So I watched Batman Begins…
This movie was part of a renaissance in the comic book movie genre; a renaissance started by Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman movie. This was a time when comic book movies where showing just how good they could be. Not only that; but this movie was also the resurrection of the Batman film franchise from the ashes Joel Schumacher had buried it in. As a HUGE Batman fan, I’ll always be eternally grateful to Christopher Nolan for only only what he did to this character but also what he did for it.
Okay, basic plot: Bruce Wayne is a child who is living a near-perfect life – heir to a multi-billion-dollar fortune, son to two loving parents and a personal butler to boot. This is all crashes apart when Bruce’s parents are murdered in front of him – though why they were walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night, I’ll never know. But anyway, Bruce feels an intense amount of guilt for his parents’ death. This guilt later becomes rage and an eventual hate for the criminal world. Bruce travels the world learning various fighting styles, languages and skills. When Bruce returns to Gotham he sets out on a mission to rid it of crime as the masked hero, The Batman.
This movie did something that no other live-action Batman movie had done before it – it told Batman’s origins story. Before this we all knew that Bruce’s parents had been killed in front of him and he later becomes Batman; but we’d never seen the story of the journey in between and how Bruce became Gotham’s Caped Crusader. Focusing on this journey allows us greater insight into the character and also allows us to form a deeper connection with him than we’ve previously been allowed on film. He isn’t some fully-formed hero who has everything perfected – he makes mistakes, he’s still in the process of forming Batman and his skills. You feel very involved in the process of Bruce becoming Batman and because of this you have a greater understanding of the character than ever before.
Christian Bale’s casting was absolute perfection. Listening to interviews and behind-the-scenes specials, you get the sense that Bale truly understands the duplicity of the character. In the past we’ve had actors either be adequate Bruce Wayne’s or adequate Batman’s; we’ve never had an actor do both aspects of the character well. Bale brings swagger and nonchalance to the extravagant, playboy Bruce Wayne but also understands the sorrow, rage and gloom needed to be Batman. He integrates these two opposing sides of the character into his performance with the utmost skill and is (barring a sensational performance by Ben Affleck) the best live-action Batman to ever dawn the cape and cowl. I also actually liked the voice he put on for Batman. I think in later movies it becomes a bit too gruff but I don’t think any other before him had given Batman a distinctly different voice.
Now a hero is only good as his villain and Ra’s Al Ghul is one of the best. I think everyone immediately runs to Joker or Bane being the best but I don’t think we should leave Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul out of the equation. In a substantial diversion from the comic book, in this movie Ra’s Al Ghul trains Bruce Wayne and really puts the finishing touches on Wayne to take him from just being another skilled fighter to the tactical genius and unparalleled fighting skill that one needs to be The Dark Knight. I think the diversion from the traditional comic book was a master stroke by Nolan because it does two things 1. it involves the villain in the story from the very beginning so he isn’t just some side character our hero has to fact but an integral part of the story. 2. because Ra’s trains Bruce, they develop something akin to a father-son relationship. Bruce’s relationship to his father is probably one of the most important relationships he’s ever had and having him pitted against someone he views as a father figure makes the tension all the more intense.
This movie’s writing is also brilliant and you have to give credit not only to Christopher Nolan but also to his brother – Jonathan – who’s co-written every movie Nolan has ever produced. The pair just have this amazing ability to write complex and interesting characters with pieces of mind-blowing dialogue. I mean, everything that Ra’s Al Ghul says is pure gold! “You know how to fight six men, we can teach you how to engage six-hundred”; “if someone stands in the way of true justice, you merely walk up behind them and stab them in the heart”. I could go on and on with the amazing quotes in this movie but I think it’s in the moments where Bruce explains the need for Batman that this movie’s script truly shines. “As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol, I can be everlasting, I can be incorruptible.” The people who made this movie truly understand the nature of their character and his motivations. Batman isn’t your typical superhero, he isn’t looking to save cats from trees of babies from burning buildings; he wants to rid Gotham of crime, he wants to inspire the people of the city to rise up and take their lives back from the corrupt. He’s a symbol and the Nolan brothers and Christian Bale perfectly bring the spirit of this character to life.
Now speaking of characters perfectly brought to life, I love the emphasis placed on this movie’s supporting cast. With all respect to Michael Gough and Pat Hingle (who played Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon, respectively, in the previous Batman movies) I always found their portrayal of the characters wooden, moreover, their characters were always underutilized and never given more but a passing line in the movie. Nolan brings these two characters to the fore and highlights their importance to not only Batman but also Bruce Wayne. Michael Caine does an amazing job as Alfred and Gary Oldman is sensational as James Gordon. Another great addition to the cast was Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox – Batman’s armorer. Freeman does amazing work with limited screentime and brings a great sense of humour to the character of Fox.
The only gripe I have with this movie comes with regards to the action sequences. There’s far too much shaky cam and quickly-edited shots. Watching interviews where Nolan explains why he chose to shoot the action in this format gives you an idea of the vision he had but that vision was absolutely mistaken. You can’t ever see what’s happening or who’s throwing a punch and who’s blocking it and this is a weakness that Nolan, thankfully, addressed in later movies.
Overall, I really loved this movie. Whether you’re a Batman fan or not, this movie has something you can enjoy. It’s really well-made with a great understanding of the character and Nolan deserves a round of applause for this movie. I think it gets passed-over because everyone always rushes to praise The Dark Knight (which they should) but it’s still an amazing watch. 8/10