Some of the same sorts of revelations about the evolution of Darth Vader that give “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” a sense of geeky adolescent wonder surface in this prequel, too.

I’m talking about the joy of discovering how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) develops the Batcave, the Batsuit and the Batmobile (rendered here like a gas-guzzling Hummer, nothing like the sleek Corvette-style Batmobile in which Michael Keaton tooled around the streets of Gotham back in 1989).

But except for a few quips from the formidable supporting cast, including Michael Caine as an ideal Alfred the butler and Morgan Freeman as Bruce’s equivalent of Q from the James Bond films, “Batman Begins” is suffocatingly self-serious.

Yes, the Dark Knight is supposed to be a tormented soul, having witnessed his parents’ murder and used that guilt and anger as the inspiration for his nighttime forays into vigilante justice. It’s hard to tell that “Batman Begins” began with Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind “Memento,” one of the most inventive films in recent memory.

As director and co-writer (with David S. Goyer), Nolan takes an admirable stab at developing a character-driven drama, only to give in to generic action-movie conventions with a blinding, deafening, explosion-laden finale that could have capped off any number of interchangeable Jerry Bruckheimer flicks.

Rated: PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic element. Running time: 137 minutes. Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.


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