Batman Begins (2005)

It's hard work being a superhero. You're somehow supposed to be responsible for everything that goes on in your city; you have to keep ridiculous hours; your love interest will constantly whine about how you don't open up to them; and the costume? Let's just say, "chafing" and leave it at that, yeah?

Batman is a different class of superhero. The only super power he possesses is extreme wealth and access to his murdered family's company -- conveniently equipped with friendly and helpful super- geeks and all the latest technology. Bruce Wayne's anger and drive for revenge leads him to the mysterious League of Shadows, an elite squad of ninja who are determined to restore harmony to humanity by bringing down the pinnacle of its corruption -- Gotham City.

It's all very convoluted, and, as origin stories are wont to be, occasionally rather dull, but once the Batsuit has been assembled and the Batmobile taken out for a spin, things start to really kick off. Liam Neeson as Ra's Al-Ghul is cool enough, but far and away the star of the show is the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). By day, Dr Crane works for the mob, diagnosing criminals with mental illnesses to save them a prison sentence, but by night he terrorises the inmates of his asylum with a mask made from a sack and a panic-inducing serum. Murphy is satisfyingly psychotic, and the visions of those suffering the effects are truly terrifying.

It's not difficult to see the socio-political implications of the movie's recurring motif of fear -- the fear the people of Gotham have for the everyday criminals; Bruce Wayne's use of the bat symbolism, the creature he fears most, to strike fear into the hearts of said criminals; and the hallucinogenic panic serum in the city's water supply, causing everyone to visualise their worst fears come to life. The spiel about how the pinnacle of society will "tear itself apart" over fear is all too-applicable into the current culture of fear; though terrorism is never directly referred to, it lurks menacingly in the background of all this, and the distinctions between good and evil -- as represented by Batman vs. the League of Shadows -- are decidedly shaky. With a distinct lack of Batnipples, Batman Begins is in a different class of movie from the ludicrous, universally reviled Schumacher outings. It's darker in tone, less cartoony and more grounded in reality -- aside from Christian Bale's rather awkward Batvoice -- albeit a dark, dirty and uncomfortable reality. Seeing the beginnings of all the characters, particularly "Sergeant" Gordon, is incredibly compelling, in spite of much of the cringeworthy Batkiddie scenes. The visual effects are stunning, though that's perhaps only to be expected; the gadgets are jaw-droppingly awesome, and the occasional humour is so well-placed that it sufficiently lightens the movie without ever undermining its more serious, darker moments. There are a few scenes early on in the movie which are really rather dull -- a ninja Batman is cool, sure, but training montages are rather less than cool -- but Batman Begins triumphantly revitalises the franchise in a way that was virtually unimaginable, considering the neon-streaked camp it had degenerated into.

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