Title: Batman Begins
Number: Two Hundred And Three
Directer: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Seen on: DVD.
Seen Before: Several times before.
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe
Running Time: 140 minutes.
Favorite Performance: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Favorite Moment: With Wayne Manor burning above them, Bruce questions what good he ever did. Alfred, using words that had resonated with Bruce from a young age, shows Bruce he believes in him. Bruce reacts like a young child, showing how much he still struggled every day.
Favorite Line: Why do we fall, Bruce?”
Thoughts: When I was a child, two of my favorite TV shows were the completely opposite, Adam West “Batman”, and the animated “Batman”. The first tapped into my childish aspects, the over-the-top humor, whereas the latter tapped into the darker aspects of creating a realistic superhero. Ever since, Batman was always my favorite superhero. Tim Burton’s movies have changed over the years for me, when I was younger, I loved the first one and the second one was okay. As I grew older, I began to like them both less and less. The problem for me was that the first one felt like it had the best Batman in Michael Keaton, but I didn’t enjoy the portrayal of the Joker, it didn’t feel true for me. The second Burton film, I actually hate. It isn’t a Batman movie by Tim Burton, it’s a Tim Burton film that happens to co-star Batman. Neither of them are the Batman I ever wanted.
Joel Schumacher, is an unfairly ostracized director. Granted, the two Batman films he directed are painfully garish and colourful, to the point you cannot take them seriously at all. The weird thing, is that the year after “Batman Forever”, which wasn’t so great, he released “A Time To Kill”, a fantastic law drama that starred Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland and Kevin Spacey. Years before Batman, he also directed the popular cult film “The Lost Boys”, which I personally enjoyed. But the Batman films were a major misstep, which his career has struggled to get over.
In fact, probably the best Batman film I’d seen, up to this point, had been “Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm”, a feature length movie based on the animated series, which was dark, intelligent, fun, and true to the characters. And then, in the lead up to “The Dark Knight” debuting in cinema, I decided I’d be tempted to watch it. To prepare, I sat down for the first time to watch “Batman Begins”.
Roger Ebert himself could not put it any better than what he said for his review: “the Batman movie I’ve been waiting for, more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for.” The difference between this and the other Batman films is that, I can believe in the character of Bruce Wayne. The idea of “Begins” was to show the true origin of Bruce Wayne, a subject yet to be looked at in film. The first half of the film shows not only the aftermath of the death of Bruce’s parents, but also the build-up to the death of his parents. Instead of faceless shadows in a flashback, they are human characters, mostly presented by the father, Thomas. Thomas is played by the underrated Linus Roache, who infuses a loving relationship between him and his son, which means the death of him and his wife, which occurs half an hour into the film, is as impactful upon the audience as it is on Bruce. The loss of a father figure begins Bruce’s journey for self-discovery, as well as a search for a new father figure. His search for a father leads to a flirtation with the League of Shadows & Ra’s Al Ghul, but it is the loving care of his carer, Alfred, that truly brings closure to Wayne.
And it is in the performances that sells the film, the emotional arc of Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale was a solid independent actor who cemented his place as a leading man when he took the role of Bruce Wayne, throwing himself into both the physical and emotional state of Wayne. He buffs himself to a size that taps into the comic dimensions, he can both look like the playboy Wayne, and the determined Dark Knight, desperate for both revenge, and then justice. This is probably the best Batman film about Bruce Wayne.
It is also the best Batman film about his supporting cast. Gary Oldman infuses a weariness to a weathered down Jim Gordon, whose ideals are challenged by the city he inhabits. The introduction of Batman infuses him with a new spirit, and Oldman demonstrates this very well. We also have Michael Caine, who depicts an Alfred who has the compassion & loyalty of previous depictions, but also has a strength of capability when battling villains, unafraid to stand up for what is right. His strength is what helps to inspire Wayne, and the relationship between Caine & Bale is beautifully understated. And finally, Morgan Freeman introduces a newer ally, Lucius Fox, a former friend of Thomas Wayne who helps build Bruce’s new ‘toys’. Freeman is a legend when it comes to roles of older mentor, and here, he just brings his usual A-Game, offering many of the lighter moments, as does Caine. Three outstanding actors helping lift the film from a normal comic book film to a great drama/crime.
However, one of the only disappointing roles comes in the love interest. Katie Holmes isn’t a truly terrible actress, she just isn’t up to the level of the other actors, who are some of the best in the business. She just comes across as very lightweight in comparison to the others, sightly blown away when acting opposite Bale or Caine, who she mostly interacts with.
However, in direct comparison, we have the villains, who are fantastic. Cillian Murphy has the ability to invoke a cold intensity despite his welcoming, soft looks, his eyes able to communicate a madness that leaves the audience terrified. His soft spoken demeanor and intellectual attire makes it that much more impactful when he uses his fear gas on his opponents. The smoke induced appearance of his character is full of nightmare fuel. There is also Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Falcone, who similar to Murphy as Dr Crane, uses fear to rule his roost. Wilkinson adds enough nuance to his character to make him feel as if he had potential for his own film, representing the crime-ridden depression that enslaves Gotham. And finally, we have Liam Neeson as the dark father figure that causes Bruce’s quest for revenge to reach a crossroads. Neeson mixes the loving embrace of a father figure and the maniacal edge of a megalomaniac, certain that his way is not only the right way, but the only way. Neeson brings an undercurrent or rage that motivates his character, making him fascinating to watch.
Nolan & Goyer write a great superhero comic story that taps into the human and everyday side of Batman. Whereas most comic book movies would be fascinated by the villains and the costumed superhero, Nolan is fascinated by the man behind the mask, and it is this refreshing outlook that helps elevate this film. By emphasising the emotional context, this film has less the feel of a superhero film and more the feel of a drama. The shaky fight scenes utilises the allegory of the fear and rushed view of the gangsters, helping to make Batman feel otherworldly and terrifying. His “Swear to me!!!” scene is probably the first live action film that makes you believe that Batman would leave Gotham criminals quaking in fear. Nolan also uses great globe trotting aspects to help normalise Bruce Wayne’s search, making you believe in his journey.
Christopher Nolan has crafted a Batman movie that finally ticks the boxes for me. Before this film, I never loved any Batman films, I just enjoyed them. This was the first I loved, the first that made me care beyond the superficial, and the first where I could not wait for the sequel. So it was after my first watching of this movie, that I went to watch “The Dark Knight” in the cinema.
Thumbs Up, 9 out of 10