Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman
Origin stories have a tough task of establishing the values and ethics of our heroes, while also attempting to set them off on an adventure. Trying to balance this beginning and a story worth fighting for creates quite the challenge, which Christopher Nolan stepped up to the plate and delivered. With Batman Begins, the beloved comic book character comes back with a bang and changes its perception for the foreseeable future.
After witnessing the rampant crime in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world to learn combat techniques and gets mixed up with the League of Shadows. With his new skills and a sense of purpose, Bruce returns to Gotham to rid the city of crime and embrace his fears.
Following the terrible depths the character of Batman found himself in after the catastrophe of Batman & Robin, it appeared that he would never recover. How else could you come back after a toy commercial was the last film with the caped crusader? The only way would be to swing the tone in a completely different direction and make the story as realistic as possible. A tactic chosen by Christopher Nolan and one that has paid exceptional dividends since then. I cannot stress the importance of Batman Begins to the redemption of this character, and all of the great ways it recontextualizes Bruce Wayne’s struggles.
The film opens with a young Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents die in front of him along with being raised by Alfred and the lessons bestowed upon him. After being mocked for being nothing more than a child trying to create fear, the film then seeks to establish his fighting ability and how the entire concept of becoming Batman comes to fruition with his interactions with the League of Shadows. With this, the film creates a foundation that this iteration of Bruce Wayne would be nothing like what has been seen before in live-action. This does not have the Gothic aesthetic of the Tim Burton Batman films or the virtual and elastic look of the Joel Schumacher ones. Gothman stood on its own and it benefited the story. It’s established why Bruce cares about saving Gotham, by his father demonstrating what makes it so special. All of the setup becomes integral and makes the moment Bruce suits up as Batman all the more resonant.
Emotions play a large part in this narrative as the relationships between the characters feel so refined. There are plenty of moments that put these characters into stressful moments and display their weaknesses and hardships. It comes to mind with the number of times Alfred (Micahel Caine) saves Bruce from the actions that happen around him. The moments of compassion between them works so well and the combination of Christian Bale and Michael Caine sustains the entire trilogy of films that this movie started.
The casting of the entire film feels perfect and has solidified the look of how I envision these characters. Christian Bale’s iteration of Batman will always be the one that I associate with the character. For others, it may be Michael Keaton, but the internal battle Bale’s Bruce endures speaks to the struggles of living the vigilante lifestyle. Where he must pretend to be a playboy in order to distract from his nighttime activities. Someone who wants to have it all but cannot because of the path he chose. The issue of duality has always been integral to the character and that gets explored in this series of films. Michael Caine as Alfred has become as synonymous as any actor/character pairing. Caine’s exceptional work shows a man bound by duty and love to Bruce in a way that he would never give up on him, even when making questionable decisions. Everyone else in the cast works so well including Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Cillian Murphy.
Even with the incredible successes that preceded Batman Begins, doing this film catapulted Christopher Nolan into the mainstream and remains one of the only directors in Hollywood that will bring people to the theaters by only his name. With Batman Begins, he shifted how people look at superhero films and just how grounded they can be. Now, this film has some ridiculousness to it when it comes to the end, but it still feels grounded. Whether it be the new Batmobile or the villains that our hero must take on. Gotham’s tangibility shows the cracks that the League of Shadows wants to destroy and why Bruce wants to protect it.
The score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard has also created a tone that has since become iconic. It feels almost as recognizable as the Danny Elfman score utilized in Batman and Batman Returns. It revs up at the right moments and emphasizes the strong emotional moments that test Bruce’s resolve. The way it gets tinkered with throughout the rest of the trilogy changes with the point of view and perception of Batman.
Out with the old and in with the new, Batman Begins has left an indelible mark in the way superheroes are viewed. It demonstrates how a trust fund kid could develop himself into someone who could take on crime bosses and men with dangerous toxins. The new imagery introduced establishes something that has not been seen before and the start of a trilogy that will set the standard of what could be achieved in this genre.