On Tuesday night I had an opportunity to see a preview screening of the latest addition to the Batman franchise, Batman Begins. I will start by saying two things: it was very good and there is hope for this franchise yet.

Batman, created by Bob Kane in the 1940s for DC Comics, featured one of the first costumed crime fighters without super powers. “Traumatised by witnessing the murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne vows to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of his life bringing criminals to justice in his home of Gotham. He uses his vast fortune to study criminology, train his body and mind to perfection and assemble a batcave full of vehicles and gadgets,” summarised the BBC in an obituary of Kane, who died in 1998.

The movie is the fifth big-screen adaptation of the comic book franchise.

The first one, released in 1989, was directed by Tim Burton and featured Michael Keaton as the Batman and an over-the-top Jack Nicholson as Batman`s long time nemesis, the Joker. Burton also directed the sequel, which didn`t quite hit the mark.

There were then two incredibly bad Joel Schumacher-helmed transgressions, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, which turned the franchise into a gaudy, neon-lit, homoerotic romp. The major draw for fans of the comics has always been the darkness of the character and the struggle to balance the character of the billionaire playboy by day and masked crime fighter by night. The 60s TV series and previous three films seemed to miss that mark with oversimplification, garish colours and ham-fisted direction and acting. There seemed to be a belief that because the source material was a comic the characters were two-dimensional.

However, Chris Nolan, director of the incredibly strange thriller Memento, has restored the good name of the Batman. Batman Begins is incredibly dark and layered, it strains at its PG-13 rating and, thankfully, features a nipple-less Batsuit.

Batman Begins follows the path of a young multi-billionaire orphan, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), seeking the tools to avenge his parents` murder and bring justice to the streets of Gotham. The movie features an all-star cast, including Oscar winners Michael Caine as Wayne`s butler, Alfred; Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, the inventor of many of the Bat`s toys; as well as Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard, Wayne`s trainer; Gary Oldman as Sgt Jim Gordon; Rutger Hauer; Tom Wilkinson; and Katie Holmes. Relative newcomer Cillian Murphy, best know for his role in 28 Days Later, plays Dr

Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow, Batman`s first costumed adversary.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this movie was how dark it was. Christian Bale has made a fine living playing dark and troubled characters and doesn`t slouch playing the Bat. Unlike all the other films in the series, there is no campiness, intentional or not. All the major characters get off a couple of truly funny one-liners but Nolan has helmed a film more reminiscent of Frank Miller`s Batman: Year One than DC comics` monthly titles.

This movie isn`t so much about the Bat`s adversaries but how the mythos was created and the development of the toys that the Batman has been know for, including the Batmobile and the Batsuit. It isn`t high art but it is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon and gives fan boys like myself hope for the future of the franchise-especially since there is word that most of the principles have signed on for a three-picture deal, making the sequels inevitable.

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