Even the giggling couple beside us in a near-empty, over-air-conditioned Hong Kong cinema were silenced by the sheer epic scale and grand design of the Batman prequel, Batman Begins.
Chritsian Bale, again demonstrating that he never puts a foot wrong, is an exemplary Batman. He has a reassuring dollop of human frailty – the fear of bats that has haunted him since childhood along with the searing memory of his parents’ murder and the doubt and uncertainty about whether his father was right not to resist their attacker with force - and he effortlessly becomes the indolent billionaire Bruce Wayne, buying a hotel with a contemptuous curl of the lip so he can “swim” in the ornamental pool with his pretty bimbos, belying the integrity and power of his alter ego, but never much more than a graceful step away.
Street scenes in the rapidly-decaying Gotham City were reminiscent of the city alleyways in Blade Runner , and would also seem strangely familiar to anyone who has visited Shanghai with its mixture of old and new and cramped alleyways packed with scooters, people and neon; and there was a very futuristic feel about this film. The epithet “dark” has been applied to the point of cliché, but it’s certainly true that the film literally has a quality of darkness about it, underground as well as overground.
Christian Bale occupied the film completely, and the screen when he was on it, but was ably supported by a cast of what seemed to be mainly British and Irish support actors: Michael Caine, playing Wayne’s butler with aplomb, but very much in line with expectations (you almost expected him to say “You’re Batman, and not a lot of people know that!”), Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, using his piercing blue eyes to startlingly evil effect as the deranged Dr Crane; Tom Wilkinson, strange accent and all, playing the mobster Carmine Falcone; Gary Oldman as nerdy “good” cop Jim Gordon; Linus Roache as Bruce’s gentle, noble father. The only really crass inclusion was Katie Holmes as a ridiculously young assistant DA – a completely wrong piece of casting which was presumably intended to bring in the numbers. It surely wasn't needed; and the other actors more than compensate for her insipid performance.