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Batman soars way above the rest

Much like the mysterious caped crusader, director Christopher Nolan has come to the audiences’ rescue just when it seemed like they were stuck with memories of Joel Shumacher’s campy installments.

After years in development hell, Nolan understood one fundamental thing that makes his Batman the best comic book film to date; it is not “how” something happened its “why.”

The film opens with Bruce Wayne in a rundown prison near the Himalayan Mountains. After casting aside his family fortune and his identity, Wayne spends his time imprisoning himself so he can study the criminal mind.

A mysterious figure identifying himself as Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) says he belongs to the equally mysterious organization, The League of Shadows, a group that wants to rid the world of evil. Ducard trains Wayne to be invisible and that a symbol of a fight against evil is much more powerful than just a single vigilante.

Nolan, with help from screenwriter David Goyer, focuses on the origins of Batman, not just showing the audience how he became the caped crusader but what drove him into a life of isolation, desperation and ultimately to take the problems of a rundown corrupt city onto his shoulders.

We see young Wayne as a child and instead of just showing us that his parents were murdered, such as in Tim Burton’s version, we see that it was Bruce’s fear of bats that led to a chain of events which ultimately ended in the murder of his parents.

Bale’s performance as Batman easily surpasses all other attempts, not only because he is one of the finest actors working today, but because he is given an actual character to work with. His Batman is much more than just an archetype of good battling evil. He is a complex character fighting with demons from his past.

Along the way, Wayne finds help from a childhood friend (Katie Holmes) who is working as a district attorney to put Gotham’s top criminals behind bars. He also gets help from his company’s genius inventor (Morgan Freeman) who creates all of Batman’s high tech gadgets, Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), the last uncorruptible cop in Gotham, and the family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), who gets a lot of the movie’s best lines.

There is uniformly terrific acting throughout the film as Nolan creates a vast tapestry of characters into the world of Batman that help lend it believability.

It is interesting to note that while the film is a classic American tale of a hero fighting for truth and justice of all the sizeable roles only two actors, Freeman and Holmes, were born in America.

The film has a very dark and sinister look, but is always rooted in realism. There isn’t the exaggerated gothic architecture from Tim Burton’s film or the carnival like cityscapes of Joel Schumacher. Nolan’s Gotham is a never ending slum that looks much more like a ghetto from Hong Kong than the city of New York.

Also, his action sequences are more frightening than fantastic. He is less worried about dazzling the eye than feeding into the sense of fear that permeates the entire film. An early sequence involving Batman stalking a group of low level thugs at a dock doesn’t involve any elaborate martial arts. Instead, we just see quick glimpses of a stalking black figure.

One of the biggest accomplishments of the film is rooted deeply in reality. The Batmobile is no longer just souped-up sports car, but a hulking all terrain vehicle that barrels through the city.

Also, the villains in the piece are not just super villains out to conquer the world, but typical idealogues out to get either power or money including a tough-talking gangster (Tom Wilkinson) and an off-kilter psychiatrist played with terrific zeal by Cillian Murphy.

The film isn’t so much a “comic book movie” as it is a movie based on a comic book. A small but significant difference that leads Nolan’s “Batman” to not only be the finest superhero film of all-time but one of the best movies of the year.

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