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Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition

A superhero should be good. But a really good superhero should be a little bit nuts. After all, a touch of low-grade personal psychosis is the only way we can begin to sympathize with the sort of person who would dress up in a flamboyant costume and wage a single-handed vigilante war against crime, all while maintaining a nondescript secret identity. Not that the essential schizophrenia of the superhero archetype doesn't have its appeal — the fervent fan-base of young (and not-so-young) readers who have consumed comic books and graphic novels over the course of several decades is a testament to the value of fantasy in fiction. If we can't be Superman or Spider-Man or The Hulk, then at least we might see something of ourselves in their alter-egos, the men emerging from youth who struggle not only with troubled, conflicted pasts, but also with the stresses of everyday life, where romance and work and the future's open questions linger over every waking moment. Among the most enduring of our modern mythic heroes is D.C. Comics' Batman, created by artist Bob Kane in 1939 and in continuous print ever since. And to some degree, the character's popularity can be attributed to the fact that he's the most unique member of the cape-and-tights genre. Unlike most superheroes, Bruce Wayne has no special powers to speak of. He also was born into money, which grants him a day-to-day lifestyle that's a fantasy all to itself. But he's nonetheless all too human, burdened by the childhood memory of seeing his parents shot down in cold blood. He's driven by a uncommon, unrelenting sense of justice. And of course, behind the playboy lifestyle, the cape, and the cowl, Bruce Wayne is just a little nuts.

Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins marks the first feature film to adapt Batman as an "origin story," which most fans considered long overdue — particularly since the original D.C. Comics series only approached Bruce Wayne's early life in short, almost apocryphal segments. Taking up a first act that jumps between Wayne's childhood, his plan to gun down his parents' murderer, and seven years in the Himalayas, we learn that his trauma has overwhelmed all other aspects of his life. Abandoning Gotham City as a young adult, Wayne journeys to the highlands of Tibet, where he seeks training from the legendary Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and his "League of Shadows." Undertaking Wayne's instruction is Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), who imparts skill and knowledge, as well as a fierce hatred of all corruption. Returning to Gotham, Wayne finds that his father's company, Wayne Enterprises, has been taken public by CEO Earle (Rutger Hauer), which is no matter — Wayne only wants a position the Applied Sciences division, where he is free to borrow military-grade inventions from its chief, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Taking the family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) into his confidence, Wayne develops "Batman," a crime-fighting persona meant to strike fear in the heart of evildoers. His first target is crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). But it's an easy takedown that only reveals a more nefarious scheme crafted by Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who, as the sinister Scarecrow, plans to destroy Gotham City from within.

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As an origin story, Batman Begins ranks as one of the finest films in the superhero genre — a matter helped by the fact that the series was nearly derailed at the end of the 1989-1997 Warner Brothers cycle, when Batman & Robin arrived with an underwhelming thud among critics and fans alike. Nonetheless, Tim Burton's semi-definitive Batman (1989) had put the character on solid footing, raising the stakes for any film production hoping to do better. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer have done better, delivering a Batman film that stays true to the character's pulp origins while expanding the mythology with a rich backstory, and offering Batman a clutch of contemporary gadgets as well. The most remarkable of the bunch is the new Batmobile, known as "The Tumbler," a military prototype that looks like a cross between a Lamborghini and a Humvee — far more than a few body panels on a stock chassis, The Tumbler was built from the ground up for the film, and director Nolan clearly delights in showing off its aggressive handling during an extended chase sequence. Nonetheless, Batman Begins didn't gross $205 million (U.S.) on hardware alone. Goyer and Nolan's script judiciously focuses on Bruce Wayne, dedicating a generous amount of time to his story, and making it clear that Wayne, not Batman, is their hero. Fans hoping to see more Batman than Wayne might be disappointed with this outing, although when Batman finally does arrive, it's as if he's lifted from the pages of a graphic novel. This is Batman as he should be — a nocturnal, urban street-brawler who attacks his enemies with fear as much as cunning and skill. If Batman Begins isn't the perfect superhero movie, it's close, and it can take its rightful place along two other origin-story classics, 1978's Superman and 2002's Spider-Man.

Warner's two-disc Batman Begins: Deluxe Edition features a pristine anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with sharp, emphatic Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One includes the feature film, the theatrical trailer, and the MTV Movie Awards short "Tankman Begins" featuring Jimmy Fallon and Andy Dick. Disc Two holds the bulk of the supplements, initially embedded in a sequential comic strip (tab to the final page to find a "page" icon, which offer a straightforward menu). Seven featurettes are on board, including "Batman: The Journey Begins," "Shaping Mind and Body," "Gotham City Rises," "Cape and Cowl," "Batman: The Tumbler," "Path to Discovery," and "Genesis of the Bat," all running between eight and 14 minutes. Also included are "Confidential Files" with a look at the film's characters and Batman's high-tech gadgetry. An "Art Gallery" provides three collections of movie poster art. And best of all, an enclosed booklet offers three "Batman" stories from D.C. comics that inspired the film, "The Long Halloween," "The Man Who Falls," and Bob Kane's original 1939 "The Bat-Man." Dual-DVD keep-case with paperboard slipcase.
—JJB



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