Should I Watch..? 'Batman Begins'
What's the big deal?
Batman Begins is a psychological superhero thriller film released in 2005 and is based upon the famous DC character of the same name. Although there had been five previous movies dealing with Batman, this is the first to explore the origins of the character from the death of Bruce Wayne's parents Thomas and Martha, Bruce's training with the League Of Shadows and finally, his adoption of the Batman persona fighting crime in Gotham City. It was the first Batman film directed by Christopher Nolan as part of what would later be called the Dark Knight trilogy and it marked the first appearance of Christian Bale in the dual role of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Considered much darker than previous Batman films, its influences include a number of highly regarded graphic novels such as "Batman: Year One" and "Batman: The Long Halloween". And for what it's worth, it's my favourite Batman movie ever made.
What's it about?
Young Bruce Wayne begins to suffer from a fear of bats after falling down a well by accident. Still recovering from his ordeal, his parents Thomas and Martha escort Bruce to the opera but Bruce soon asks to leave during a scene that triggers flashbacks. Once outside, a street hoodlum named Joe Chill brutally murders Thomas and Martha in a botched robbery but spares Bruce's life, leaving him an orphan and in the care of the family's butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
Fourteen years later and Bruce witnesses Chill being gunned down by an associate of mob boss Carmine Falcone, beating Bruce to the chance. Realising that true justice had not been served, Bruce travels the world to hone his skills in becoming a crime fighter. He falls in with the League Of Shadows under the stewardship of Henri Ducard and later returns to Gotham to begin his career as an anonymous crime fighter. Initially targeting Falcone, Bruce realises that there are far more dangerous foes like the twisted criminal psychologist Dr Jonathon Crane...
Bruce Wayne / Batman
Sgt. James Gordon
Rachel Dawes, Assistant DA
Dr. Jonathon Crane / Scarecrow
Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer *
Release Date (UK)
16th June, 2005
Action, Superhero, Thriller
Academy Award Nomination
Worst Supporting Actress (Holmes)
What's to like?
I have always been a passionate defender of Tim Burton's Batman, which had fought hard to bring a dark vision of the Caped Crusader to the big screen. Nolan's modern updating goes one step further, showing us a disturbed Wayne bordering on becoming a patient himself in Arkham Asylum. It banishes those tarnished memories of Joel Schumacher's colourful camp-fest Batman & Robin by being a gripping, light-on-action, heavy-on-dialogue psychological thriller that would prove as influential as it did controversial. The nature of Batman's character had been called into question by graphic novels like "The Killing Joke" and "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" and it's great to see this come across in a film at long last.
Bale, being one of the best actors currently working, is fantastic as Bruce whose playboy antics clash starkly with the role of tortured young man searching for answers. As Batman, he's less effective thanks to a Steven Seagal-type growl that thankfully doesn't completely undo the awesome sight of the Dark Knight kicking several colours of crap out of the nearest baddies. Murphy and Oldman also push hard as the genuinely unsettling Scarecrow and Gordon respectively while Freeman's appearance as Fox is played somewhat lighter than the rest of the film, bringing to mind 007's exchanges with Q in the Bond series.
The film also manages to create an epic setting for this movie - Gotham is a maze of skyscrapers, tunnels and rundown slums illuminated by a stunning monorail that rumbles through the city's skyline. Nolan's film is an intoxicating blend of the vast and the intimate, an enormous canvas for one man to put his mark on the city.
- While shooting in Chicago, a drunk driver managed to crash into the Batmobile. He claimed to have panicked, believing it to be an alien spacecraft.
- Due to the stresses on it playing Batman, Bale lost his voice three times during the shooting of the film.
- Due to his part in The Machinist, Bale weighed around 120 lbs - vastly underweight given his 6 foot frame. After being cast, Nolan told Bale to put on as much weight as he could before shooting and Bale did, gaining an extra 100 lbs in six months. This led to friends of his calling him "Fatman" so he lost an additional 20 lbs and became much leaner as a result.
What's not to like?
The film does have a rather large elephant in the room which, I imagine, you might have already picked up on in the cast list. Katie Holmes, that all-American actress with the girl-next-door look perfected, is the wrong choice to play a ball-busting Assistant DA, plain and simple. But given that she plays Bruce's possible love interest, there isn't much luck for her there either as she and Bale have no chemistry at all. It almost feels like Bale decided that he didn't want a love interest in the film but rest easy, she's replaced in The Dark Knight by Maggie Gyllenhaal who does much better.
The film also lacks any real noticeable action, compared to The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises which have scenes of brutal violence and high drama. Batman Begins can feel a little slow if viewers are used to non-stop action but this film and this story is one that doesn't need action to drive it. It's about the people, the characters and the choices they make and not just about how good the Batmobile looks (I still prefer Burton's elongated fire-spitter from Batman) or how many bad guys Bale can take out. This is a far cry from the light-hearted antics of Avengers Assemble but it's more plausible somehow.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the World's Greatest Detective will have been waiting a long time for a movie to finally deliver on the promise and Nolan did just that, delivering a stunning film that offers us what we've wanted all this time. The film is a near-perfect blend of origin tale, crime thriller and action sequences as well as throwing in a couple of really frightening moments to wake up viewers used to Marvel's constant stream of CG-flavoured visual gimmickry.
Great For: Batman fans of all ages, Marvel (who sat up and took notice)
Not So Great For: fans of the 60's TV show, people who aren't into superheroes
What else should I watch?
The real beauty of Batman Begins is in how influential it proved to be after its release. The likes of Casino Royale, Iron Man, X-Men: First Class and Skyfall and many others all owe a debt of gratitude to Nolan and his team.
The biggest benefactors, however, were definitely Marvel who suddenly noticed that their otherworldly characters could exist in a recognisable world like ours. Within a few years, Marvel would begin work on their ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) which would link all of their feature films together into one single continuity. From Iron Man and its geektastic post-credits scene hinting at a much bigger picture, things would snowball until we were given Avengers Assemble, a film that was so brilliantly entertaining that it actually overshadowed the release of the closing part of Nolan's trilogy The Dark Knight Rises. But Nolan still had one more film to deliver between Batman Begins and then - The Dark Knight would change the way Hollywood looked at superhero films forever.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox