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Batman Begins

I’ve often said that if there were a button that would stop Joel Schumacher from directing another movie, I’d push it and not ask too many questions. It was Schumacher, the killer of twenty movies, who hammered the stake through Batman’s heart and left him for dead eight years ago. It’s been so long, and there’s been so much swill, it’s easy to forget how good Tim Burton’s take was. His Batman was a freak, his Bruce Wayne, a cipher. After I saw his movie, all I wanted to do was to plunge into those sad, dark images again.

Batman Begins is every bit as pleasurable, partly because it and the 1989 film form a Janus figure. It flows into the cracks of Burton’s vision, making a new cowl from the mirror image of the same mold. Underneath the armor is a Bruce Wayne who is passionate, vulnerable, howling with rage – and we understand what moves him. At the end, the couple in the row ahead of me actually leapt out of their seats and embraced.

Batman Begins was directed by Christopher Nolan. He announced himself with Memento , then did the remake of Insomnia , the best thriller in twenty years. Nolan started with a script by David Goyer, who wrote Blade . It’s an origin story, so the mythology’s symbols carry the thrill of discovery.

The plot, while silly of course, is ingenious. Three villains have their own schemes, but they are all pieces of a single plan. This avoids the elbowing of the earlier movies. Nolan got a real actor for every part. All the characters are interesting, so the actors take them seriously.

What gives Batman Begins its consistency and luster is its sound design, and its score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. There is no memorable theme; the music and sound are one, a percussive, low-frequency thrum.

I found out first hand just how key this contribution is. Half way through the show, the surround speakers kicked out, and I watched the rest with radically reduced music and sound. The movie began straining for its effect. This is not necessarily a flaw; you will see it in its proper mix. But I’m a little unsure the movie is as good as I think it is. The ending, certainly, is bombast. But compare this to Revenge of the Sith . The surrounds blew out on me there, too, and there was no movie left at all.

What Christopher Nolan has done here is a job of assembly, like Carol Reed did with The Thrid Man, like Duke Ellington did with his orchestra. The result of sixty years of comic book ideas, depth in the casting, a sensibility tied to the real, and a complex aural weave is one of density. You sink into Batman Begins . There’s no need for another sequel; you can just see this one again and again.

Batman Begins is playing at Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.

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