Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Bob Kane (characters), David S. Goyer (story)
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy
Batman Begins opens with young Bruce and young Rachel playing in the grounds of Wayne Manor when Bruce accidentally falls down an old well landing in a cave full of Bats. Here we realise his fear and this plays well later and throughout the movie and basically is the theme of this first instalment of The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Let me take you back to a time when Batman, The Caped Crusader, The Dark Knight etc etc wasn’t cool. I’m not talking about BvS here either, as Batman was one of the plus points of that movie. No I’m talking about….. the year is 1997 and Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin is released. Enough said? Well not really, some consider that incarnation of DC’s Superhero almost killed the franchise and if you witnessed this train wreck I wouldn’t hold it against you for thinking that way.
So when Batman Begins was announced I have to admit I wasn’t overly keen devoting much time back into the Saviour of Gotham City. I personally felt that not enough time had passed by at this point and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one thinking things were still too raw to even go there. The choice of Director wasn’t exciting me enough either because in 2005 I think my only Christopher Nolan movie that I had viewed was Memento which although is a good film, I wasn’t sure if Nolan would be able to handle such an occasion (The Rebirth of Batman you say?) bare in mind up to this point the only other movie I had heard of him doing was Insomnia staring Al Pacino and Robin Williams that I had gone back and viewed once I jumped on the Nolan Gravy Train and hadn’t looked back since. The choice of playing the lead role is the young boy Jim from Empire of the Sun and more recently that creep Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Again what the hell are they doing at Warner Bros was my war cry.
You see folks, this is why I write movie reviews and why I don’t attempt writing movie screenplays or scripts. Now my war cry is (out with The Dark Knight) Batman Begins is the greatest superhero movie made ever, yeah hindsight is a great thing and I never claimed to have 20/20 hindsight anyway.
Nolan’s journey for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is styled on going back and forth throughout his younger years leading up to an established Bruce Wayne complete with training ready to share his fear with his enemies but before then we travel through the terrible tragedy of Thomas (Linus Roache) and Martha Wayne’s (Sara Stewart) murders at the hands of Joe Chill (Richard Brake). An angry Bruce seeks revenge on Chill years later when he is released only to be robbed of killing his parents murderer when one of Falcone’s (Tom Wilkinson) hench woman intervenes and silences stone dead Chill before he even gets out the courtroom. Bruce confronting Falcone only to be set on his way with Falcone taunting the billionaire saying “you got spirit kid, I’ll give you that. More than your old man had. Chill told me the night of your parents murder that your father,he begged Chill for his life….begged….like a dog”
This is the turning point for Bruce as he realises he isn’t prepared to tackle the corrupt in his city just yet and disappears for seven years (presumed dead by the people of Gotham) in this time Bruce seeks direction and purpose ending in brawls and being in the wrong place during a stake out ending up in prison where he practices his fighting on the inmates until a man who goes by the name of Ducard (Liam Neeson) offers Bruce a chance to add purpose to his life and join him in training to become a member of the league of shadows.
The scenery in this section of the movie is stunning and visually beautiful and captures the isolation of these warriors who are cut off from civilisation but insist on controlling civilisation throughout time. The training of Bruce Wayne has never been explored until now on the big screen and this is one of the most enjoyable sequences in the movie, not only for the terrific fighting choreography but the dialogue between Ducard and Bruce and how they differ on how far they will go in terms of vengeance explains on the differences between both of them and you know at some point they aren’t going to agree on something.
We don’t have long to wait until that “something” happens. When Bruce has basically convinced the League of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul that he is ready to face the trials to become one of them he is faced with a moral test that will deter whether or not he is ready. When Bruce is asked to execute a local man for theft, Bruce beliefs in the justice system of being triad for his crimes angering his mentors and a battle between the League of Shadows and the young prodigy begins when he refuses to execute the thief.
Now Batman Begins……
The second half of this movie is so nicely set up in a way it’s like climbing a mountain (much like Bruce had to do) to reach the peak to admire the view before grabbing a sledge to slide all the way back down for the sheer enjoyment of it all. That’s exactly what the second half of this movie is like. We begin to see a superhero in the making from working along side Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) “Applied Sciences” a division of Wayne Enterprises that is basically how Batman gets his suit, gadgets and car…..or in this case “The Tumbler” I always love moments like these in movies whether it be in Bond or more lately The Kingsman. Who doesn’t like gadgets?
Bruce is also reacquainted with his oldest Rachel Daws (Katie Holmes) who is now the assistant DA of Gotham City who is in hot pursuit of Falcone and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) also known as “The Scarecrow” who is conveniently sectioning half of the mob as part of his experiments into hallucinogenics with fear.
I personally think the “Comic Book” villain of this film is the right choice. Batman Begins is an origins story of not just Batman but more so Bruce Wayne and his story. So it was correct in using “The Scarecrow” as a go between the Mob and the League of Shadows. Murphy almost plays Crane as slightly unhinged and creepy but with an arrogance. Cillian Murphy is a reliable actor who Christopher Nolan uses so well in all the movies he has directed the actor in. The Scenes with The Mob and in particular Murphy and Wilkinson are clever as we begin to see who’s role is who in the grand scheme of things. Wilkinson is a credible Falcone and throws his weight around in the beginning but when we see Dr. Jonathan Crane arrive on the scene we begin to see who is bossing who and there is a slight fear on Falcone with Crane when he describes “The Scarecrow” in the third person that Falcone doesn’t realise are but of the same person. It doesn’t stop there as we then discover Crane is actually a pawn himself for the League of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul.
Liam Neeson is that good he doesn’t have to do accents in any of the movies he appears in. As Ducard and as the villain is so persuasive in his theory that Gotham must be wiped and rebuilt that he is able to use villains as The Scarecrow to contaminate the water system in Gotham and using microwave currents to vaporise that water to create a hallucinogenic steam that will send residents of the city into chaos and fear tearing them apart. It’s not only the weak minded that Ducart can manipulate but I sensed that he even had Bruce Wayne thinking about it and convinced him to join the League of Shadows in the first place. This is one of my favourite films with Liam Neeson and his character is well developed as we get a glimpse of his backstory too as well as his beliefs.
Throughout all the chaos in the story it is always comforting to know that in most films you have the calming influence. The character in the movie who can see clearly through the muddy waters and someone Bruce can trust and rely on. The Character is of course Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s Butler. In Batman Begins Alfred is portrayed a little more than just Wayne’s man servant though and in the earlier scenes we discover how Alfred acted as the guardian of young master Bruce and becoming confident to him later in his adult life. Michael Caine portrays the character so perfectly and gives of the vibe that there is more to him than just serving tea to the rich. You can sense (and it’s confirmed in The Dark Knight) that his has seen some action in his younger days and is a tough old nut. That’s down to Caine and his delivery of the character and body language. The scenes between Bruce and Alfred at times are very light in tone to keep that calming presence preserved and there are some touching scenes between them.
The climatic last third of this film is stunning and Christopher Nolan really gives us an insight to ground zero Gotham. The tones and style of this part of the film reminded me of the 1993 film “The Crow” starring Brandon Lee. The City is a dark place in Batman Begins and I just don’t mean the time of day. The people are repressed and almost downtrodden. The villains are sinister and manipulative and this third act really shows you where Nolan is going with this franchise. The battle between Ducard and Batman on the train is so memorable and quotable “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you”. What a line eh?
Batman Begins is wrapped up without me giving too much away in the most perfect way that isn’t really a spoiler as we know there are sequels.
Jim Gordon: We still haven’t picked up Crane or half the inmates of Arkham that he freed.
Batman: We will. We *can* bring Gotham back.
Jim Gordon: What about escalation?
Jim Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.
Jim Gordon: And, you’re wearing a mask. Jumping off rooftops. Now, take this guy.
[pulling out a file]
Jim Gordon: Armed robbery, double homicide, has a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.
[shows Batman a plastic evidence bag containing a Joker card]
Batman: I’ll look into it.
[turns away and walks to the edge of the roof]
Jim Gordon: I never said thank you.
Batman: [looks back at Gordon] And you’ll never have to.
As previously mentioned this is almost the perfect comic book film and one that I revisit every couple of years. The casting is phenomenal and balanced and everyone plays their part brilliantly. The Direction of Nolan is one of the greatest witnessed on the big screen and in 2005 you wouldn’t believe could be topped. Even if you aren’t a comic book fan you will enjoy this first part of the Dark Knight Trilogy and it really sets up the two sequels in a way that maintains its tone throughout the larger story and tone of these films. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t watched this to do so now.