While I’ve never read a comic book, I’ve always considered myself a Batman fan, ever since I was a six-year-old watching Batman: The Animated Series. Since then I’ve enjoyed Joel Schumacher’s films (even now in a guilty pleasure way) and then the Tim Burton films when I was mature enough to watch them. It is The Dark Knight Trilogy, however that are my favourite Batman adaptations.
After the disaster that was Batman & Robin, Batman films have been on an 8-year hiatus until Christopher Nolan took a huge risk rebooting the franchise for a more mature audience. When I first saw Batman Begins I was unsure how I felt about it, for one I feel origin films for superheroes can be hit-or-miss, and I found the first half of the story a little hard to follow, with it’s non-linear structure. Also, most of the gothic imagery and/or any cartoonish charm that the other films contained, were stripped away for a more realistic and gritty tone.
On my second viewing however, I fell in love with this film. Re-watching the origin parts was a lot easier and it became fascinating following Bruce Wayne’s journey from the grief-stricken young heir, to the dark and brooding vigilante. The film at its core is a character study of the man behind the mask, as well as a political crime thriller, all under the disguise of a superhero action film.
Director Christopher Nolan explores the psychology of Bruce Wayne as well the criminal world of Gotham City. He stripped the comic book world of Batman to its basics and adapted it into a more realistic world, creating an alternate reality of our world that Batman could exist in.
The film makes the effort to explore the realities of how Bruce becomes Batman, such as how he obtains so much equipment and funds it without anyone noticing, or how he gets Commissioner Gordon to legally support him despite the vigilantism. I can’t say if it is realistic, but it does make sense within the world it setup and it’s clear that Christopher Nolan put a lot of thought into it.
The Batman costume design looks great, omitting the yellow logo and being all black that still fits with the description of ‘theatricality and deception is a powerful weapon’. The batmobile has been replaced with the Tumbler, which is like a high-tech army tank; while the design takes some getting used to, it’s still just as practical. The Scarecrow costume has been simplified to a burlap-sack and stitches, which looks frightening.
The main theme of the film is – Fear. As a child Bruce was frightened of bats, during his transition phase he learnt to overcome his fear of them and dresses like one to strike fear in his enemies. Fear also comes into play with the main villain’s plot destroy Gotham via a deadly fear toxin.
Christian Bale is the perfect casting choice for our titular hero. In this film alone, he had the responsibility of portraying Bruce Wayne in several different stages – revenge driven college student, prisoner and League of Shadow’s trainee, billionaire playboy, and Batman too. That is a lot for one actor to handle, yet he pulls it all off brilliantly, very convincing in each stage of Bruce’s character.
Bruce is a largely sympathetic character, who has gone through trauma and has gone through the most difficult journey to not only become a hero but learn what it means to be a hero. To understand the difference between justice and revenge and the importance of having a moral code – such as not killing.
Michael Caine is excellent as Alfred, the butler who has served the Wayne family and kept the manor going, who has a father-son bond with Bruce. There’s also powerhouse support from Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox a Wayne Enterprises inventor, Liam Neeson as Henry Ducard who trains Bruce for the League of Shadows, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, a determined police officer who has faith in Batman. We also have a scene-stealing performance by Cillian Murphy as Dr Crane/Scarecrow, who is super crazy and pretty frightening at times.
The only weak link would be Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. She doesn’t do a horrible job but compared to the rest of the cast she’s a little bland. While Rachel’s character serves her purpose of providing Bruce the moral conscience, and contributes a little more to the plot than the average superhero love interest (just needing to be rescued *cough* Mary-Jane Watson *cough*), the romance is very awkwardly depicted.
There are several memorable scenes, such as the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce’s training with the League of Shadows, Batman’s debut, the Tumbler chase and the burning of Wayne Manor.
Christopher Nolan successfully delivers on an origin story for Batman without losing his appeal as a dark brooding hero. While the non-linear structure is a little difficult at first, it successfully delivers layers of plot with great characters and action sequences.
Written by Jack Parish