MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action/ Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman, Mark Boone Junior, Linus Roache, Larry Holden, Colin McFarlane, Sara Stewart, Richard Brake/ Runtime: 140 minutes
It really horrified me at one time to have a front row seat at witnessing the Batman film series painfully and quite nonchalantly headed towards a point of not coming back ever again. The reason for this countdown towards potential extinction was because following the one-two punch in terms of quality that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton brought with Batman and Batman Returns respectively, the next two movies placed the series quite firmly in the toilet and ushered in a terrifying era of campiness that included such “noteworthy entries” as ‘Bat credit-cards’ that part of me wished would get hacked and a version of Mr. Freeze being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger that seemed to really relish the idea of throwing out truly painful for the human ear puns at a version of The Dark Knight who seemed significantly more preoccupied with trying not to be mortified by the fact that his Bat-Suit had nipples than with fighting any kind of serious crime whatsoever. Thus with a film franchise sinking faster than the Titanic, what honestly could Warner Brothers do in order to salvage let alone save the franchise from sinking beneath the waves and remaining there forever?
Apparently the best answer to cross their desk was to hit the big red reset button, pretend none of the other films, yes even the Burton ones, had never been created, and start the whole thing off with a blank slate and give the right director a chance to put together both a talented cast as well as an intriguing narrative and then just pray that they would be successful both commercially and critically. Thankfully Christopher Nolan came on board shortly thereafter, and through him, a phenomenal crew, and an iconic cast and together they managed to create something here that I only had managed to dream about up until the release of this film and that is a Batman which was every bit as good as the ones given to audiences by Burton and Keaton and in the process completely took away the fever nightmare memories of Clooney, Kilmer, O’Donnell, and shudder yes even Ahunulldddd. Indeed Batman Begins is a true home-run, but it also, to use the title, is a truly enjoyable and memorable beginning for one of the greatest superheroes of all time that I promise you will want to watch time and time again…
The plot is as follows: Batman Begins starts with Bruce Wayne discovering as a young boy an underground cavern where he is quickly and promptly terrorized by a massive group of numerous bats thus giving our young hero a permanent fear that will result in never-ending torture. However, following the tragic murder of his parents in an alleyway by a member of the Gotham Coty underworld, an immense loathing towards the criminal element begins to grow in Bruce to the point that he decides to just leave Gotham City and travel the world in order to better understand the criminal element. It isn’t long however before Bruce encounters a strange man by the name of Henri Ducard who, upon hearing what Bruce is looking into, tells him that he and a mythical warrior by the name of Ra’s Al Ghul can show him the skills that he is desiring to learn. Seeing an end to his mission, Bruce decides to take his offer and learn to evolve into a true fighter for the cause of justice. However when Ducard requests that he kill a prisoner as his initiation of sorts, Bruce turns him down stating that compassion really truly is the sole distinction that separates him from the people he is attempting to combat. After this, Bruce decides to return to Gotham City and wreak havoc on those who would prey on the innocent. However in the time he has been gone things in Gotham are worse than they ever have been. It seems that a mobster known as Carmine Falcone has teamed up with a twisted psychologist by the name of Dr. Jonathon Crane and his mystery employer on a scheme that could truly bring Gotham to its knees. Now it is up to Bruce, in his new alias of Batman, to go to work and, with the help of a group of allies, rescue Gotham from a fate that is truly the stuff fear is made of….
Now I feel that Nolan’s desire to have everything in his films be as realistic as possible really is a refreshing change in a world of movie making that has come to rely on CGI a little bit too much. Indeed there are little to no CG sequences in this film and this really aids the movie immensely. Heck even the new Batmobile is real and not only does it look more imposing than if it had been created by a computer, but it also manages to interact with the world around it. Yet do not for even a minute begin to perceive that this movie is either way too weighty or too snobbish due to how realistic Nolan wants things to be. Indeed, to be fair, Gotham City may come across as too messy and sinister to really be portrayed in a fantastical setting. Yet nevertheless Batman Begins really does a wonderful job of keeping in place a feeling of fun and wonder that only movies based on comic books can truly bring to an audience at times. Indeed we hate and are scared by the antagonists and their diabolical schemes and we root for the protagonist as they attempt to do everything in their power to thwart the antagonist and their diabolical schemes. This is the stuff that comic books are about and this is what the film manages to deliver. Perhaps the most significant thing that Nolan manages to achieve is in how he manages to instill quite a bit of faith in his movie’s audience to not abandon ship whilst the movie’s first hour decides to go in-depth in its exploration of who Bruce Wayne is complete with zero cape wearing and very very few moments that involve fighting. Even so, it is admirable in how Nolan manages to keep the pace of the film on track and the narrative is so delightful and completely surprising that there is not much possibility for an audience to not care as much about the story being told. Plus by doing things in that manner then we as an audience are also blessed with the opportunity to get to see just who exactly Bruce Wayne truly is from his motivations to putting on the mask to just understanding why he is the kind of person he is and I think that these are things that this film, unlike any other Batman movie that came before it, manages to capture brilliantly.
With that being said, I also feel that in order to aid the movie goer in their quest to really dig deep into who Bruce Wayne truly is, it certainly helps to possess an extremely wonderful lead actor like Christian Bale leading the way. Indeed I would go so far as to say that Bale is truly one of the most talented thespians of his generation and he manages to contribute quite a bit of his skill and talent here getting to portray one of the most iconic superheroes of all time. Indeed when one chooses to really take the time to analyze the hero that is Batman/Bruce Wayne, you will discover that it is actually a trio of characters inside a single person: there’s Wayne when he is Batman, Wayne as the billionaire playboy, and the real Wayne who is known to only a handful of people. Suffice it to say that Bale manages to portray this iconic character absolutely wonderfully and also manages to blend all 3 together to the point that you can definitely see that all 3 of these characters are the same person. Indeed Bale has earned a significant amount of praise from both fans and the comic book community and it is praise that suffice it to say is most definitely earned.
Now that’s not to say that the supporting cast isn’t up to the challenge of matching up to the standard set by Bale; far from it actually. In fact I would go so far as to say that, in terms of quality, this is one supporting cast which is astounding and not just because of how many “big names” that are part of it. Rather it’s also because it is extremely difficult to find a weak link among them, but if I had to really think about it, I would honestly say that the proverbial weak link would most likely be Katie Holmes. Now I say that not because she is terrible in her role as the Assistant D.A. / Wayne’s childhood friend and love interest. It’s more that she really does seem like she was at the time still a bit too fresh faced to really seem like she could be persuasive as a DA. As for everyone else they all manage to deliver in aces starting with Michael Caine. Now, in my book, Michael Gough was at one time the perfect Alfred, but that was before Michael Caine took on the role. Indeed, in his turn as Bruce’s most loyal ally, Caine really gives a strong mixture of both wit and paternal qualities and gives us an Alfred that, although willing to help Bruce in his quest, is also unafraid to set him straight when he needs it and it makes for a powerful performance. We also get wonderful and classy turns from both Liam Neeson as Bruce’s enigma of a mentor during his time training to become Batman and Morgan Freeman as the provider of the array of the gadgets that become the tools of the trade for Batman. I also think it is also quite enjoyable to see the immensely skilled Gary Oldman in this as Sgt. Gordon, the only honest cop in Gotham who finds himself an unlikely ally in the winged vigilante. Indeed Oldman does a wonderful job at taking this time-honored comic book character and really bringing him to life in a whole new way. We even get good work from cult film legend Rutger Hauer who is both subtle yet slightly slimy in his role of the ambitious head of Wayne Enterprises Richard Earle. Also it may shock you to know this, but this film actually has antagonists that are a genuine menace rather than just a walking cliché. This of course starts with Cillian Murphy who brings a sinister and creepy side to the film as Jonathan “Scarecrow” Crane, Ken Watanabe who in his role as Ra’s Al Ghul is both mysterious and a foreboding omen of things to come, and Tom Wilkinson who as the peak of the mob in Gotham City is both convincing and has an air of menace all his own.
Now with all of that being said I definitely feel I should also let you know that Batman Begins really truly is a dark movie that deals with concepts of fear, conquering the ghosts that haunt us the most, and the struggle for righteousness in a world where it is in short supply. That being said, unlike quite a few movies based on comic book characters, this one is most certainly not for kids despite the PG-13 rating. This is because while the film is not exactly adult, it does deal with brilliant character work, and a sense of conflict that is adult in nature, and also complicated characters. By that I mean the majority of films based on comic book characters show that the hero is a good person because he or she wants to keep the world safe and make it a better place. By the same token, the villain is the bad person because they want to throw the world into disarray or chaos. From there our 2 counterparts find themselves on an inevitable collision course with multiple skirmishes along the way. However that is not how things choose to play out within this superhero film. Instead the movie chooses to give us an in-depth examination in every character’s goals as well as a detailed examination into why they do what they do. In other words this film does not ever have the desire for the audience to ever just accept something for what it may look like on the surface; instead it gives you a chance to see these characters for who they truly are and then gives you the choice to accept them or not.
All in all Batman Begins is still as fascinating, and emotional nowadays as it was when released more than a decade ago. Indeed this is a film which manages to contribute a perspective not only on Bruce Wayne, but the creation of Batman that manages to really take this movie to another level entirely. Not only that, but this is one origin tale that is both engaging and yet plausible and the moment that the Caped Crusader enters the movie, provides a sense of action that is truly remarkable. Indeed this is proof that a superhero film could possess a degree of both maturity and honesty from an emotional point of view than even an Oscar-nominated drama could hope to possess. Yet although I strongly hesitate to call it the definitive interpretation of Batman, I can say with confidence that Batman Begins most certainly marks the beginning of the best Batman trilogy ever made, and in its own right, is a movie that manages to mix together an edgy sense of realism, a wonderful tone of drama that is surprisingly human and down to earth, and a wonderful amount of just pure magic that really makes this feel like a comic book brought to life into a movie that you will most assuredly want to watch time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Batman Begins a solid 4 out of 5.