Traumatised by the slaying of his parents, millionaire Bruce Wayne leaves Gotham and joins the mysterious League of Shadows. However when he opposes their methods, he is forced to return to his home to wage a one-man war of justice.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe
Run Time: 140 Minutes
Release Date: 15 June 2005 (US)
Six years on from the disastrous Batman and Robin, Warner Bros. were finally convinced that the world had had plenty of time to forget about the reign of Joel Schumacher and was ready for a new Batman movie. Considering the damage done by the previous regime, it all had to start again. No more sequels, this franchise desperately needed a reboot. That is exactly what Nolan did.
Smartly presenting a totally different Batman film to any director who had come before him, Nolan takes the ‘wait and see’ approach when it comes to us actually seeing The Dark Knight on screen. Indeed, we have to wait almost an hour before Bruce Wayne pulls on the cowl. When we do get it, it’s nothing like we saw from Tim Burton or Schumacher; a homemade suit compiled of parts from all over the world, a Bat-Cave homed in an actual cave beneath Wayne Manor, and an almost-crude Bat-Sign, first made from mob boss Carmine Falcone and even when a more-professional one is installed on the roof of the Major Crime Unit, it appears out of focus in the night sky. The whole presentation comes off less slick than previous Batman outings, but that is no bad thing. On the contrary, it sets Nolan’s Batman, and indeed Gotham, aside from those before. The city of Gotham is nothing like the noir and art deco previously employed by Burton and Schumacher; Nolan’s Gotham looks real. It looks like a depressing place to live and survive. And that’s the intention, for Gotham is a bad place to live. Although for the first hour we see nothing of Bruce Wayne’s home city. Following the shooting of Joe Chill, the man who killed Wayne’s parents – no comic deviation here – Bruce takes off and ends up under the tutelage of Liam Neeson’s Ducard, working on behalf of Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows.
When he does finally return home, he finds a city overtaken by fear and evil, leading to the creation and introduction of our masked hero. Nolan and his writers script this well, with Batman not being the perfect superher0 from the get-go. He makes mistakes, but learns from them. We see the effect his nighttime battling has on his day life as a millionaire playboy looking for something to fill his time.
Many consider Michael Keaton the eminent Batman, someone who understood how to essentially play two characters. Val Kilmer sadly failed at both, and while George Clooney looked sharp in the Batsuit, he didn’t grasp Bruce Wayne. But here, Christian Bale – coming off a staggering performance in The Machinist – knows how to differentiate the two and quickly establishes himself in the role, delivering an intense and emotional performance. Neeson, Murphy and Wilkinson are all inspired choices and deliver in their roles. Murphy in particular is excellent as Dr Crane, playing the strange and devious perfectly. He is somewhat of a Nolan favourite, but when he is performing like this it’s easy to see why. It is unfortunate, then, that Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes disappoints. Holmes is not a bad actress and is more likely just totally miscast here, but she stands out as a weak point. She has no chemistry on-screen with Bale and the film suffers when we get the Dawes/Wayne and Dawes/Batman scenes. Oldman, Caine and Freeman were perfect casting choices, bringing familiarity, experience and safe hands to a movie intended to be the renaissance of a fallen franchise. They also bring the majority of the film’s lighter moments, enabling the movie to slow down when necessary. It’s a nicer touch that these moments give us a chance to see a human side to Wayne and Batman.
Another difference from previous outings is the lack of a headline villain, with Falcone, Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul battling for evil supremacy. Not forgetting the late bonus entry as well. Unlike many superhero movies that pack in the bad guys and suffer as a result, the film doesn’t suffer for it. The pacing is perfect, giving each character their time and moments. As for the film, it is presented as realistic and with the feel that what we see could actually happen. It isn’t, of course, but it’s pretty close. Superhero origin movies are a difficult beast, and many have failed before. Nolan, on the other hand, succeeds with room to spare. Burton never explored this side of Bruce Wayne, and Schumacher went with sequels over prequels, so as well as being a damn good – nay, great – film, we get something we have never really seen before.
Superhero origin movies are tough, but Batman Begins is exceptional. To this day, nothing has come close to topping it. Considering the numerous attempts that have been made since, that should say it all.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Perfectly paced, written and acted
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
Katie Holmes is a weak point