Batman Begins (2005)

28 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne; as a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol…I can be incorruptible.”

That’s a crucial line of dialogue said early on in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” and yes, it is said by billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne to his loyal butler, Alfred. Wayne has traveled the world and seen many faces of evil and corruptibility. Now he returns to Gotham City to introduce a new image in the name of justice, which is of course…Batman.

As the title suggests, “Batman Begins” digs deep into the origins of Batman and the psychology of Bruce Wayne. This is the Batman movie that people have been waiting for, after two movies directed by Tim Burton and two others directed by Joel Schumacher. Burton’s movies were very dark in tone, but they focused more on the villains than on the Dark Knight himself (which I thought worked extremely well to the first film’s advantage, but that’s another story) and Schumacher’s movies were much, much campier. Fans hated his “Batman & Robin” and it seemed as if the story of Batman was dead. Christopher Nolan took things from scratch about eight years later, and decided to tell his version from the eyes of Bruce Wayne/Batman. While not exactly having the noir-look of the original Burton film, Nolan’s “Batman Begins” is still very dark, very tense, and very exciting. “Batman Begins” is a serious, gritty, hardcore version of a superhero origin-story. It shows the origins of Batman in an unbelievably realistic way (well, realistic for its world, anyway).

As the movie opens, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is rescued from an Asian prison by a vigilante group known as the League of Shadows, led by Ducard (Liam Neeson) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanbe). We see in flashbacks why Bruce is haunted by his past, as is revealed when he falls into training with the League. He fears bats due to childhood trauma and has watched his parents be gunned down and killed by a street thug; years later, as the culprit is finally put on trial, he attempts to kill him, but someone beats him to it. Now he has been wandering the world, picking fights wherever he can until he is picked up by the League of Shadows, whose main purpose is to restore balance to a world that seems inconsistent due to the high rise of crime. After much training under Ducard, Bruce becomes a powerful weapon. But once he sees that…well, the League of Shadows is freaking demented in their morals and ethics (according to a line of dialogue, they “burned London to the ground”), Bruce bails and makes his way back to Gotham and bring an end to the city’s crime wave. But he decides not to do this as Bruce Wayne, but as a menacing alter-ego. Enlisting the help of his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and an inventor who has some ingenious tools and contraptions (such as what will be the Batmobile), Bruce becomes Batman, with a black costume & mask and an aerodynamic cape. He also enlists the help of a good cop, Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman), in his crusades as Batman, and makes two enemies in the process—the crime lord, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), and a crazed psychiatrist (Cillian Murphy), who has a drug that makes people go crazy (he uses this to be his clients in his asylum). Oh, and he’s also known as the Scarecrow.

Elements of Batman’s history have been reconstructed by Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer so that it all becomes the film’s focus—how the Caped Crusader/Dark Knight came to be. Things were sort of hinted at in the other movies, such as the deaths of Bruce’s parents, but we see everything in great detail—how Bruce became a fighter; where he got his weapons and armory; where the Batmobile came from; why Bruce chose bats as a symbol of fear; how the Batcave was created. More importantly, there’s a clear understanding of Bruce Wayne. We know who he is and why he does all of this. In the Burton film, it was hinted at. Here, you know everything. While to me that may seem like an inconvenience, as I felt in the original film that less was more, but here it’s all solidly handled and very riveting.

Christian Bale owns it as Bruce Wayne/Batman. It would have been hard to rival Michael Keaton’s definitive Batman, and it’s an even bigger risk seeing as how this is essentially all about the Bruce Wayne character, but Bale is very good here. He’s sympathetic and a solid heroic figure to follow and root for. And he also makes Batman his own performance as well (though that gruff voice gets a little tiresome after a while).

Bale is more-than-ably supporting by an excellent supporting cast. The cast members in this movie—Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson—don’t seem to be playing their roles as if they knew they were in a “superhero movie.” They get the reality of this world, and play their roles straight to great effect. Oldman, in particular, is surprisingly convincing as Lieutenant Gordon, who, hey, could one day become Commissioner Gordon if he keeps on Batman’s side.

The story is very involving and gets even more so with a hell of an evil scheme, devised by the Scarecrow, to vaporize the city’s water and insert the “crazy drug” in it so people will inhale it and go crazy. All depends on how fast and easily Batman will be able to stop a fast-moving elevated train carrying the drug from getting to the center, which happens to be Wayne Tower. This scene, along with many other action scenes, are tense and kinetic. This is another Nolan strength—keeping the action adrenaline-fueled and knowing how to keep it from being boring or repetitive.

Oh, and there’s also Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), a lawyer who was Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and now has the possibility of being a romantic-interest. At first, I thought her character was superfluous, but she does grow to become essential to certain things that are what Batman is meant to do, and meant to protect. And it’s obvious her role is meant for further development in a sequel (lucky there was one, but I’ll get to that some other time).

In addition to being entertaining, “Batman Begins” works on a dramatic level. The psychological elements involving the Bruce Wayne character work perfectly and the film is consistent in tone. The characters are strongly-developed. The look is suitably dark. The story is very strong. The action is far from distracting. “Batman Begins” is a strong film—one of the best involving a superhero I’ve ever seen.

And it would only get better one movie later, but that’s another review…

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