directed by Christopher Nolan
starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy
You would be hard pressed to find a more complex and intriguing character study than Bruce Wayne. By day he’s a captain of industry and a philanthropist. By night he’s crime’s worst enemy, Batman. It is that dichotomy, discovering what pushes a man over the edge to dress up in body armor, cowl and cape that drives Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
Nolan, the director of Memento and Insomnia, is no stranger to lensing films about the inner darkness that drives men to extremes. Technically, his films have always been crisp and seamless. His slick style of using flashbacks, fast edits and murky atmospherics have always brought this darkness to the screen. That’s why the honchos at Warner Brothers took stock in the future and handed over their dormant Batman franchise to this promising director.
With Batman Begins, Nolan has completely revamped the look, style and emotional resonance of the Caped Crusader. First, he joined forces with screenwriter/comics aficionado David Goyer (the Blade trilogy, Dark City), then he brought in the versatile Christian Bale to play the lead and surrounded him with a great ensemble (including Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer and Katie Holmes) that would not only be perfectly cast but would also play it straight dramatically, making much more realistic.
In the past, Batman’s lead actors (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney and even Adam West) were either good as Bruce Wayne and terrible as Batman, or great as Batman and terrible as Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale puts an end to all of that by bringing symmetry to both roles. He perfectly captures the complexities of Bruce Wayne while exacerbating the vigilante within that makes Batman tick. His hard work pays off big dividends because with Batman Begins the Dark Knight returns in a big way.
One of the reasons why this happens is because writer David Goyer decided to try something fresh with the film. Being a fan of the comics, he knew that one of the reasons why the previous series of Batman flicks fizzled was because they always dealt exclusively with the Dark Knight’s crime-fighting escapades. Seeing this mistake Goyer turned the page and focused on Bruce Wayne himself and how his inner demons, anger and fears drove him to fight crime. As a result, his story marked a strong break from the past where Batman writers and directors glossed over the reasons why Bruce Wayne became Batman.
Batman Begins opens in Bhutan, where a reclusive Bruce Wayne has been freed from prison by the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson). Ducard knows that Wayne’s desire to educate himself in the ways of the criminal underworld has led him down a dangerous path, making the industrial heir himself a criminal. Ducard recruits Wayne for the League of Shadows, a sort of extremist, paramilitary ninja vigilante group that takes no prisoners in fighting crime around the world. Under Ducard’s mentorship, Wayne learns how to use his fears, force, stealth and cunning to fight crime.
Things turn on Bruce Wayne however after he has a philosophical break with Ducard and the leader of the League of Shadows, Ra’s al Ghul (Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe). In the ensuing melee, the whole place gets trashed and a renewed Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City.
Although Bruce hasn’t walked the streets of Gotham for seven years, things haven’t changed all that much. Gotham is still a hotbed of crime led by mobster Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), who uses thugs and crooked cops to keep a tight grip on the city. To make matters worse, Bruce goes back to work only to discover that his company is about to go public, leaving the millionaire out of the company his father started.
While at Wayne Industries, he meets Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), a weapons inventor with brilliant resourcefulness who just happens to toil away in isolation beneath the company’s headquarters. In an ‘ask no questions agreement,’ Wayne enlists Fox to make Batman’s cool toys. Complicating things further is Bruce’s childhood friend, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), who is now an assistant D.A. in Gotham. There is definitely long-standing sexual tension between the two. However their romance is blunted by the fact that Rachel sees fighting crime in black and white terms where Bruce Wayne sees things in shades of grey. Although she is a useful ally in fighting crime the philosophical gulf between them underscores how just how much they’ve drifted apart. To her credit Holmes does as best as she can with the film’s most one-dimensional character. She gives Rachel a moral rectitude and abrupt honesty that rattles both Bruce Wayne as well as his alter ego.
While Bruce is getting settled back into Gotham, a new evil, the Scarecrow, is at large in the city. The Scarecrow, in the human guise of criminal psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), has set in motion a dastardly plot to drive the city’s inhabitants mad by contaminating the city’s water supply. In order to do this he uses his pull with Falcone and people within the Police department to have Gotham’s best criminals declared insane and moved to his criminal safe haven at Arkham Asylum.
As Batman begins to clean up the streets of Gotham he realizes that he can’t do it all alone. With that in mind, Bruce first turns to his most trusted confidant, Alfred, the Wayne family Butler (Michael Caine). In a tempestuously fast-paced film, Caine is delightfully calming. He brings a sense of humanity to the film. Besides being Bruce’s only real family, he also serves as the moral compass that keeps him from crossing the thin line between vengeance and justice.
Batman’s other ally, Police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is a lifelong good cop committed to ridding the streets of crime but powerless to clean up his own corrupt department. Gordon knows the city’s police department is corrupt but turns a blind eye to fighting it because he knows he cannot go it alone. Oldman is perfect for the role, portraying Gordon in both appearance and character as he appeared in recent graphic novels like Batman: Year One.Gordon’s role will expand in subsequent films and Oldman is the perfect actor to expand the role. Although it is odd to see Oldman, an actor known for playing unsavory characters, playing it straight and good onscreen.
Nolan’s film is a sprawling epic that explains every intrinsic detail of how Batman came to be. Most of the backstory serves to build up the film’s many confrontations and brings the action to a head in the latter half of the film, when Batman crosses paths with The Scarecrow and discovers the true identity of the villain behind his evil machinations.
Batman Begins is the first summer blockbuster that truly does live up to its hype. Its dark sets, dim lighting and incredible editing create an atmosphere that lures the audience in. The film perfectly develops its lead characters and paces the plot in a way that doesn’t insult the intelligence of both longtime fans and curious moviegoers.
Batman Begins: www.batmanbegins.com