BATMAN BEGINS is just that – the beginning of The Batman in his cinematic incarnation. This is a tale that has never been told before on screen (At least not satisfactorily). It has nothing to do with the previous four “Burton/Schumacher” films that hit theaters between 1989 – 1997. There is no macabre, gothic, bizarreness here. Nor is there any silly, neon-ized nonsense to be found. It is a complete restart and much needed reboot of the Warner Bros. BATMAN movie franchise.
Everything is explained this time around. Why Bruce Wayne is so angry? How did he obtain the skills needed to be Batman? How did he obtain all of his “toys,” including the Bat-suit and Batmobile? Well, we find out this time in a realistic and plausible manner.
I’ll cut to the chase: this movie is the best BATMAN film by far. It is downright excellent. Not only as a BATMAN or “comic book movie” per se, but as a film in general. It is an epic and heroic piece of cinema, yet genuinely scary and menacing. I want to take Mr. Nolan to a bar, buy him a beer and say – from the bottom of my heart – “THANK YOU!”
Make no mistake, this is a film aimed at adults; parents be warned. It is a mature film that really pushes the “PG13” rating it received because it is truly scary and frightening at times.
This is the BATMAN film you and I have been waiting for. Yes people, they finally got it right.
THE BATMAN (Christian Bale)
Christian Bale shines as The Dark Knight. He looks more like Bruce Wayne and is more physically suited for the role than any of the previous actors. He is without a doubt the best onscreen Batman to date. Bale has said in interviews that he wanted to portray The Batman as “an animal.” Well, that he does. His Batman is scary. He is frightening. He is intimidating. He is a badass. He is THE main character of this film. His Batman voice is unique as well – he growls when he speaks. He is certainly no one you would want to meet in a dark alley – or rooftop for that matter.
One of the best “Batman” parts of the film is our first meeting with The Dark Knight. It is like something out of a horror movie. The audience’s POV is that of the criminals – not Batman’s. It is actually as if you are a third person, somewhere just behind the bad guys. They hear something, but where is it coming from? Is it behind them? In front of them. Is it coming from above them? They see something. A shadow. A flap of a…wing? Then from across the way, someone is taken out by this invisible assailant. Who is next? I just love the way Nolan handled these scenes – The Batman depicted has something inhuman and horrific.
“Public Bruce Wayne” (Christian Bale)
Again, major accolades to Mr. Bale as he nails the “public” Bruce Wayne persona. This is the version of Bruce Wayne that is displayed about town and for the people of Gotham (and the world) to see. He is an arrogant, spoiled, rich kid who is dating women, driving sports cars, and acting like a pampered ass. He cares about nothing but himself – even as Gotham deteriorates around him. But it is all a ruse, of course. This is not the “real” Bruce Wayne – it is a façade. There are two excellent scenes at the end of the movie – one will get lots of laughs – that are simply spot-on when it comes to how the public Bruce is viewed.
“The Real Bruce Wayne” (Christian Bale)
Director Christopher Nolan said during our roundtable interviews that there was actually three parts to Bruce Wayne. There is The Batman – the persona to which he channels all of his rage and anger. There is the Bruce Wayne that the public sees. And there is the real or private Bruce Wayne. The person that he reveals to very few people – Alfred (Michael Caine) is one, and at times, Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes. Again, Christian Bale is fantastic. There is one part of the film when Bruce is out in public acting like a drunken fool, and he sees Rachel for the first time since his return to Gotham. You see Bale slide instantly from “Public Bruce” to ”Private Bruce. “Rachel, uh, this, this isn’t what I am on the inside,” he tells her. We all know this and we know why he does this. But Rachel doesn’t. “It isn’t who you are on the inside,” she disappointingly tells Bruce, “it is what you do that defines you.”
This Bruce Wayne is a tortured soul. A person who is at once both angry over his parent’s death, and guilty that he could not avenge them. Of course, he finds away to deal with these emotions: The Batman.
I’ll make no bones about the suit – I like it. And it works extremely well in context to the film. We find out that it is a military prototype produced by Wayne Enterprises. Deemed too expensive by the government, it has sat dormant in the Applied Sciences division of the company. Bruce tells the head of the department, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), that he wants to use it for “spelunking. Cave diving.” Of course, Bruce will alter and paint the suit black, turning it into the famous costume of The Dark Knight.
Every part of the suit is explained – even the ears on the cowl. The costume itself – while similar to the previous movie costumes – is much sleeker, lighter, and easier to function in. For the first time, The Batman can squat and turn his head. The cowl’s facial “expression” is much more defined – and sinister than the previous film versions. In addition, the cape is finally explained. It has a specific function – it allows The Batman to glide.
The only fault with it is that it seems a bit bulky around the shoulders, but that certainly doesn’t affect it that much overall. I know there was some complaining that it was too much like the previous suits. While, similar as stated, once you see it onscreen functioning, it looks and operates completely different. And there is just no way that a cloth/spandex suit would work in this film.
Another bone of contention among fanboys that will change once it is seen in action. This thing simply kicks ass. Now, I liked it from the beginning, but I absolutely LOVE it now that I’ve seen it do what it can do. And the fact that it can actually do most of the things you see on film is unbelievable! My only complaint is that I would like to have seen a bit more of the Bat-motif included on it, but that may come in the future. This thing has a purpose and it isn’t to just look cool and pretty. And just wait until you hear it roar!
Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes)
This was the only casting decision that I sort of second guessed. I never watched DAWSON’S CREEK and had only seen Katie Holmes act in THE GIFT – which I thought she was good in for the record. But my concern was that she may come off as being too young for the role – and she does. She is already an assistant D.A. when Bruce leaves Gotham. Bruce is still in college at Princeton, so he’s about 21 or so. Is she older than Bruce? She would have to be. And she certainly doesn’t look to be in her early 30s when Bruce returns to Gotham after a seven year absence.
On to the more important question: how is her performance? It is OK. She serves the role as Bruce’s conscience and does that quite well. She is a do-gooder who cares about Gotham and wants to save the city. Ms. Holmes is fairly convincing in that regard. Her performance is the strongest when she displays her disappointment for Bruce – once after the parole hearing for his parent’s killer. Then again later on, when she first sees Bruce after he has returned to Gotham City.
Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine)
Although Caine looks very little like the comic book version of Bruce Wayne’s butler, his outstanding work makes that a non-issue. He is marvelous and delivers one of the better performances in BATMAN BEGINS. Sir Michael’s Alfred is not as droll or full of sarcasm as we’ve seen in the past. But he displays a heart and a parental side of Alfred never before seen in a film. The chemistry between him and Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is evident and you feel the father/son relationship the two have. Alfred clearly loves Bruce, and there are some excellent exchanges that show this, both with Bale and Gus Lewis (who plays the young Bruce Wayne).
Caine’s Alfred is also the “protector” of the Wayne legacy – particularly that of Bruce’s father, Dr. Thomas Wayne. He wants to make sure that Bruce doesn’t screw it up.
Caine told BOF that he patterned his role on this old army sergeant and that Dr. Thomas Wayne wanted the toughest butler he could find. Caine is just that. He becomes Bruce’s pseudo partner. He helps him design the suit, obtain the different parts of the cowl, and advises him that he should take up polo. Got to have a way to explain all those bumps and bruises that he’ll surely get as The Batman, you know.
When Bruce feels that he has failed as Batman and as his father’s son, it is Alfred that inspires him and tells him that that is nonsense. “You still haven’t given up on me?” Bruce asks Alfred. “Never!” Caine’s Alfred responds. Some great dialogue delivered by great acting on the part of Sir Michael Caine.
Ducard (Liam Neeson)
Like in THE PHANTOM MENACE, Liam Neeson plays a mentor to a young protégé. But as the mysterious Ducard in BATMAN BEGINS, he is not as much of a nice guy as he was in STAR WARS.
Neeson’s Ducard saves Bruce Wayne from a possible lifetime in a Bhutanese prison and takes him on as his student. Ducard offers Bruce a chance to join the clandestine vigilante group, the League of Shadows, led by the nefarious Ra’s Al Ghul – if he withstands and survives his training. It is this training that teaches the already badass Bruce in the ways of the ninja. Bruce Wayne will have to become more than just a man in the mind of his opponents. To always mind his surrounds. He must be a wraith. This is where Bruce Wayne obtains all the skills that will allow him to be The Batman. And Ducard also teaches Bruce to look inside and to face and accept his fears and guilt. When Bruce rejects the League to return to Gotham, he becomes their sworn enemy. Ducard is clearly hurt by the man he calls his “greatest student.”
Neeson has the mentor thing down. But he is more violent and more of a task master than Qui-Gon Jinn. Neeson provides a powerful screen presence for Ducard, but never eclipses Christian Bale. You grow to care for Ducard during the first half of the film. We find out that he once had a much different life – a wife that he loved lost. In a way, he and Bruce Wayne are kindred spirits. Yet another strong, top notch acting performance in BATMAN BEGINS.
“Ra’s Al Ghul” (Ken Watanabe)
Japanese actor Ken Watanabe plays super ninja and cult leader Ra’s Al Ghul. While not onscreen a tremendous amount of time, Watanabe’s role amounts to an extended cameo. And although he has very little dialogue, Mr. Watanabe certainly does have one thing: screen presence. His Ra’s Al Ghul is a quite a bit different than his comic book counter part. But he serves the story well and makes good use of his limited time in front of the camera.
Sgt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman)
Oldman is the YEAR ONE Gordon in the flesh. His Jim Gordon is one of the few good cops on the Gotham PD. One who has grown weary due to corrupt colleagues and his professional environment. But he keeps fighting the good fight and with The Batman, he now has an ally.
One of the major faults of the previous Bat-films was Gordon and his relationship with Batman. It is no longer an issue. In BATMAN BEGINS, David Goyer and Chris Nolan have gotten it right. Getting credit for this should be Christian Bale and Oldman as well. The Gordon of BATMAN BEGINS is a hero – as he should be.
Dr. Jonathan Crane/”The Scarecrow” (Cillian Murphy)
Murphy’s Crane is one creepy mofo. And it is all in his eyes. Being really the only “comic book” villain of this film, Murphy gives a very strong performance, yet never overshadows Bale’s Batman as was the case with the previous films. Crane is someone that you instantly dislike and would love to see get a good ass-whipping. Also, Nolan and Goyer have taken a character from the comics who looks like Ray Bolger in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and made him very believable. There is a reason that he puts a goofy – albeit sinister – burlap sack on his head. And the scenes of “The Scarecrow” through the eyes of his victim are down right scary.
Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)
Mr. Freeman has a small, but very important role in BATMAN BEGINS. He is the man responsible – unknowingly – for many of The Batman’s “wonderful toys.” You wondered how Bruce acquired them? You’ll now find out. Lucius Fox is a former Wayne Enterprises board member who has been banished to the “Applied Sciences” division of the company. Through Fox, Bruce Wayne will discover a variety of items that will help him with his assault on Gotham’s criminal element.
Freeman – as always – does a heck of an acting job. He is thoroughly believable as a scientist who becomes one of Batman’s – and Bruce Wayne’s – allies.
The Supporting Cast
All three of these actors do a fine job in their small roles. Linus Roache, who plays Bruce’s father – Dr. Thomas Wayne – stands out. While he didn’t shoot that many scenes, his presence is felt throughout. You truly like and care for his character, therefore are emotionally affected by his murder.
Tom Wilkinson’s Carmine Falcone is not some stereotypical, Italian mobster out of THE SOPRANOS. You can tell that Wilkinson enjoyed himself and his character is completely detestable. You’ll particularly enjoy his encounter with “The Bat-Man.”
Hauer plays Richard Earle, head of Wayne Enterprises. He’s a typical corporate A-hole tying to take the company public. Hauer is good, but nothing special.
The Musical Score
The score for BATMAN BEGINS is a collaboration between two vets – Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard. The dark music suits and compliments the narrative of the movie quite well. It is nice enough to listen to, but to hear it in context to the film, makes it that much better – very ominous and scary at times. The music really taps into the psychological aspects of BEGINS‘ story.
However, there is no “main theme” that is as distinguishable as the Danny Elfman-scored one from BATMAN ‘89. I think it was the intent of the director Chris Nolan and the composers themselves. That fact may disappoint some, but that is only a minor nitpick.
The Director (Chris Nolan)
Mr. Nolan’s work on this film is remarkable. He has snatched a franchise out of the jaws of death and breathed new and entertaining life into it. I wrote last summer that SPIDER-MAN 2 had raised the bar for comic book-based films. A year later, Mr. Nolan has followed suit. BATMAN BEGINS throws down the gauntlet and says, “Beat this!” And that can directly be contributed to Chris Nolan. Even though BATMAN BEGINS is a “comic book” movie and full of action, Nolan makes sure that the style never overshadows the substance. In fact, labeling it as such is unfair. It is simply an excellent film.
BATMAN BEGINS is compelling entertainment and excellent film-making all around. It is a story of a man who is lost, who has experienced a great emotional trauma, and the lengths he will go to find himself – and his destiny.
The movie isn’t without faults, albeit minor ones. I would have liked to see Nolan pull the camera back on some of the fight scenes so we could see a bit more of what was going on – though I understand why the fight scenes were shot the way that they were (taking on Batman from a criminal’s POV). I like the Rachel character and what she’s about, but Katie Holmes was not completely believable. But these are minor criticisms that have no, or very little, affect on the film as a whole.
BATMAN BEGINS may be the definitive BATMAN film and it certainly ranks right up there with the greatest comic book movies in history (SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, SPIDER-MAN 2) – if not at the top of the list. In fact, is this a comic book film that’s damn good, or is it an excellent film that just happens to be about a character from comic books?
I’m looking forward to seeing what stories and adventures lie ahead for this Batman on the silver screen. – Bill “Jett” Ramey