Batman Begins

 

  • Title:  Batman Begins
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Pictures
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, 2-disc Special Edition

“Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” — Alfred, quoting Thomas Wayne

Batman Begins is an excellent telling of the origins of Batman, that also manages to bring in two of Batman’s best and scariest enemies from DC Comics books – Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul. The movie begins with young Bruce, falling into a well, being frightened by bats, and being rescued by his father, Thomas. Flash forward to adult Bruce having nightmares about those same bats. We also, fairly quickly, see flashbacks to That Fateful Night – the death of Bruce’s parents. Interestingly enough, in this version – rather than Bruce and his family seeing Zorro at a local movie theater and having a good time — they are at the Opera, where some costumed witches on wires remind Bruce of bats, frightening him, – and he urges his parents to leave the theatre early. Either way, Bruce Wayne has a deeply felt guilt about the death of his parents.

Batman Begins then shows Bruce literally slumming around the world, learning the ways of the criminal. He’s found and “rescued” by Liam Neeson who brings him to the League of Shadows to train him as a Ninja. The training sequences are well done, and especially a training fight on a frozen lake is breathless to watch. When Bruce is ready to graduate, he faces one last test – killing a thief and a murderer. Bruce refuses, and in the ensuing fight destroys the mountain top hideaway, and Ra’s Al Ghul, he thinks.

Bruce then returns to Gotham City, to take his revenge by killing the man who killed his parents. Fate intervenes, however, and the man is killed by one of the gangster Falcone’s people before he can testify against Falcone and win his release. Bruce takes this for what it is – a sign. As do arguments against blind vengeance from his once girlfriend now Assistant DA Rachel Dawes. And so Bruce is set on another path, a path also suggested by Neeson during their training sessions — that of a symbol for justice, instead of a man seeking his own vengeance.

Bruce develops Batman, including picking up a few toys from the Applied Sciences/R&D department of Wayne Enterprises – the basis for the Batsuit, the Batmobile (now a modern tank), mono-filament grappling wire – the basics. But this Batman is not tech or gadget heavy. The classics and necessary are there (I love the memory-wire cape) but nothing silly or over-wrought is present.

Bruce then needs to test out not just the costume and his toys, but his mission. He goes after Falcone, the gangster. In the process of catching Falcone and his thugs during a drug bust, he finds out about Scarecrow, who has developed a lethal hallucinogen toxin (Scarecrow’s “fear gas”). When Bruce is exposed he ends up being rescued by Alfred, and then Lucius Fox, and is out of it for two days. Later, he rescues Rachel from the same gas, but is too late to save “the narrows” an island in the Gotham River and home to Arkham Asylum. Bruce, as Batman, also discovers that Scarecrow’s plot to pour his toxin into Gotham’s water supply is the tip of the iceberg – the man behind the curtain is Ra’s Al Ghul – not the man Bruce thought he killed in Tibet, but the man who taught him how to fight – Liam Neeson. Neeson trails Batman back to his manor, fights him, and burns down the house. But he also plans on destroying Gotham by using a Wayne Enterprises prototype Microwave Emitter to vaporize the city’s water supply and thus release Scarecrow’s toxic fear gas – causing Gotham to tear itself apart in mass panic. Batman succeeds in stopping Ra’s al Ghul.

Batman Begins is a very successful film. I enjoyed immensely the building up of all the little moments that made Bruce into Batman, not just the death of his parents, though that was certainly tragic enough, but his learning how to fight, and Bruce’s own drive not for simple vengeance but to see to it that no other little boy (or girl) goes through what he did.

I also liked the portrayal of the relationship between Alfred and Bruce in this film. Michael Caine plays Alfred perfectly – Bruce’s close friend, his advisor, and the only one who can stop Bruce when he starts to go too far. Alfred also has not only a deep caring for Bruce, the boy he’s raised like a son, but a deep understanding of why Bruce does what he does. For his part, Bruce trusts Alfred completely. Once he’s finished his training in Tibet – it’s Alfred he calls for a ride home (albeit in a private jet, but still). And when Bruce is nearly fatally poisoned with fear gas toxin by Scarecrow – it’s Alfred he calls, and Alfred who has to pick up the pieces. And when Bruce tears through Gotham in his tank-styled Batmobile, wrecking several police cars in the process – Alfred tears into Bruce, and although he gets through, Bruce also stops Alfred cold – by saying he did it to save Rachel, before asking Alfred to take her home. Caine is a perfect Alfred, and Bale is extremely good not just as Batman – but as Bruce Wayne, something other versions of Batman have often ignored. The rest of the cast also does an excellent job, especially Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox (Bruce’s man at Wayne Enterprises, though at the moment he’s been kicked down to the lowly Applied Sciences/R&D dept), and Gary Oldman as Sgt. James Gordon.

This film also goes to the roots of Batman in the DC books — borrowing story elements from Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween/Dark Victory. I appreciated seeing less obviously well-known Batman villians, namely Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul. I also really liked seeing how Bruce Wayne became Batman.

Finally, something has to be said about the excellent filming. I enjoyed seeing Chicago as Gotham City, though it’s not as obvious here as in The Dark Knight.  But I also like how light and shadow, so important to the myth of Batman, are used — and in a color film, too. There are moments when the lighting on Christian Bale’s face, where he’s half or even three quarters in shadow, that reminded me of  the great film noir films. And Noir has always been an inspiration for and important background to the Legend of Batman.

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Show it to your (older) children.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

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