Yes, it’s a summer popcorn flick, but an intelligent one, never tipping its balance to be too serious (like Hulk) or too silly (think of your own examples), but what made this film work so well for me?
It “feels real,” and that’s a huge part of my enjoyment. It’s a plausibly real-world Batman story with real-world issues. The beautifully rendered Gotham here reminded me of Chicago – kind of like Chicago in 20 years as seen in the film I, Robot – so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Batman was partly shot there. And the story actually ties in with world history; major events – even the sacking of Rome – have a bearing on what’s happening in Gotham. How often do comic book movies have real-world implications? Frequent comic book-film writer David Goyer (the Blade flicks) stepped up his game with this screenplay, so that even the inevitable training montage (as they sing in Team America, “We’re gonna need a montage!”) shows Bruce Wayne feeling out his true beliefs as well as kicking butt. He’s training his mind as well as his muscles!
Christian Bale acquits himself well as Bruce Wayne/Batman; he’s quiet and contained, not the in-your-face jerks he played in American Psycho (which I need to see) and the Shaft remake (which I didn’t need to see). It’s a more complicated story for this version of Bruce/Batman than in the other films, which didn’t cover years of difficult life as this does, and he carries the weight of that well. Others have praised the overall quality of the Batman Begins cast better than I can, so I won’t say too much about that (except to add that it’s great to see how much fun Morgan Freeman has here).
It’s too bad that, as young DA and Bruce-friend Rachel Dawes, Katie Holmes isn’t given much to do; it might have worked better if Rachel had had a discernible sense of humor. Holmes can actually do funny, but maybe Cate Blanchett, Michelle Forbes, Judy Greer or Ashley Judd would have given the part actual gravity, and be more believable as the peer Bruce feels closest to. Still, it’s not totally Holmes’s fault, and while she seems to be an easy target for criticism, I’m too positive about everything else to get worked up the way a lot of people have.
And the positives include the end, which sets up the next film much the way Issue 1 of a comic sets up Issue 2. Continuity finally seems to be a part of the Batman films, and I think they’ll be better for it.