For anyone who thinks that superheroes are just for kids, this reboot is for you. This is Batman “all grown up,” so to speak. A Caped Crusader more grounded in reality. Batman Begins (and it’s two sequels) are a far cry from the previous four Batman films. These are dark and gritty; serious and complex. They are, in my opinion, the pinnacle comic book movies, and a rare trilogy where the movies get successively better as the series progresses.
Batman Begins is a classic origin story, informing the viewer of Bruce Wayne’s privileged upbringing, ultimately marred by witnessing the death of his parents. Everyone knows this part, but from here we are introduced to one of Batman’s greatest nemeses, Ra’s al Ghul. In this movie Ra’s trains Wayne in the martial arts, and attempts to recruit him into the nefarious League of Shadows, an ancient order who plans on cleansing Gotham by destroying it. Begins also features villain Scarecrow, a corrupt psychologist who uses hallucinogenic drugs to exploit his patient’s fears.
The choice of villains in this movie helps ground the entire story in reality, and also gives the series room to grow. Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow are virtual unknowns (unless you’re a super fan of the comic), but are also more easily moulded into realistic characters. It’s much easier to re-imagine a character that most moviegoers have no relationship with, and it’s much harder to make someone like Poison Ivy or Mr. Freeze seem like they could exist in the real world. Ra’s and Scarecrow allow the look and feel of this Gotham to be firmly established before adding villains that the audience will have preconceived notions about. It also gave the franchise the opportunity to build expectation in successive installments. Everyone has a favorite Batman nemesis– Catwoman, Riddler, The Joker, The Penguin, Two Face– after Begins was released it was just a matter of who would appear, and when. In the world of Batman, the villains are everything. This movie plays off this truth incredibly well.
The cast of Batman Begins is amazing. Christian Bale is the best Batman and Bruce Wayne ever. He perfectly fills both roles, and brings complexity to the character. He is a troubled man, trying to save the city his father loved. Liam Neeson nails it as Ra’s al Ghul, a villain who is not crazy, just terribly misguided. Cillian Murphy is plenty creepy as Scarecrow, who is crazy in a typical Batman baddie sense, but still real enough to be believable. My absolute favorite, though, is Gary Oldman as James Gordon. The first time I saw this I sat through the entire movie and didn’t realize it was Oldman until the end credits. He so completely becomes the character that you hardly recognize him as himself. The only weak spot is Katie Holmes. I just don’t think she has the chops to be a convincing district attorney, nor is she a believable love interest for Bale’s Bruce Wayne. She tries, but the role is better served by a more mature, experienced actress (which luckily we get in the next movie).
So after Batman & Robin, the Batman franchise was pretty much untouchable. That debacle had ruined any sort of goodwill the character had built up over the years so the Caped Crusader was put on the shelf. Christopher Nolan is a brave man. You gotta have some balls to try and resurrect a franchise that had been turned into a laughing stock. I’m glad Nolan was brave enough to tackle this character though. He has given us the definitive version of Batman and managed to make him cool again.
This film chronicles Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) early adventures as Batman, as well as the lead up to his donning of the cape and cowl. Wayne is a lost man after witnessing his parents death as a child. He travels the world trying to understand criminals, eventually ending in jail himself. After his prison term, he joins up with the League of Shadows and is mentored by Henry Ducard (Liam Neeson). The league of shadows train Wayne to be a shadow and show him how to defeat many men at a time without detection– all tools that will be needed when he returns to Gotham with the intention of cleaning up his city. Gotham City has become a run down cesspool filled with mob bosses, criminals and crooked cops. With the help of his trusty butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), and the only straight cop in town, James Gordon (Gary Oldman), Wayne sets out as Batman to clean up his city by striking fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere.
Nolan does a really good job of keeping this film grounded in reality. The previous films had been very fantastical, but Nolan has created a world that the audience might believe actually exists. All of Batman’s tools and his suit have believable explanations and it is not far fetched that a billionaire with connections could acquire these items without much fuss. Wayne gets these items from the science division of his company. It is run by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who eventually becomes Batman’s equivalent of Q from the James Bond series. This was the first comic book movie to attempt to take itself seriously and also be grounded squarely in reality. Nolan has hired great actors for this film, with many Oscar winners and even more nominees among his cast. Before this film, you’d struggle to attract actors of this calibre to a comic book film. Nolan changed all of that.
This is a fantastic reboot of a previously dead character. I really liked how the focus is on Bruce Wayne and Batman for much of the film. Previous Batman films had him taking a backseat to the villains and their backstory is explored much more than Wayne’s is. This film puts him front and centre and it’s a really nice change to learn more about Wayne and why he does the things he does.