elevates it, convincing you that there’s something inherently noble about putting on a mask and beating the living daylights out of criminals. And it is a brutal film. An initial, surprising burst of violence steels you for its visceral tone. It bruises, scars, punches your heart. In short, it’s Batman gone hardcore.

Batman himself is the most terrifying thing in the film. When we finally see him, he’s a blur of fists and shadows – a feral, supernatural force. The suit may look pretty bulky and constricting in photos, but it works onscreen, which is where it counts. This Batman is the “weird creature of the night” of the classic ’70s Batman tales, with all the sleek grace of an old Neal Adams illustration.

There’s a magnificent Batmobile chase, a twist worthy of The Usual Suspects and, above all, a sense of new possibilities that will leave you delirious at the thought of how this reborn franchise will hopefully one day retool everything from The Joker to The Penguin and the Bat Plane.

          

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