Batman Begins is, obviously, the story of how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. As a child he falls into a well full of bats. Haunted by the experience, Bruce freaks out over some shadowy images at the opera, and asks his parents if they can leave. They oblige, and as they exit the theater, they are killed by a mugger. Bruce is left feeling bitter, alone, and responsible.
Though raised in a fabulous mansion by his butler (the lovely Michael Caine), Bruce grows up to be a very angry man. He spends seven years traveling the world, infiltrating crime circles and learning their ways. While in an obscure Asian prison, he is singled out by Liam Neeson and trained to be a member of the League of Shadows. Just before his official induction, Bruce realizes that he has one quality that sets him apart from the League: compassion. I have no knowledge of Batman beyond the TV show and Michael Keaton, so this is probably Batman blasphemy, but I really could have done without the League of Shadows. They're ninjas for goodness sake! They just seem so out of place.
Anyway, Bruce escapes their clutches, and heads home. There he finds that evil is threatening to ruin Gotham, Rutger Hauer is taking Wayne Enterprises in a direction the late Mr. Wayne would not appreciate, and his little friend Rachel (Katie Holmes) has grown up to be an irritatingly righteous district attorney. Using the principles he learned from the League of Shadows, Bruce embraces his fear and takes its shape in the form of Batman. He constructs a suit using materials invented by Lucius Finch (Morgan Freeman), hooks up with a very nice Batmobile, and sets about cleaning up the streets of Gotham. I actually got chills as he stood atop a skyscraper, symbolically taking control of Gotham. Even so, I couldn't help feeling that I'd seen the same thing a hundred times before.
Ultimately, Batman uncovers a plot to unleash hallucinogenic crazy gas on the people of Gotham, thus driving the city to ruin. The crazy gas is scary stuff, and when used in combination with a maggoty scarecrow mask, it's enough to give anyone a panic attack, including members of the viewing audience. Needless to say, Batman finds a way to save the day and tracks are laid for the sequel. Bruce tentatively gets the girl, though she whines that he's not the same Bruce Wayne she used to love. Then they walk off hand in hand in has to be one of the suckiest romantic moments ever. Katie Holmes is a pox on this film.
In the end, I wasn't sure what to think of Batman Begins. I've liked Christian Bale ever since he rode his bike around the house in Empire of the Sun, and he's quite foxy as Batman. His lips are the only thing you can see when he wears the bat mask, and he sort of curls them when he speaks. Rawr! Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, and Gary Oldman are welcome additions to the cast, but something about the look and feel of the film was less than thrillingâ€”sort of Merchant Ivory meets Soylent Green. I'd forgotten about the gloominess of Gotham, which doesn't exactly lend itself to fun, and somehow I'd hoped for an action-packed thrill ride more akin to Spider-Man or my beloved Punisher. Batman Begins isn't bad, but it's definitely very dark fare.