You're a bat. Be a bat.
Batman Begins is directed by Christopher Nolan and stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman.
By no means should anyone be allowed to credit Christopher Nolan with the whole "reverting Batman back into the dark and mysterious vigilante that the world knows and loves" process. For that honor already belongs to Mr. Tim Burton back in 1989 when he gave the Batman character a complete U-turn from the campy style of the Adam West TV show. Nolan succeeded, however, where Burton failed, which is in the department of focusing on the motivations and background of the Caped Crusader himself. Burton brought back the necessary atmosphere where Batman could thrive, but put most of his focus on the Gothic environment rather than the man who is underneath the mask. It wasn't long until Burton vacated his control of the Batman name, and in comes Joel Schumacher who, unfortunately, sent the franchise backwards, resulting in an eight year hibernation for Batman after the massive Bat-tastrophe that was Batman & Robin. Nolan went to work in early 2003, with his goal being to make a Batman film that emphasized the more human, realistic side of Batman without going heavy on the visual style. Alongside Nolan was screenwriter David S. Goyer, stating that they wanted the audience to care for both Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Here's what we can credit Christopher Nolan with: making a film that truly dives into the origins and beginnings of Bruce Wayne and his inspirations to become the hero of Gotham. This is finally the Batman movie that centers wholeheartedly on Batman and Bruce Wayne, and not just his efforts to stop an evil baddie from doing evil baddie things. So if you came across Batman Begins expecting a straightforward superhero adventure, you've come to the wrong place. We don't see Bruce Wayne as Batman until a shade over 60 minutes into the 140 minutes, and during his first few appearances, he lurks in the shadows while easily taking down various bad guy henchmen. There's very little combat fighting that takes place before the film's third act finale, but the film never ceases to be exciting or interesting for a split second beforehand.
In usual Nolan fashion, the story is told in a nonlinear format. Well, for about the first 30-45 minutes anyway. The early parts of the film jump back and forth between moments of Bruce Wayne's childhood and his time spent before becoming Batman. Young Bruce Wayne falls down a well while playing with his friend Rachel Dawes. Bruce is attacked by a swarm of bats, resulting in Bruce developing chiroptophobia (fear of bats, duh). While out at an opera with his parents one night, Bruce is frightened when the performers appear to be maneuvering like bats. While outside, Bruce and his parents are confronted by mugger Joe Chill. Chill murders Bruce's parents and flees. Now an orphan, Bruce is raised by the family's butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Caine). Fourteen years later, Joe Chill is freed after testifying against Gotham mafia boss, Carmine Falcone. Bruce considers murdering Chill, but one of Falcone's assassins gets to him first. Rachel Dawes, now a Gotham district attorney, finds out about what Bruce intended to do and berates him for confusing justice with revenge. Bruce decides that he wants to explore the criminal mind and what it would truly take for someone like him to confront injustice. This leads him to meeting Henry Ducard (Neeson), who introduces Bruce to the League of Shadows, led by Ra's al Ghul. For seven years, Bruce trains with the League and learns to overcome his fears. Bruce eventually returns to Gotham, hoping to fight crime, and thus, taking on the identity of Batman.
This part of the plot is told in a nonlinear format. Once Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham, the rest of the film is presented in a linear format.
- Nolan gives us a terrific character study of Batman. Bruce Wayne struggles to balance his ideas of justice with those he has of revenge. He doesn't want to just slaughter every criminal in Gotham as a means to make everyone suffer for Joe Chill's one heinous crime. Instead, Bruce wants to better understand what fuels people to be criminals and what distinguishes them from an average citizen. We can better appreciate Batman for what he does throughout the film when we no longer have to limit our understanding to "He's a superhero. Fighting crime is what superheroes do." In a way, Nolan breaks down our basic perspective of what a superhero is and what motivates them to assume a vigilante identity. This is not that family-friendly hero that kids get google-eyes over, but rather a realistic human being with a tragic background, expressing his ideas of justice. Batman's tragic background is not just scratched on the surface; its becomes an essential part to his character and his journey throughout the film.
- We can talk all day about Batman's character depth, but let me not forego discussing that Batman Begins is also exciting from an action standpoint. Nolan and his camera crew do an effective job of keeping Batman obscure enough so that we can't fully comprehend how he fights and how he flees. The car chases are also thrilling set pieces when Batman gets behind the wheel. What else is there to say? Nolan knows what's he's doing when it comes to action sequences.
- Believe it or not, but Batman Begins also adds a nice little topping of humor on top of everything else. It's mostly lines that are appropriate for a character to say in a given situation, and not just aimless one liners for the sake of being a one liner. Officer Gordon (Oldman) watches Batman flee in his Batmobile, to which Gordon exclaims that he's got to "get one of those." Batman also says "nice coat" to an older man that he meets and gives a coat to earlier as Bruce Wayne. I appreciate Nolan not making his film completely depressing and overly serious-minded. Even Batman needs to share a laugh every now and then.
- It would be nearly impossible for me to try and convince you of anything in Batman Begins as being poorly executed. This is the type of superhero film that doesn't lose any of its appeal no matter how much time has passed, because it's spearheaded by a director who has executed his work in such a superb fashion. It has everything going for it that you could possibly want out of a superhero as popular as Batman, and the scary thing is, this was just the beginning of what would become a legendary trilogy.
Too many people have a false notion that superheroes are just invincible crime stoppers whose setbacks are only temporary at the hands of some super villains. In fact, that notion is one that parents try to brush off to their children until those kids grow up to understand the more abstract concepts of a superhero. You can pick and choose your favorite superheroes, and kids will keep on dressing up like the ones they (sort of) dream of being one day. But out of the abundant list of superheroes, Batman is one of the most unique. He can't actually fly like Superman, and he doesn't have the mutant powers of the X-Men. But he overcomes his greatest fears, and he takes the time to understand the inner mechanisms of the criminal mind. These are what help set Batman apart from other superheroes and help him be super in his own dark, mysterious way. Nolan's analysis and presentation of the origins and motivations of Batman are the best to ever be put to film, and I'm not sure if anyone would have the audacity to try and repeat it.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: