directed by Christopher Nolan
written by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
starring Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Rutger Hauer, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe
Bringing a darker, more pristine aesthetic to the Batman franchise, Batman Begins explores the origins story of Bruce Wayne (Bale) and demonstrates the measures he undertook to become the infamous Caped Crusader.
The film begins with parallel narratives depicting both Bruce’s childhood and his capture and detainment in a Bhutanese prison camp. As a child Bruce falls into a cave and is assaulted by a colony of bats. This episode instills in him a lifelong fear of bats. Bruce later freaks out at the opera featuring a bat like protagonist and asks to be taken home. In the alley outside the theater Bruce and his parents are accosted by Joe Chill (Richard Brake) who shoots both parents and escapes. Bruce blames himself for being to scared to stay at the opera. Meanwhile the other narrative shows Bruce meeting a man named Henri Ducard (Neeson) who teaches him through jujitsu and other fighting techniques how to conquer his fear and initiates him into the League of Shadows, a secret collective of individuals whose ostensible purpose is to fight crime. Bruce returns home after setting fire to the building, barely escaping with his life.
The film depicts the genesis of Batman through a meeting with a man named Lucius Fox who works for Wayne Enterprises. Through Fox Bruce obtains the “Tumbler”, a tank like vehicle as well as the bat suit. From this point on he becomes Batman and proceeds to turn the city over by bringing down the top dog in town, a criminal boss named Carmine Falcone. The film initiates an exceedingly melancholy mood that permeates every scene, particular those featuring Wayne when he is brooding or suffering nightmarish visions of his childhood. He quickly overcomes his fear of bats and uses them to create mass chaos in the Arkham sanitarium which is ran by the mysterious and diabolical Dr. Jonathan Crane, a psychopharmacologist who has developed a hallucinogenic fear toxin that he uses on inmates in an effort to understand the nature of fear and how it is articulated.
The story is so intricately delivered that it’s difficult to focus on just one aspect in order to convey the totality of the story. Suffice to say there is a terrible plot underfoot and Batman uses all his resources to combat and ultimately defeat it. It’s thrilling and intoxicating and the chase sequences are exhilarating and stand on their own as dynamic scenes that get the viewer straight into the heart of the action. There are truly mesmeric moments that bring the story into clear focus, and Gotham looks as bleak and imposing as one could possibly hope. This film allows for a clearer understanding of Batman than previous version which tended to feature the villains most prominently and left Batman a giant question mark with no investigation into where he came from and how he became the creature destined to uproot crime at every turn.
The film is sharply written without any of the cute one-liners that proved to be simple and cheap tactics to leave audiences with an easy coda to take home and impress their friends with. There are no such easy escapes in this film as the dialog is richer and more psychologically developed.
This is a film about relationships that prove necessary primarily to Bruce as he navigates his way around Gotham while looking to cause trouble and upset the cushy lives of those criminals who have ran the town into the sewer. Of particular note is the connection between Batman and Jim Gordon (Oldman) which is a partnership that speaks to the same fundamental goal: to get the scum off the streets and sent away as long as possible. It’s a relationship built on mutual respect and they work in unison to get the job done with as much alacrity as is possible considering the circumstances. There is also the deep friendship between Bruce and his mentor, butler and confidante Alfred (Caine) who knows who he is and who has always been there to take care of him and offer sage words of wisdom precisely at the moment when Bruce needs to hear them. This relationship is built on genuine affection and a sense of obligation. Alfred has determined it is his role to ensure that Bruce maintains his well-being in order to make decisions that serve him well in the end. There are countless other relationshipsbetween Bruce and his boss, Mr. Earle; between Bruce and a father figure, Lucius Fox; between Bruce and his childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Holmes)that demonstrate this film’s ability to tell a deeply emotional story with measured meaning and a genuine trust in dialog to propel a story along without becoming stagnant.
The specific relationship between Bruce and Rachel Dawes deserves special investigation. They were childhood friends and she was there for him when his parents were killed. They grew up together and she was there when he returned from spending seven years looking for the nature of crime. She became an assistant district attorney during Bruce’s absence and put herself in an ideal position to help Bruce as Batman take on those who had fallen foul of the law. The scenes between Bale and Holmes are tense albeit all-too-brief. Still, they resonate throughout the film because they represent Bruce’s need to be understood by at least one female considering the loss of his mother continues to haunt him.
The characterization of Batman is less wooden and artificial as in previous versions. His movements are more fluid and this mostly as to do with the Batsuit that was specially designed for this film. Still, it gives him a mobility that is more erotically charged as well as focuses the audiences’s attention on the physicality of the man/creature who seems more iconic than ever before. This is Batman properly realized primarily because we are made privy to where he came from and his evolution into a legitimate force of nature. We are allowed to see the life circumstances which led Bruce to take on this difficult role in order to achieve his aims of quashing the criminal underworld and gaining a stranglehold on the disorder plaguing the town.
Gotham is truly filthy as the film opens and it seems that everyone in positions of authority is corrupt and associated with Falcone in some way or another. Falcone controls them with fists of iron and he considers himself infallible and his place well secured. Yet he underestimates the intensity of Batman’s dedication to justice which proves to be impossible to dislodge. This is not a conflicted Batman who doubts his place in the order. He knows what he is because he chose it; he manufactured the persona in order to most effectively rid the city of miscreant elements. Bruce is an entirely different animal. Through his young adulthood there exists within him an aching longing for vengeance and revenge. He lives with an overarching desire to rid the world of the man who offed his parents. He goes so far as to obtain a gun and waits for Joe Chill to come out of the courtroom. But he is unable to achieve his goal because Chill is cut down by another working for Falcone. Still, the vitriol lived in his heart and it fuels his efforts to create a mythical creature that can do the things that his mortal body is frustratingly unable to do.
The energy throughout this film is decidedly pronounced. It flows exceedingly well and every frame works within the context of the film. Simply put the film never drags, never seems unnecessary or vague. The story is tight and filled with many moments of chilling urgency that lend it a norish quality at times with the primary focus on Batman and his noble quest. The chief villain in this film is revealed rather late and the film deliberately does not allow the audience to focus too much attention on him and get lost in his glamour. In fact, he’s simply a complicated man with the same desires as Batman but with a much harsher plan for accomplishing it. The relationship between him and Bruce is complex, something which makes the final reveal that much more poignant and potentially shocking.
The film has a naturalistic feel and seems more like an emotional drama than something that was derived from a comic book. It never loses sight of what it is and firmly understands what it is attempting to achieve. It creates complicated characters that react in necessary ways and who communicate with a level of grace that works itself throughout the entire film. The end result is a poetic exegesis on what it means to be a just person.
The performances in this film are all flawless in their execution. Christian Bale understands the nuances of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. He brings an intensity to both roles and allows the audience a decisive look into the complexities that fuel both the characters. His Batman is of a singular vision and it is clear what drives him to the extreme measures that he undertakes. Katie Holmes possesses a frank intelligence in a role that is brief but fundamental to the overall dynamic of the story. Morgan Freeman is typically sound and creates a character that is well-rounded and believable throughout. There is a warmth and a quiet dignity to Lucius Fox that speaks to Freeman’s gallant posture and a spark in his eyes which simply cannot be taught. Gary Oldman similarly exudes an authority of lasting purity. His character is bold and forthright and most significantly honest and Oldman captures these qualities effortlessly.
Liam Neeson taps into a raw physicality that is dynamic and vital. His presence is immense in this film and he exudes a strength that is wonderfully exploited throughout. Tom Wilkinson is exquisite in the role of a heinous and egotistical crime boss with his own skewed view of justice. Wilkinson brings a callous determinism to his role and the heaviness of his position is felt in the early stages of the film. Cillian Murphy is simply diabolical and effervescent as a representative of science run amok. Murphy knows how to captivate with his steely gaze and the occasional gesture which brings Dr. Crane clearly into focus. Michael Caine is the epitome of classy integrity in this film. There is a grace and a flash of style to Alfred in this version that Caine presents effortlessly in all his films.
Overall, this is a grand achievement that works on myriad levels. It’s a fantasy that mixes intense and emotionally sound drama with a heady investigation into obsession and the vagaries of justice. It’s certainly dark and unruly and refuses to be easily categorized. The performances all create a complete world that is accentuated with art direction that is more substance that mere style. Still, this is a highly stylized film that never forgets the absolute importance of telling a compelling story that will resonate with audiences long after they have finished their viewing experience. It’s a vital and necessary film that explores terrain that had been highly underdeveloped in previous versions. Although the boundaries between good and evil are blurred in this filmit’s just a matter of methodologythere is an exceedingly vivid sense of rightness that comes through the passionate and substantial performances.