In a new millennium where superhero films had become predictable, unrealistic and downright insulting – Chris Nolan creates a new twist on an already compelling, and intricate character of The Batman. Adapted from several of The Dark Knight’s most notable appearances by scribe David Goyer, Batman Begins is a reimagining that has set the bar for nearly every comic book/graphic novel to date since its release in 2005.
Obviously, the most striking difference between this film, and the last entry into the Batman franchise – Joel Schumacher’s nipple-tweaking ‘Batman & Robin’. Is that it’s essentially a superhero film with a realism and humanity never seen before. Complimented with the backdrop of a bustling metropolis (no, not that one) that is suffering from one the worst crime waves in recent history - though without necessarily shying away from the general aesthetics of a superhero movie. Truly fitting for a character repertoire of Batman, and the legend of Gotham.
The story centres of course on Bruce Wayne (Bale), self-exiled in Bhutan after the death of his parents (sorry, but everyone knows…) - searching for a means to avenge their death and fight injustice, while finding his place in the world. He is approached by Liam Neeson’s ’Ducard’, a member of a ninja sect known as the League of Shadows . Thus begins his journey… The location shooting in this picture is simply stunning and breathtaking – utilising the Icelandic mountains as a stand-in for Bhutan, Nolan and Pfister push the boundaries and find a scale that is worthy of such a larger than life character. A perception of ambiguity on first impression perhaps.. But you hardly expect to see Bruce Wayne jumping off of the top of a mountain…
With Gotham City itself, the main setting for the film. It’s a city of cities – akin to the likes of New York City and London in terms of its architecture and streets. A far cry from the spooky, ‘eerieness’ of Burton’s Gotham. Giving Batman Begins a grounded, more personally relatable backdrop. As you would initially believe from the title – the narrative follows Bruce Wayne as he begins his journey to become the vigilante ‘Batman’. The first time we have ever seen the origins of the character on the silver screen. Drawing heavily on seminal works such as Year One, Christian Bale as Wayne is as convincing as you can imagine. Bale’s previous dramatic work – the most recent to the time of production being ‘The Machinist’, lends him a huge hand in effectively capturing the torn billionaire.
Deeply affected by the shocking death of his family, and later the killing of their murderer – Bale’s expressions in these particular areas of the movie suggest a deep nuance and affinity with the character. He’s a man broken, but seeks the means and reason to fight back. As Batman, the difference is chalk and cheese. Truly haunting, physically imposing, and a menacing presence – Batman is at his most darkest ever, let alone his most brutal. Bale, delivers an astounding performance.
Without noting on all support, these are the more standout shows for the film. A bit rough around the edges – Liam Neeson, is relatively solid and gives an almost token turn as Ducard. The driving force behind Bruce Wayne’s ascension to his destiny as Gotham’s saviour, and though not physically powerful, he cunningly exploits the darkest parts of Wayne’s soul during his training in the mountains. Fuelling him with a rage and determination to see injustice undone. Subsequently, Ducard is more than what he seems – And in the movie’s 3rd act, becomes a wedge between Batman and the protection of Gotham City. Certainly not a huge feather in the cap for the Irish Oscar winner, but rather maintains his status as one of Britain’s most important exports in the slightest of all manners.
Batman is no short of allies. Nolan vet, Michael Caine is the dedicated butler, Alfred. Not only acting as Batman’s closest confidant, but also a father figure for the orphan. Offering sound advice through subtle sarcasm all the way to harsh home truths. It’s a definitive portrayal of the character, and certainly one of key castings. Caine is bloody great. And his chemistry with Bale is fluid and does not slack at any point. Further adding the acting masterclass is everyone’s favourite voice, Morgan Freeman. As Batman’s armourer in the R&D section of Wayne Enterprises, Freeman’s significance in the film as a whole is redundant, save for the few scenes he is in. Though it is a safe, sound and justified casting decision with the performance given. The pivotal support is supplied by Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon - a perfect casting and a real empathy-laden turn. Gordon’s side story of his progression through conspiracy and oppression within the ranks of the GCPD is a fitting accoutrement to the main narrative. One of Oldman’s better performances in recent memory.
Nolan’s vision was to bring the character back to reality. With the minimal use of CGI, and the relying on miniatures for action pieces. Executed beautifully by the effects team is the film’s finale, the climactic tussle between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul aboard the Gotham Monorail. The fight scenes are abundant as you would imagine throughout the film’s entirety, introducing a close-combat fighting style practiced by Bale himself, popularised around the time of production. Meriting the character of Batman, his physical strength and reputation for taking down bad guys by the numbers. Many of these scenes showcasing a flowing, fast-paced method of combat. It’s awesome to watch with the complex and expertly timed editing of shooting.
In closing, though not perfectly cast and arguably clunky from a story point of view in a very minimal scale… This film is brilliantly written and directed impeccably. It’s a testament to Nolan’s rising star in Hollywood. A must-see.