Nowadays, it seems everyone is getting an extreme makeover. With housewives stomach-stapling themselves to slimness, baseball players 'roiding themselves into the record books, and supermodels buying collagen in bulk, it only makes sense that a 66-year-old national treasure should give himself the most radical reinvention since Marky Mark dropped the Funky Bunch. Like many others, Batman began his makeover by looking in the mirror and confronting his dark roots — the difference is, he's embracing them.
"This, to me, is the first Batman movie," said Christian Bale, the 31-year-old "Batman Begins" star poised to become an overnight success despite some 20 years in film (see "Listen To Your Elders: New Batman Gets Advice From Adam West, Michael Keaton"). "We are approaching it from a far more human viewpoint, a much darker aspect to Batman. This is somebody who is capable of deep and dark things, whose energy stems from a great personal grief and pain" (see "New 'Batman Begins' Trailer Shows Superhero's Human Side").
As an old Latin proverb once observed, pain past is pleasure. With "Begins," Batman fans will likely be pleased to come closer than ever to the horrific tragedies that sculpted the cryptic superhero. In our modern era of pop-culture worship, the lineage of the hero is well-known, from the comics to the campy TV show to cartoons like "SuperFriends" and movies by Tim Burton and (gulp) Joel Schumacher. For the movie's actors, "Begins" represents a full meal for all those who have enjoyed such tempting, but less satisfying, appetizers in years past.
"I remember when I was really little, watching some of the 'Batman' television reruns with my brother," said Katie Holmes, who stars as idealistic lawyer Rachel Dawes in the film. "And of course, the Tim Burton movie came out in '89, so I remember going to that; I think I was about 10. I've been a fan of Batman for forever."
To give you an idea of the far-reaching power of Bruce Wayne's saga, Holmes was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1978; decades earlier and a half a world away, one of her co-stars was also learning to love the black-clad superhero. "I never saw the comics, because I grew up in the war, and there was no paper for comics," recalls Michael Caine, who breathes new life into Alfred the butler. "By the time the war ended, I was too old to read comics. I was reading real books, so I never came across 'Batman.' ... I did watch the Adam West show, but that was sort of campy and fun. There was nothing scary about that, the complete opposite of this movie."
"I must have been 6 years old when I started [paying attention to] comic books," added Morgan Freeman, who credits Batman creator Bob Kane's original stories with building a desire in him to learn. "I couldn't read; I started reading with comic books. ... I started out just looking at the pictures, and the 'Batman' comic book struck me and stuck."
With such fans of varying ages and backgrounds, director Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer knew they were taking on a challenge with "Batman Begins" (see "Next Batman Movie In Hands Of 'Memento' Director"). For co-star Gary Oldman, the rabid fanbase was the main reason to do the film — to help ensure that the character's origin was told correctly, once and for all.
"I once saw a film years ago, a British film called 'Backbeat' that was about the very beginnings of the Beatles," said Oldman (see " 'Batman Begins' Filming In Iceland With Gary Oldman On Board As Young Commish"), who plays Lt. Gordon in the film. "I guess they probably didn't get permission to use any of the songs, they didn't get permission from Yoko or whatever — there wasn't a Beatles song in it. I was furious! It didn't even sound like the Beatles. As a fan, I was horrified ... what a waste of time."
Oldman says it was his memory of that experience that had him working so hard to make Batman fans happy. "I can imagine they're not going to be disappointed. If Batman fans don't like this Batman, then you just can't satisfy them."
According to Bale, the secret to making Batman better than ever was simple: leave the "Zowie!" captions and nipple suits behind, and instead consult the critically acclaimed, fan-beloved adult comics of the last few decades.
"The inspiration for this movie comes from the graphic novels; it's not from the TV series, which was wonderful but was a complete spoof of what Bob Kane intended Batman to be. We looked to Frank Miller's 'Batman: Year One,' or to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's 'Dark Victory' and 'The Long Halloween,' amongst others. I remember reading a piece that Frank Miller wrote about his first impression of Batman, and it said that to him, Batman was never funny."
For Bale, taking on one of the most high-profile heroes in cinematic history was about more than simply displaying the psychological unease of Bruce Wayne. Every time he put on the black costume, he had to play a second character: more vicious, more vitriolic.
When it came time to step inside Batman's skin, all Bale had to do was put on the costume. "The suit was something that made you very hot," Bale recounted. "You sweated, but big deal, you can put up with that. The cowl, however, in order to look the way that it looks — and it looks fantastic — it had to be very, very tight. Getting that thing on was like getting into a wine bottle; it was very, very constrictive.
"I would usually keep it on for a few hours, and after some time you had a splitting headache — it was very focused, right there," Bale said, tapping the area between his eyes. "But Batman is a guy who I saw as having a splitting headache, you know, as being somebody in a rage. Instead of taking it off, I just put up with the headache ... and I used it for the performance instead."
After the eight-year headache that fans have been left with since 1997's "Batman & Robin" debacle, they know how Bale feels. It appears once again that pain past is pleasure.
Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, interviews, trailers and more.