Batman Begins (2005)

Blaming himself for his parents’ murder years before, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) bides his time until the man responsible is up for parole and then sets out for revenge. Robbed of absolution when somebody else beats him to it, Wayne forfeits his family’s empire and exiles himself in a Bhutanese prison, where he is eventually courted by Ra’s al Ghul’s (Liam Neeson) The League Of Shadows. Trained as a ninja and taught to overcome his childhood fear of bats, Wayne returns to butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and his family’s fortune when the organization’s true intention – to destroy Gotham, ridding it of its evils – becomes clear. With pawn Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow) already in place, the newly created Batman will have to seek assistance from DA Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) if there is to be much of Gotham left to save.

Having missed Batman Begins at the cinema due to its unfortunate coincidence with exam season, I eventually caught up with it on DVD however many months later. I remember being duly underwhelmed, a reaction that immediately set me apart from a population of burgeoning Nolanites busy proclaiming that the superhero genre had finally come of age and delivered a movie worthy of wider consideration. Even a year later, when I was forced to watch the movie again on holiday due to it being the only one saved on my friend’s hard-drive, I found myself bewildered by the film’s critical acclaim and box office success.

Revisiting the film now, in the build up for second sequel The Dark Knight Rises‘ much anticipated release, I still struggle to understand what it was exactly about Christopher Nolan’s reboot that has elicited such enduring and uncritical adoration. That said, I have definitely softened in my feelings towards it: I will admit that Batman Begins is moderately entertaining, superbly shot and strikingly scored, a considerable concession given my earlier disdain for it. Indeed, it is nowhere near as self-serious, pretentious and tedious as its successor (there are actually bats in this one; lots) – a scattering of great lines, some impressive set-pieces and the ever-reliable Michael Caine ensuring that there is at least something in it for audiences not automatically sold on Nolan’s name alone.

My primary issue with the franchise has always been its censorial approach to the source material, ruling out storylines, characters and weaponry that does not quite gel with Nolan’s lofty and individual intentions. Batman Begins is so impersonal, so polished and so bleak that it is almost impossible to get a workable foothold on the story before it slinks off into the shadows, leaving you to rely on Nolan’s ensemble for support instead. While Gary Oldman gamely mugs his way through most of his scenes, Cillian Murphy makes for a decent enough henchman and Katie Holmes – through virtue of being bafflingly miscast and clearly out of her depth as Gotham’s devout district attorney – proves very almost endearing, however, Christian Bale and Liam Neeson are even less inspiring as The Bat Man and the bad man respectively.

After all, it’s not much of a stretch for Bale from American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman to Bruce Wayne, and the actor makes little effort to breathe any personality whatsoever into a character better suited to the pages of a Bret Easton Ellis’ novel than the panels of one of DC’s flagship comics. Whether you call him a superhero or a vigilante, you still have to care for the character if the film is to have any resonance, stakes or dramatic weight. But Bruce Wayne has no character, no arc to invest in; he was miserable before the series started, he’s been miserable throughout each film and he’ll be miserable long after Gotham is saved. There is no depth of personality at all. Please, Nolan, why should I care?

I understand that the film acts, ostensibly, as a thesis on fear, and that Nolan is trying to bring some realism and respectability to a genre quickly disappearing beneath endless spandex, but there is no getting away from the fact that – at its centre – this is a story about people – of a man in a cape and cowl growling unintelligibly at another man dressed as a scarecrow. If you are able to draw literary comparisons, scout moral quandaries and unravel a bat-cave’s worth of subtext it is only because the film is so uninteresting on the surface that you must entertain yourself with your own theories and interpretations. Yes, it’s intelligent. Sure, it’s accomplished. I’ll concede that it’s even better than the sequel. But this is not a superior superhero movie simply because it denounces sentiment, scoffs at levity and hides its crazier elements behind a piano-triggered secret passageway.

But it’s fine. Better than Elektra, and the complete antithesis of Fantastic Four (whether for better or worse), Batman Begins is a perfectly serviceable addition to the comic book movie landscape of 2005, and a welcome return to credibility for a franchise last seen lost on ice. (One year either side, and it would have had the far less flattering likes of Spider-man 2 and Superman Returns to compete with.) It is not, however, anything more than that.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

6 Responses to Batman Begins (2005)

  1. Lucy spelling says:

    Can you explain why you think the sequel is pretentious and tedious? Interesting view on the film. Always wonder what people were expecting in the batman films. They are surely films not trying to be action movies and more an insight into story more

    • I’m re-watching The Dark Knight this evening so I’ll be in a better mind to comment then, but basically it comes down the film’s inner identity crisis. Although far from fanciful, Batman Begins at least had the wherewithal to feature mystic ninjas, a sonar boot that could essentially control the city’s bats and – at last count – three lines that could almost be considered funny. For the sequel, Nolan redesigned Gotham from the ground up, replaced Katie Holmes with an automaton masquerading as Maggie Gyllenhaal and dropped every element that could possibly tie this franchise to its comic book origins. The Dark Knight is pretentious because it spends the majority of its running time navel-gazing about morality, because it deals in ideas as opposed to recognisable human beings and because it markets itself as The Most Realistic Comic Book Movie Ever Made, like that in itself is intrinsically good. The Dark Knight is tedious, however, because it is so boringly one note – stuck on a single octave. There is no evolution of Bruce Wayne; he was miserable before his parents died, he was miserable after they died, and he will still be miserable after his work is done and Gotham is finally safe. Why so serious, Batman? Lighten up.

      • Lucy spelling says:

        Wow, dont agree with that at all. Its a fascinating example of characters of good and bad decent fighting it out. Every moment was well paced, dramatic and so intriguing. So what they redesigned Gotham, it was always going to be too expensive to recreate the design of Gotham in each film and budgets are budgets, if a change in design meant that action set pieces remained intact then that’s a good thing. That opening bank heist is so good, break it down and it is a perfect piece of simple story telling to show the Jokers character.
        It feels like people try to over analyse films these days. What ever happened to just enjoying a film.

  2. I agree with you there, it’s just that I didn’t enjoy the film. I thought it was too long, too clinical and too self-serious. I don’t find Batman interesting at the best of times, and even less so here. There are indeed some good set pieces, Heath Ledger’s Joker is undoubtedly impressive and the death of Dawes is a nice twist, but I never felt involved in the story or the characters’ struggles. I know I’m in the minority here, but I really have seen better. Much better.

  3. bazmann says:

    You complain that The Dark Knight dropped every element that could possibly tie this franchise to its comic book origins, but contradict that by complaining that Bruce Wayne is miserable from start to finish. Have you read any Batman comics? This IS the character from the comic books!

  4. Pingback: Heroes And Hypocrisy: Batman Begins vs. Iron Man 3 | popcornaddict

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