If id've been told before my viewing that this film had a forty-five minute back story, and that it would take a full hour before we see batman in full costume, I would've felt the desire to lower my expectations before seeing the film; But then, I would've been underestimating Chrisopher Nolan's storytelling abilities, and his ability to tie ideas that seem disconnected in to a greater arc.
The visuals and set pieces alone in the first 45 minutes of the story are enough to captivate, nevermind the development of Batman's origins. But in this forty-five minutes we also see the emergence of the films antagonist; Ra'z al Gul(liam neeson), leader of the mysterious League of Shadows. Initialy he plays mentor to Bruce Wayne, but as we see both the philosophy of Batman emerge, and the division in philosophy expand between Batman and Ra'z, the situation turns volatile.
Unlike the Joker in The Dark Knight, The League of Shadows, and more specifically, Ra'z Al Gul, is evil with a purpose, evil with a percieved sense of hisorical duty, to "do what must be done" for the "overall good" of man. Their idea's may be warped, but so is any form of radicalized movement which leads to murder. The sense of doing right is what makes the villain frightnening in this film, the antithesis of what makes The Joker so scary. For Ra'z, out of death comes rebirth, and eventually order-- for The Joker, out of death comes only more death, and eventually chaos.
Also similar between the two films villains (ra'z & Joker), is that they easily manipulate Gothams current crime syndicate, infiltrate them both to such degrees that they end up betraying them and moving on to "higher motives". They use the base of crime as a launchpad for their own sick and twisted visions/games; in this way both of Nolan's Batman films work as a commentary on various natures of evil, and the varying angles at which we face it. In Batman begins, it's the league of shadows using Falconi and Scarecrow. In The Dark Knight, its Joker using the entire organized mafia.
We know where the caped crusader stands in this philosophical dillema, and we never doubt that what he will do is the right thing. Yet the film does a good job at balancing what we know, with what the people of gotham think; already doubt's of Batman's character arise, and the cops set out to find him. The images near the end of Batman flying through the air, while the hallucinating citizens look up and see a terrifying vision him, is symbolic of their tendancy to mispercieve his motives, and is foreshadowing of the eventual turning against him by the public in the sequal.
Batman has always been the darkest super-hero, and my personal favorite growing up. These films(BB & TDK) are like a flip-side to Burton's versions. They work on a slightly more sophistocated level as well, yet they don't have the outright humor and irony and satire that Burton's had. I prefer Nolan's version, but admire Burton's as well.
*read my review for "The Dark Knight" from last year, posted in my review section*