Directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe and Rutger Hauer.

The idea of Christopher Nolan, director of 'Memento' and 'Insomnia', turning his attention towards a $135m blockbuster involving the Caped Crusader may seem like a strange career choice at first. But look a little deeper and you find that all three films have more in common than you initially think: flawed heroes, men whose hearts have been hollowed out, psychological troubles, guilty secrets and the theme of revenge. Those expecting a chilling classic from 'Batman Begins', however, would do well to remember it's the summer. That said, Nolan stays faithful to the source material, gives the movie his own downbeat feel, has some great characters (in particular Murphy as the evil psychiatrist Jonathan Crane) and manages to distance himself from the previous franchise of the 1980s and 1990s. 

Following the murder of his father and mother, industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Bale) grows up in his late parents' sprawling mansion, cared for by butler Alfred (Caine). Wayne, blaming himself for his parents' deaths, swears revenge on the mugger who pulled the trigger, his wonder years flashing by in a blur of anger, self-loathing and self-doubt. As an adult, Wayne abandons his fortune and true love Rachel Dawes (Holmes) and travels the globe, determined to come to grips with the criminal mind and ultimately ending up in prison in the Far East when his immersion in the underworld goes too far. Salvation arrives in the form of Ra's Al Ghul (Watanabe) and Henri Ducard (Neeson), who offer Wayne a place in their vigilante force The League of Shadows. But having completed his training, Wayne realises The Shadows' way is not the right one and returns home, with plans to bring his own form of justice to Gotham City's corrupt streets and needing a new identity with which to do it.

Having been left like a cinematic tortoise in the wake of Marvel's big screen success, Batman's creators DC Comics once again have a film that they can be proud of - a little scary for younger viewers perhaps, but more than enough to keep the most retentive fan entertained. With a script by 'Blade' writer David Goyer, the film's mix of angst and action is similar to the recent Marvel spin-offs ('X-Men', 'Spider-Man', 'Blade'), with Nolan wisely spending the first hour on character build-up before launching into the largely CGI-free thrills. Bale, is however, better as Bruce Wayne than he is at Batman - suitably suave as the billionaire playboy, but a little too stiff when the mask goes on. Still, he doesn't get too much to say once Gotham goes completely off the rails and Nolan's setpieces are as good as any we've seen of late.

'Batman Begins' isn't a case of DC setting a new level for comics onscreen, but rather a memorable example of how to keep up with the competition. Let's hope Nolan & co get another chance to raise the stakes.

Harry Guerin