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Comic book movies are a tough nut to crack. On one hand, you need to keep enough of the graphic novels core elements, story, and characters intact to appease the die-hard fans. On the other you need to make the movie available to the mass market so Joe Somebody is intrigued by a franchise he might never have heard about before.

Previous efforts to adapt comic books to the big screen have taken a sharp upturn in quality over the past few years. The X-Men series did everything right, including picture perfect casting in most cases, Spider-Man was willfully and colorfully brought to life by fan-favorite director Sam Raimi, and even minor characters like Blade have transferred to the big screen with huge success.

Batman Begins trumps them all, in this editor’s opinion, when it comes to staying faithful to the source material and bringing in a mass audience. The Dark Knight’s origins are so meticulously crafted by director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer that you completely lose yourself in the story and never realize that 137 minutes have passed until a giant smile comes across your face and the credits begin to role.

Batman Begins starts with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) incarcerated overseas after leaving a decaying Gotham City. Organized crime, petty criminals, and police corruption lurk along the city streets (which uses Chicago, IL as a double). Wayne begins training under the tutelage of The League of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul, a man bent on saving the world, by any means necessary. Wayne eventually returns to Gotham, and through a series of events takes on the persona of Batman, a crime-fighter without any special powers, but a deep, undying need for vengeance and justice in the turbulent city.

Really there’s so much to say about the plot, but for the sake of keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, I’ll hold off on detailing anything else, but all you need to know is this is, by far, the best Batman movie ever created.

The success of the movie stems from the wonderful acting choices. Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne. The fan favorite for the job sinks into the role marvelously and brings the Batman and his playboy billionaire alter-ego to life in grand fashion. Michael Caine as Alfred is also an excellent bit of casting. Every member of the cast pulls their respective parts above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from a comic book film and creates memorable characters that, even with only a few lines in the script, can be fleshed out.

Besides Bale, two of my personal favorites are Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow and Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon.

Batman Begins is a reboot for the series after two good films, Batman and Batman: Returns, one passable movie, Batman: Forever and one atrociously bad one, Batman & Robin. The story doesn’t focus on one central nemesis for the winged-one to tackle, but, instead, focuses on the internal conflict within Bruce Wayne wanting to seek vengeance for his parents, but being unable to do so. Bale pulls this off with flying colors and is easily the best actor to don the cowl after Michael Keaton’s “okay” performances, Val Kilmer’s forgettable one, and George Clooney’s “it’s better we don’t talk about” tour of duty.

With so much going for the film, I was a bit skeptical if it could live up to the lofty expectations I had for it. Batman has long been my favorite comic book character and after Batman & Robin I don’t think I could take anymore rubber nipples or Bat-AmEx jokes. Luckily, Begins is a dark, serious film with only a few fleeting one-liners provided by Oldman and Caine to boot. Everything else is deathly series, as it should be, with the darker tone provided the central theme of fear.

Fear is the tool used most by Batman, not high-powered guns, or other gadgets, the Dark Knight in Batman Begins revolves around instilling fear into the criminals to keep them in line. It seems only right that the first baddie he would face would be The Scarecrow with his hallucinogen powder that provides for some truly frightening visuals (maggots crawling out of his face, Batman appearing deformed or with piercing red eyes). This isn’t clown-shoes Batman as we saw in the last film, this is the way the character was meant to be portrayed.

A review of the film couldn’t be complete without at least a mention of the new Batmobile which, if I may put it bluntly, kicks so many flavors of ass it’s unprecedented. The thing is just amazing to watch on screen and the chase mid-way through is pure-popcorn action personified by a car and the rooftops of a city.

Batman Begins is what Tim Burton’s Batman should have been in 1989, a movie that sets up the character the way the die-hard fans and John Q. Public would have liked. The Dark Knight’s origin is completely explained, several villains make their first appearances, there’s action, there’s adventure, suspense, horror, just about everything that makes an excellent movie all contained into this 137 minute masterpiece.

For those with doubts still, stow them, Batman Begins is the best, and most faithful, comic book adaptation ever, and blows every other movie you would have seen this year out of the water. With a nod to the next villain at the end and the principle cast already signed on for sequels, the future looks bright for the rebirth of this premiere franchise, and no one’s happier about that than me.