My 10 favourite Christopher Nolan films

Christopher Nolan

To celebrate the 48th birthday of film director Christopher Nolan, I’ve ranked his 10 movies to date in order of wonderfulness…

10. Following (1998)
Nolan’s self–financed debut is a story about a wannabe writer who stalks strangers out of curiosity. It has many of the elements you’d expect from a 1990s low-budget crime movie: a story told out of sequence (because, you know, Tarantino); a cast who aren’t as sharp and believable as you’d hope (to save money, Nolan only allowed one or two takes); black-and–white photography (because that makes it look moody, right?); and handheld camerawork (because that’s quicker than setting up elaborate shots). Mildly diverting to begin with, it then starts to drag.

9. The Prestige (2006)
An interesting film rather than an entertaining one. It’s about Victorian stage magicians competing to find the perfect trick, but it feels clinical and cynical. The craft is there, but not enough heart.

8. Insomnia (2002)
An orthodox crime thriller elevated by a really great performance from Robin Williams as the bad guy and the generally weird setting of Alaska in the never-ending daylight of summer.

7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The weakest of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, this sees a reclusive Bruce Wayne forced to suit up to fight the muffled-voiced terrorist Bane. It’s too long, too convoluted, and has too many risible moments (most famously, an entire city’s police force gets lured into some tunnels) – but it’s still a fun watch. Anne Hathaway is especially good as the cat burglar Selina Kyle.

6. Inception (2010)
Mindboggling at times, but fascinating nevertheless. It’s a film full of complex concepts and it expects you to keep up. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the leader of a gang who can secretly access people’s dreams and plant ideas in their subconscious. (The gang are an enjoyable bunch, with chalk-and-cheese members like Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As much as it’s a sci-fi ‘concept’ film, this is also a heist movie.) The visual flamboyance on show is absolutely staggering. Many scenes take place in a dreamworld that’s spatially surreal and yet still solid, while CGI and inventive camerawork are expertly used to tell the story and embellish the settings. Also, Hans Zimmer’s *much*-copied incidental music makes everything feel monumentally huge.

5. Batman Begins (2005)
A retelling of the Batman origin story that turned its back on the kiddie-friendly slush of the most recent entry in the series. With the character rebooted, the story was played straight and given psychological rigour. It takes a while to get going, but once we’re into Bruce Wayne fighting crime in Gotham City the film sings with theatrical style.

4. Interstellar (2014)
A science-fiction movie with real sweep and panache. In a near-future blighted by ecological problems, Matthew McConaughey plays Coop, an astronaut sent on a vital mission into the depths of the solar system. Due to the differences in relative time, decades will pass on Earth while he’s away… There’s plausible science mixed with speculative theory and even spiritualism, an adventure plot merged with family drama, as well as shocks and twists. Jessica Chastain is also tremendous as Coop’s grown-up daughter.

3. Dunkirk (2017)
The evacuation of Dunkirk seen from various points of view – young soldiers stranded in France, airmen providing the cover for the retreat, and the crew of a fishing boat crossing the Channel. The three subplots take place over different time spans (an hour, a day, a week), yet feel totally concurrent due to the film’s artful editing and Nolan’s sense of storytelling. The 70mm photography takes your breath away, while several epic action sequences are impressively staged for real. Moving, well cast and engrossing.

2. Memento (2000)
A superb, noir-ish thriller with – famously – its scenes in reverse order. Devilishly clever and admirably bold, with a great central performance from Guy Pearce, this is the story of a man hunting for his wife’s murderer. The biggest problem? A medical condition means he can’t form any new memories so must rely on self-written notes and photos he can’t remember taking. As with later films Interstellar and Dunkirk, the unusual chronology never feels confusing or clunky. Instead, it puts us into Leonard’s point of view: we don’t know what happened earlier because he doesn’t.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Big, bold, complex, provocative and dangerous, this is the superhero genre’s equivalent of The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back. It’s monumental. Daunting. Impressive. Threatening. Challenging. Fascinating. *Ambitious*. Heath Ledger commands the frame whenever he’s on screen as the Joker, while the IMAX-shot action sequences are thrilling.

 

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

DarkKnightRises

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Batman has been missing for eight years, having taken the blame for a killing spree. But a mercenary called Bane is threatening Gotham City…

Good guys: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) – bearded, injured and using a walking stick – has been hiding in his rebuilt mansion for years. False rumours have spread that he has eight-inch fingernails and pisses in jars. When he catches a thief nicking his dead mum’s pearls, he returns to the Batcave to investigate her; then when Jim Gordon is critically injured by a new baddie, this motivates Bruce to rejoin the world properly. However, he loses control of company – and therefore his fortune. He also meets and sleeps with a sexy woman called Miranda Tate, so swings and roundabouts… Batman gets the burglar, Selina, to take him to see the mercenary threatening the city, but is soundly beaten by Bane. Broken and injured, Bruce is dumped in a medieval prison in a non-occidental part of the world – the same pit where Bane grew up, in fact. He’s forced to watch TV news of Bane terrorising Gotham City. A friendly prisoner helps Bruce get back on his feet, and after a few months he’s able to escape (only the second ever person to do so). He returns to Gotham – how he sneaks in, given that the city has been cut off by Bane, is not explained – and with help from Selina, Jim Gordon and policeman John Blake, takes on and defeats Bane. Batman then flies a ticking nuclear bomb out to sea. We assume he’s been killed, but then Alfred later spots him happily having a coffee with Selina in an Italian cafe… John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, good) is a decent cop who grew up in a kids’ home. He becomes a trusted ally of Commissioner Jim Gordon. After Gordon’s injured, Blake insists on seeing Bruce and reveals that he’s (rather implausibly) worked out that he’s Batman. At the film’s conclusion, we find out that Blake’s real first name is Robin and he’s given the coordinates of the Batcave: the mantle has been passed… Gordon is again played by Gary Oldman. He also learns Batman’s real identity during the course of the film. Alfred (Michael Caine) is unhappy with Bruce hiding away in Wayne Manor, but is then equally grumpy about him becoming Batman again – there’s no pleasing some people. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) has been trying to run Wayne Enterprises in Bruce’s absence, but it’s not been going well.

Bad guys: Bane is played by Tom Hardy. We have to take that on good faith, though. His face is hidden by a permanent gasmask, while all his dialogue – pretty obviously dubbed on afterwards – is muffled and in a strange sing-song accent that leaps about all over the shop. At the start of the film, he gets caught on purpose (like the Joker in the last film… And Silva in Skyfall… And John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness… And Loki in Avengers Assemble…). It’s so he can get his hands on a scientist being held by the CIA. Bane’s lair is built in Gotham’s sewers, underneath Wayne Enterprises, and he has loads of dumb henchmen. We’re told he was behind a coup in Africa and grew up in a prison – described as “hell on earth” – but killed all the other inmates. He became a student of Batman Begins baddie Ra’s al Ghul, but was then excommunicated for being too much of a fruit-loop. He holds Gotham to ransom with a nuclear bomb, cutting the island city off from the rest of the country for months. It descends into chaos with kangaroo courts and rich people being attacked by mobs… Although initially presented as a friend to Bruce Wayne, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, attractive but unconvincing) is actually Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s and an old ally of Bane’s. She used to be in that prison too; Bane was her protector until she escaped and returned with her dad to free him. Posing as Miranda, she weasels her way onto the Wayne Enterprises board so she and her pal can get hold of its clean-energy machine, which they then adapt into a nuclear bomb. The clues are liberally sprinkled before she reveals her true identity… We also see Ra’s al Ghul: Liam Neeson returns for a ghostly cameo, while Josh Pence plays him as a young man in flashbacks.

Other guys: Never referred to as such – although newspapers have dubbed her ‘the cat’, as in cat burglar – Catwoman is played by Anne Hathaway. Selina Kyle is a thief who poses as a waitress to break into Wayne Manor and half-inch Bruce’s fingerprints (an assignment given to her by Bane). She’s been promised a ‘clean slate’ in return: a computer virus that wipes all records of a person from every database in the world. Blake arrests her, but she’s freed when the prisons are emptied – she’s tempted to flee, but ends up helping Batman defeat Bane. Hathaway is sassy, slinky, sarcastic and sexy. Nestor Carbonell returns from The Dark Knight to play the mayor (ironically, he looks slightly older here), while Cillian Murphy completes his trilogy of Batman movies by appearing briefly as Dr Jonathan Crane.

Best bits:

* Oh, look: it’s Aidan Gillen off of Queer as Folk as a CIA agent.

* The prologue on the plane – the perspective is all over the place as the plane is tipped up, and there’s a dramatic shot from above as it falls to the ground.

* Oh, look: Wollaton Hall is the new location for Wayne Manor. It’s a country house near Nottingham. In June 2002, I went to a one-day music festival in its grounds and saw Green Day, Iggy Pop, The Levellers, Rival Schools and many other acts.

* Oh, look: it’s Brett Cullen from Lost as a politician. He’s mates with Meat Loaf, don’t you know.

* Bruce rumbles Selina as she steals from his safe. At first, she’s coy and innocent, then the facade drops: “Oops,” she deadpans.

* Oh, look: it’s the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, standing in as a Florence cafe. I live near the ORNC and visit it very often: I was there in the morning of the day I rewatched this film, actually. The scene is a dramatisation of a fantasy of Alfred’s, which pretty much tips you off as to what the ending of the movie will be.

* Oh, look: it’s Burn Gorman from Torchwood as Philip Stryver, the intermediary who hires Selina.

* Oh, look: it’s Juno Temple as Selina’s mate Jen.

* Selina beating people up, then pretending to be helpless when the cops burst in.

* Bane and his goons have raided the stock exchange and are fleeing through the streets. The lights in the lower-level streets all go out in sequence – then Batman appears. (It’s a good chase, though it does appear to go from day to night in about 30 seconds.)

* The cops think they have Batman corned in an alley, but he comes out of it in his massive hovering Batwing aircraft. “Sure it was him?” asks Blake sarcastically after he’s flown off.

* Lucius Fox taking Miranda down to the secret underground bunker where the clean-energy generator is stored. They get there via a Bond-villain-esque sinking floor.

* Selina: “Mr Wayne, I’m sorry they took all your money.” Bruce, after a beat: “No, you’re not.”

* Oh, look: it’s Tom Conti as an inmate of Bane’s prison.

* Oh, look: It’s Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steeler teammates as the squad of Gotham’s American football club.

* “Let the games begin…” Bane sets off a series of explosions all over the city, including most dramatically underneath a football stadium – the grass falls away into the ground as the kick-off returner obliviously runs downfield. All the bridges are destroyed, and all the police – yes, all of them – are trapped in the sewers.

* Oh, look: it’s William Devane off of 24 as the president.

* Bruce’s attempts to escape the pit. The imagery smartly echoes the scene from Batman Begins when Thomas Wayne pulled his son out of a well.

* The improvised courtroom, with Dr Crane sat high in a judge’s chair.

* Philip Stryver is given a choice of sentence by the court: exile or death. He chooses exile, which means being forced to walk across the frozen river… Of course, the ice breaks and he falls in.

* Lucius refers to Selina as Batman’s girlfriend. “He should be so lucky,” she purrs.

* Miranda to Batman: “[Bane’s] not the child of Ra’s al Ghul. [Movie-villain dramatic pause] I am.”

* Oh, look: it’s Desmond Harrington from Dexter as a policeman.

* Selina, on the Batpod motorbike, kills Bane by firing a cannon at him. She says to Batman: “About the whole no-guns things. I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do.”

Review: Being the final part of a trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises draws together themes and plotlines from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – and it feels tonally more connected to both of them than they do to each other. It’s also director Christopher Nolan merging his Batman cast with the cast of Inception, the film he made immediately before this. Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy had already been in both, but now he’s brought over Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play this film’s three main guest roles. There’s a complex (convoluted maybe) story, which throws information at you in clumps at a frantic pace. It’s too long. Eagle-eyed viewers will easily spot the twists coming. And there are also a few *very silly* plot developments. The entire police force go down into some sewers when they get a tip-off – does that seem either plausible or smart? And yet… And yet… I really enjoyed seeing this again. Christopher Nolan at 80 per cent is still a fantastic experience.

Eight vertebrae protruding from your back out of 10.

Next time: Superman rebooted! For real this time.

The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

The Dark Knight

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Gotham City is terrorised by a maniac calling himself the Joker…

Good guys: Wayne Manor has been destroyed, so Bruce Wayne is now living in a penthouse and using a secret base underneath the docks for all his secret Batman stuff. Early on, he goes to Hong Kong to find a fleeing money launderer and delivers him to Gotham’s District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Bruce sees Dent as the new crime-fighting hope for the city, so also helps him by throwing a big fundraiser. But when the Joker begins his reign of terror, Batman faces a dilemma – reveal his real identity or risk more people being killed… So he destroys all evidence of his activities and prepares to ‘come out’, yet Harvey beats him to it and announces that *he’s* the Batman. It’s a trap to lure the Joker out, but he soon escapes and kills Bruce’s childhood friend, Rachel Dawes. After capturing the Joker and saving Jim Gordon’s family from Dent (who’s gone loopy, murdered some people and is then killed himself), Batman falls a long way and is injured. In order to maintain Dent’s reputation as Gotham’s rallying-call hero, Batman chooses to take the blame for Dent’s actions and goes on the run… As in Batman Begins, Bruce has a trio of older men who help him out – Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius (Morgan Freeman) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). Alfred offers sound advice, Lucius gets to go on the Hong Kong mission, while Gordon plays a big role in the plot: he’s stages his death to trick the Joker, then gets promoted to police commissioner.

Bad guys: The Joker (Heath Ledger) is a psycho-punk terrorist – he’s tellingly referred to by that word – with blurred clown make-up, facial scars and a charity-shop suit. He is “an agent of chaos” who revels in destruction. In a brilliant move that makes him more mythic, we never find out who he is or where he’s from, and he tells contradictory but always chilling stories about how he got his scars. As the story begins, the Joker is knocking off mob banks. He then goes to the gangsters and offers to kill Batman for half of their fortune. When he’s arrested, he arranges for Dent and Rachel to be kidnapped – Rachel is killed and Dent is severely injured. The Joker escapes by taunting a policeman into fighting him, then blowing up the station with a bomb smuggled in inside a prisoner’s stomach. He gets all the mob’s money back and burns his half because it’s mayhem and disorder he wants, not cash. He then puts explosives on two ferries – one carrying civilians, one carrying convicts – and gives each the detonator for the other boat’s bomb. It’s a morbid social experiment designed to test Gotham’s morality. The last we see of him, he’s hanging upside down from a rope – high above Gotham and laughing uncontrollably. Ledger *commands* the film whenever he’s on screen. It’s a thrilling performance – as mercurial as it is manic. He’s full of threat and danger and menace.

Other guys: Aaron Eckhart (very good) plays Harvey Dent, the charismatic new DA who’s dating Rachel Dawes. He shows his mettle early on by disarming a witness who pulls a gun on him in court, then complains when the guy is taken away: “But, your honour, I’m not done…” He impresses everyone with his dedication to bringing down the mob – but when Jim Gordon is ‘killed’ and Rachel identified as the Joker’s next target, Dent’s anger boils over and he kidnaps a henchman. He tosses a coin to see whether the guy should live or not… He then pretends to be Batman in order to draw the Joker out of hiding, but the Joker retaliates by tying him up next to some barrels of flammable liquid. When a bomb goes off while Batman’s saving him, half of Dent’s face is burnt away; elsewhere, Rachel is killed. Now fully off the deep end, Dent goes on a revenge spree – killing gangsters based on a coin-toss decisions and even kidnapping Jim Gordon’s family… The role of Rachel, meanwhile, has been recast since Batman Begins. Katie Holmes declined to return (no great loss), so we now have Maggie Gyllenhaal, who’s *much* better. She’s a stronger presence in the story, feels like a grown-up and is a lot more interesting. Also on show are: Anthony Michael Hall as a TV reporter; Nestor Carbonell (Richard from Lost) as the mayor; Eric Roberts as mob boss Sal Maroni; Chin Han as the money launderer Lau; and Cillian Murphy, who reprises the Scarecrow from Batman Begins in a fun cameo.

Best bits:

* The incidental music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. It’s one of cinema’s great scores – often scratchy, unsettling, nightmarish, unbearably taut and foreboding, sometimes sweeping and bombastic.

* The opening image – a slow helicopter shot tracking in towards a skyscraper’s window, which then smashes open.

* The prologue. Clown-masked bad guys burst into a bank, each killing a colleague as his usefulness passes. The casting of William Fichtner as the bank manager is a deliberate nod to the 1995 film Heat, in which he featured and which was a massive influence on this movie. The sequence is capped by the Joker pulling off his mask to reveal his terrifying face: “Whatever doesn’t kill you,” he snarls, “makes you *stranger*.”

* Gotham City Police Department’s noticeboard of Batman suspects: Elvis, Abraham Lincoln and Bigfoot.

* The fake Batmans (Batmen?) in hockey pads.

* Bruce crashes Rachel’s date with Harvey Dent so he can see the new DA up close. When Harvey says the restaurant might not let them push two tables together, Bruce says, “Oh, they should. I own the place.”

* The Joker walks in on the gangster’s powwow.

* The Joker’s magic trick: making a pencil disappear.

* Oh, look: it’s Chucky Venn from EastEnders as a mob henchman.

* “Why so serious?!”

* While reeling off the multitudinous charges facing the mob – “Seven hundred and 12 counts of extortion, 849 counts of racketeering, 246 counts of fraud, 87 counts of conspiracy murder, 527 counts of obstruction of justice…” – the judge finds a joker player card amongst her papers. She ain’t long for this world, then.

* Harvey asks Alfred about Rachel: “Any psychotic ex-boyfriends I should know about?” “Oh, you have no idea…”

* The Joker terrorises the fundraiser.

* The Joker dangles Rachel out of a window. “Let her go!” order Batman. The Joker says, “Very poor choice of words…”

* The executive who figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and goes to Lucius Fox to extort him. Lucius says: “Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands – and your plan is to blackmail this person?! Good luck.”

* Gordon is shot while protecting the mayor.

* Oh, look: it’s Sarah Jayne Dunn from Hollyoaks as Maroni’s bored girlfriend.

* The action scene with the armoured vans. It begins on urban city streets, then goes down to the claustrophobic lower levels. Batman starts in the familiar Tumbler Batmobile, but then detaches the front axle and it becomes his new Batpod motorbike. The Joker and his crew have an 18-wheel articulated lorry with a graffiti S added before its ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ logo. The chase is tense and visceral, and there’s a seamless blend of genuine stunt work, scale models and judicious CGI. The best moment is the lorry flipping over lengthways: an audacious stunt clearly done for real.

* The lights suddenly go on in the interrogation room and we see Batman stood behind the Joker.

* The mobile phone inside a guy’s stomach.

* The Joker hanging his head out of a car window like a dog.

* Harvey’s burnt face – a superb special effect.

* The Joker’s massive pile of money, which he then burns.

* The Joker dressed as a nurse – wig and all – but still with the same macabre make-up.

* The Joker blowing up a hospital. There’s a glorious shot of him walking towards camera as explosions go off in the background; they come to a stop, so he shakes his remote-control gizmo and pushes a button; this kicks off the collapse of the entire building – all done in one single take.

* The camera turning upside down so the Joker, hanging high above Gotham by his feet, appears the right way up.

* The final montage – Gordon trashing Batman’s reputation and praising Harvey Dent, all for the greater good.

Review: This film has such a pulse. A heartbeat. An unstoppable momentum. Director Christopher Nolan used IMAX cameras for key action sequences, which makes the whole thing feel absolutely enormous. It’s an epic story on a massive canvass, and has more wide, open spaces than any other Batman. You feel the city stretching out beyond the borders of every frame. A big influence is the Michael Mann crime thriller Heat (if you don’t know it, check it out: it’s wonderful). There are many similarities between the two: a sense of tension always bubbling away under the surface; a personality-driven conflict between the good guy and the bad guy; a tense bank raid that shows off the villain’s ruthless determination; and the use of a city as a character in its own right… Also, as in Heat, The Dark Knight’s two principle players – Batman and the Joker – are not a million miles apart. They’re both ‘freaks’ using force to impose their will. The Dark Knight starts off as a gangster plot. How can Batman and the cops bring down the mob? And it’s based on standard tropes of good guys and bad guys, mobsters and the police, law and order and courts and judges. Everyone knows where there are. But the injection of the Joker – a shot of spiked adrenalin – adds unpredictability and uncertainty to everything. The film soon becomes a post-9/11 story about terrorism, democracy vs fascism, and whether ends can justify means. How do you deal with or defeat someone who doesn’t play by your rules? How important are civil liberties and personal privacy when you’re trying to protect society? There are no easy answers. The Joker is entropy-in-action: a force of nature constantly chipping away at Gotham City’s structured society and revelling in the decay. He can’t be reasoned with and he can’t be intimidated – and that’s terrifying. Big, bold, complex, provocative and dangerous, this is the superhero genre’s equivalent of The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back. It’s monumental. Daunting. Impressive. Threatening. Challenging. Fascinating. *Ambitious*. It’s the best film so far this century. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface with this review.

Ten school buses out of 10.

Next time: Mumble mumble Gotham’s reckoning! mumble mumble…

Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan)

Batman-begins

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Bruce Wayne is haunted so much by the murder of his parents that he decides to invent a vigilante persona to battle crime in Gotham City…

Good guys: As a young boy, Bruce Wayne falls into a well, where he’s scared by some bats. His millionaire father rescues him but is later murdered – along with Bruce’s mum – by a mugger. Aged about 20, and now played by Christian Bale, Bruce goes to the mugger’s parole hearing with the intent to kill him. However, a gangland assassin beats him to it – so instead Bruce travels the world and loses his “assumptions about the nature of right and wrong”. He ends up in a prison in Bhutan, where he accepts an offer from a strange man called Ducard to train as a ninja. But when he refuses to murder someone on the orders of Ducard’s boss, Ra’s al Ghul, Bruce returns to Gotham with a new crime-fighting agenda. Realising he needs a symbol – “something elemental, something terrifying…” – he focuses on his own fear of bats. A cave underneath his mansion provides a hideaway; the applied-sciences division of his father’s company gives him access to as much hardware as he needs. Bruce makes contact with Sergeant Jim Gordon, the only noble policeman he can find, then sets to work: his first target is local mobster Carmine Falcone and his drug trafficking. As the Batman – dressed in an all-black combat outfit and cowl, and with a growly voice – he soon becomes famous in the city. To ensure his cover, meanwhile, Bruce ostentatiously acts like an immature playboy in public. He soon has a run-in with the Scarecrow, a master criminal plotting to poison Gotham’s water supply, then discovers that Ra’s al Ghul is actually engineering the chaos… The inherent problem with the traditional Batman story – why should we feel sympathy for a good-looking, intelligent, ridiculously rich yet altruistic playboy like Bruce Wayne? – sadly isn’t helped by casting the po-faced and unlikeable Christian Bale, but there’s more interest elsewhere. Bruce has a trio of allies, all of whom are surrogate father figures. Michael Caine (fun) plays concerned butler Alfred; Morgan Freeman (droll) appears as Lucius Fox, Bruce’s pal at Wayne Enterprises; while Gary Oldman (excellent) plays Gordon. The latter’s look (glasses, moustache) echoes how the character appeared in Batman: Year One, a seminal comic book from 1987.

Bad guys: Liam Neeson, who used to be an actor before his recent conversion into Steven Seagal, plays Ducard of the mysterious League of Shadows. We also meet the League’s honcho, Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). As the story progresses, we get hints that someone is operating the principle bad guys – so it’s not a thundering surprise when Ducard reappears two-thirds of the way through and reveals that actually *he’s* Ra’s al Ghul. He wants to purge the corrupt Gotham City, so releases lots of dangerous prisoners to cause chaos and then pumps toxic gas into the air. Before his surprise return to the action, we think the Big Bad is Cillian Murphy’s chilling Dr Jonathan Crane. He’s a psychiatric doctor who uses a hessian scarecrow mask and a hallucinogenic spray to drive people insane with fear – one of his victims is Falcone (Tom Wilkinson with a hammy American accent).

Other guys: Bruce’s childhood friend/romantic interest, Rachel Dawes, is an idealistic Gotham DA. Katie Holmes is miscast in the role: she’s just not strong enough and the character makes little impression. Linus Roache plays Bruce’s dad, Thomas. Rutger Hauer is Earle, an executive at Wayne Enterprises who wants to take control of the company. Mark Boone Junior plays corrupt cop Flass.

Best bits:

* After brawling with a group of Bhutanese peasants, Bruce is pulled away by some soldiers for ‘protection’. “I don’t need protection,” he says. A soldier says, “For their protection!”

* Bruce’s training montage. (Shame there’s no 1980s pop hit, though.)

* Oh, look: it’s Gerrard Murphy from Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis as a judge.

* The trippy, shaky image when we see Bruce’s POV while he’s affected by drugs. (It reminds me of Mirrorlon, a TV technique used in early Doctor Who serials to create an unstable image.)

* Bruce says he’ll need a crime-fighting identity. Alfred suggests it’s to protect Bruce’s loved ones. “You’re thinking about Rachel?” asks Bruce. “Actually, sir, I was thinking of myself.”

* Oh, look: it’s Charles Edwards from Downton Abbey as a Wayne Enterprises executive.

* Oh, look: it’s Christine Adams (who’s in the Allison Janney episode of Studio 60, my single favourite piece of television) as a secretary.

* Alfred suggests they order 10,000 cowls in order to avoid suspicion. “At least we’ll have spares,” says Bruce.

* Bruce tests the Tumbler, a massive military bridging vehicle. “Does it comes in black?” he says, almost drooling.

* Bruce’s first outing as Batman – a creepy, slasher-movie scene at the docks.

* “What the hell are you?” “I’m Batman!”

* Batman tying Falcone to a searchlight, so the resulting image in the sky looks like the outline of a bat.

* Batman standing on a skyscraper, surveying his city. (Never really worked when Torchwood copied this idea, did it?)

* Alfred wakes Bruce up at 3pm. “Bats are nocturnal!” he moans.

* “Would you like to see my mask?” asks Dr Crane. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

* Batman is dosed by the Scarecrow. “You look like a man who takes himself too seriously,” says the Scarecrow, pre-empting some of this film’s reviews. “You need to lighten up,” he adds as he sets Batman on fire.

* Bruce asks Alfred to keep some party guests busy. “Tell them that joke you know.”

* Batman squirts Crane’s gas in the Scarecrow’s face – so the Scarecrow then sees him as a demon.

* The Tumbler in action. Gordon looks on and says, “I gotta get me one of those.”

* Oh, look: it’s Shame Rimmer as a guy working in a water-company control room. (I’ve decided to assume it’s the same man he played in Superman II.)

* The climax on the monorail.

* The sequel-baiting gag at the end: Gordon mentions a new bad guy who leaves joker playing cards at the scenes of his crimes.

Review: Most versions of Batman mix up eras, styles and fashions, but this chooses to flatten those differences out. Whether Bruce Wayne is eight, 22 or 30, Gotham looks the same. It’s a recognisable, modern-day American city, with a vertiginous monorail system being the only outlandish embellishment. And that’s telling. Verisimilitude is the order of the day. Jokey self-referentialism and heightened production design have both gone. Other than a few dry quips from Alfred and Lucius Fox, there’s also precious little humour on show. This film actually heralded a vogue for take-it-seriously reboots of established film series – I’ve already reviewed 2006’s Casino Royale and 2009’s Star Trek, two films I adore. But as well as a play-it-straight agenda, it also has the feel of a graphic novel come to life. Scenes tend to be short, for example, and there are lots of pithy exchanges rather than conversations. Also, the threat is a sinister and secretive crime syndicate with grandiose plans. It’s an interesting combination. Perhaps it takes too long to build up steam, and I’m no fan of the dour Christian Bale. But there are lots of plusses. The second half is very enjoyable. Cinematographer Wally Pfister gives a real sheen to every image. There are plenty of interesting locations, which have been surprisingly rare in Batman movies so far. CGI is largely sidelined in favour of some stunning old-school modelwork. And Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s music is ace. Good stuff.

Eight rare blue flowers that grow on the eastern slopes out of 10.

Next time: Superman rebooted! Kind of. In a way. Well, not really. Look, it’s complicated…

My 30 favourite films

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So, a few years ago – in order to complete an Empire magazine readers’ poll – I set about compiling my top 10 films. Narrowing them down that far was too tough, and I ended up with a shortlist of 30. Since that time, I’ve made one change: GoodFellas was reluctantly dropped for the most recent movie on the list.

I’ve added links to any films I’ve blogged about elsewhere on this site, whilst clips indicate my favourite five…

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)

WarGames (John Badham, 1983)

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985)

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1986)

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)

D.O.A. (Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, 1988)

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

The Hunt For Red October (John McTiernan, 1990)

JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)

Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)

Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)