Directed by Christopher Nolan
Produced by Larry J. Franco and Michael Uslan
Story by David Goyer
Screenplay by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan
BATMAN created by Bob Kane
I think we may finally have one here, folks. I really do. If the members of the Academy can get past their inherent prejudice against superhero movies and grow a collective set of balls, they’ll nominate Batman Begins as Best Picture of The Year when it comes time to give out Academy Awards. Yeah, I honestly think that Batman Begins is that good. I haven’t been this captivated by a superhero movie since the Richard Donner “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve and Batman Begins has replaced “Mask Of The Phantasm” as my favorite Batman movie. In terms of storytelling, character development, technical artistry and acting, Batman Begins has significantly raised the bar for superhero movies. It’s as revolutionary a movie as Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” with Michael Keaton.
But Christopher Nolan’s revision of the Batman legend is significantly different from Tim Burton’s. Burton was far more interested in the villains such as The Joker, The Penguin and Catwoman and so they got more screen time than Batman/Bruce Wayne. Also, Nolan doesn’t have the oddball performances and dark humor in his film that Tim Burton delighted in his. Don’t get me wrong: I love Tim Burton’s Batman films. I even liked Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever” and as I’ve said, “Mask Of The Phantasm” was better than all of them but Christopher Nolan and his extraordinary cast of actors are obviously taking no prisoners with this one. They set out to make a Batman movie that doesn’t have to be ashamed of its comic books roots. And this is the first live action Batman movie since the 1966 version with Adam West and “Mask Of The Phantasm” that is actually about the title character and it’s done with terrific imagery and intelligence. Hey, it even explains what those fins on Batman’s gloves are for and as far as I know, that has never been explained anywhere else and if a movie goes into that much detail about the character, I’m hooked and hooked good.
We all know the legend: one night while coming home from the theatre (in this movie, it’s the opera but in the comic books it’s from “The Mark Of Zorro” staring Tyrone Power) Dr. Thomas Wayne and his wife Martha are brutally murdered by small-time stick-up man Joe Chill right in front of their son, Bruce. Now while you and I would be traumatized by such an event it causes such a psychological scar in the child that for all intents and purposes, Bruce Wayne ceases to exist and instead, he is nothing but a creature fueled by grief, guilt, rage and above all, an overpowering need to strike back at not just the man who killed his parents and stole his childhood, but all crime and all criminals. In essence, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) wants to make sure that no child ever has to suffer what he has and in order to do so, he has to undergo a hideously brutal path to become the world’s greatest crime fighter. In order to do this, he disappears one night from Gotham City after a painful lesson from the supreme crime boss of Gotham, Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) in the true nature of Gotham City’s power structure and is actually declared dead.
Bruce isn’t dead, of course. He’s exiled himself from his wealth and privileged status to actually become a criminal in an effort to understand the criminal mind and this leads him to a hellishly brutal prison where Bruce meets Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a mysterious man of supernatural martial arts skill and a genius for psychological manipulation. Ducard offers Bruce membership in The League Of Shadows, a ninja-like cult that is devoted to destroying evil in the world by any means necessary, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Under Ducard’s expert tutelage, Bruce is able to channel his near psychotic rage into becoming his best student and indeed, Bruce is offered the position of becoming Ra’s Al Ghul’s primary executioner, his right hand man. Bruce rejects the offer and in a horrifying confrontation with The League Of Shadows, breaks his ties with them and returns to Gotham. He is now ready to use the skills and knowledge he’s gained during his exile to break the back of Gotham’s underworld.
Bruce returns to Gotham to reclaim his personal fortune that has been cared for by Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) the loyal Wayne butler who has served the family since before Bruce was born and his company, Wayne Enterprises which is firmly under the thumb of Mr. Earle (Rutger Hauer) who is determined to take the company public and is even more determined that Bruce won’t get in his way. Bruce finds an ally in the form of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who is not only a helluva financial wizard but a technological genius who has been stuck in a dead end branch of Wayne Enterprises where he has been developing wonderful toys that he gives to Bruce in a marvelous scene where he says: ‘The way I see it, Mr. Wayne, all this belongs to you anyway.” But Bruce also has to deal with matters of the heart as he is reunited with his childhood playmate/sweetheart Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) whose mother used to work for Bruce’s parents but now she’s a crusading Assistant District Attorney and she doesn’t like what’s happened to Bruce at all since he’s seemed to have changed from the determined young man full of morals and character into a playboy wastrel who thinks nothing of taking a swim in hotel fountains with empty headed supermodel trophy girlfriends.
Rachel’s efforts to put away the criminal element of Gotham is continually thwarted by Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) who spirits the criminals away to his gloomy, gothic Arkham Asylum where unknown to anyone, Dr. Crane is experimenting upon the patients with a gas that exposes anyone who breathes it to their deepest and most frightening fear. Dr. Crane’s identity as a Batman villain known as The Scarecrow won’t be surprising to anybody familiar with Batman and his world but the revelation of Dr. Crane’s involvement with the real villain of the movie was one total surprise for me that had me holding the top of my head for fear my brain would blow clean off. Yep, Batman Begins surprised me with a couple of really clever revelations and plot twists in the last half hour and that’s really rare for a movie nowadays to do that to me.
You’ve got the basic bones of the story and there’s a lot more besides that I haven’t gone into and that’s on purpose because a lot of the fun of Batman Begins comes from each and every revelation of The Batman Legend. For the first time on screen we’re seeing how Bruce Wayne became The Batman and it’s fascinating every step of the way. Even for somebody like me who has been reading Batman comics since I was old enough to read this movie taught me something new about the character and his world and it did it such a manner that it didn’t violate anything that I already knew and indeed, enhanced my understanding of Bruce Wayne/ Batman and his world.
The story is what makes the movie and the acting is what sells it and this is without the best cast I’ve seen in a movie made that year. Michael Caine should get Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth. I love Michael Gough to death as Alfred but good googlymoogly, Michael Caine IS Alfred. Just as Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne/Batman. But I loved how Christian Bale got to do his take on the classic Keaton “I’m BATMAN” scene which I’m convinced was a homage to Keaton…and hey, don’t laugh…remember when you saw the 1989 “Batman” in the theatres and the audience exploded into cheers and applauds when Keaton said it? I’m not ashamed to say that I did.
The rest of the supporting cast is top-notch. I’ve heard a lot of knocking of Katie Holmes but I liked her. But then again, I liked everybody is this movie. Although Liam Neeson seems to slip into Jedi Master mode during the scenes where he’s training Bruce Wayne, he’s awesome. As is Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer and Gary Oldman as Lieutenant James Gordon looks as if he stepped right out of the comic books.
If there’s a problem I have with the movie it’s the overuse of Batman’s cape as a glider that may give audiences the impression that Batman can fly. I kinda understand why the filmmakers did it because it relates to scenes where Gotham’s inhabitants are suffering hallucinations from Dr. Crane’s fear gas and see Batman as a terrifying creature. But I liked much better the scenes in Tim Burton’s Batman films where Batman was slowly cruising around Gotham in his badass Batmobile. And trust me, if Bale’s Batman cruised around Gotham in his Batmobile, even the cops would get off the streets.
So should you see Batman Begins? If I haven’t convinced you by now, then nothing will. Batman Begins was the best movie I saw in 2005 in terms of acting, production design and story. It’s a good movie, PERIOD. As a superhero movie it ranks up there with “Superman: The Movie”, which I still say is the best superhero movie ever made but this is an equal to it. Christian Bale has done a remarkable job of putting the Bruce Wayne/Batman I know from the comics up on the screen. Christopher Nolan has earned every red cent Warner Brothers paid him for this movie and the supporting cast has nothing to be ashamed of. Batman Begins, like “Superman: The Movie” is so good and such a testament to the dedication of the people that worked on it that it is lifted up out of the ghetto that superhero movies are placed in and takes it’s place as simply a good movie. One that functions as both outstanding entertainment you can’t take your eyes off of and a work of compelling cinematic storytelling.