– Summary –
Director : Christopher Nolan
Cast : Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Wantanabe, Linus Roache, Mark Boone Jr.
Year of Release: 2005
Length : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: Upon his return to Gotham from a self imposed exile, Bruce Wayne begins his quest for revenge against the criminal element in Gotham City, by becoming Batman, the Caped Crusader.
Review : Stunning reboot for the Batman franchise sees Christian Bale step into superstardom for the role of Bruce Wayne, in this blockbuster film that is actually pretty damn good.
Rather than try and recapture the dark, campy nature of previous Batman film installments (courtesy of Tim Burton & Joel Schumacher) director Christopher Nolan and his team decided to take Batman back to his infancy, to the time before there was a Batman protecting Gotham City. Whilst not an origin story in the vein that we know (a la Burton’s Batman) this was an attempt to return batman to the gritty, urban reality he epitomizes in the comic books. By grounding the character of Bruce Wayne in some kind of realistic, believable world, this immediately attracts an audiences emotions as they can appreciate the characters as real people.
Featuring a cast of stars, including Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Rutger Hauer, as well as perennial b-lister Katie Holmes and up-and-coming Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins spent a long time on the development of Batman as a character, whilst meanwhile trying to reintroduce characters we know from previous films/books/tv series in a new slant. Christian Bale was given the chance to stretch his acting chops after a dazzling performance in The Machinist, and bulked up significantly for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Nolan’s grasp of character is truly second to none, with his exploration of the Batman’s development wonderfully done. Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul is perhaps the weakest of the performances, his motivations a little less clear than the others on screen. That’s not to say Neeson is particularly bad, its just that with a veritable cornucopia of cast power on screen, somebody has to bear the brunt of limited screen time. Unfortunately, Neeson is it this time. Bale’s Batman is a ferocious, scowling animalistic hero, his augmented voice perfectly complementing the way the character is portrayed. The suit is less overtly sexual than previous incarnations, and is more “designed” in accordance with Bruce Waynes scientifically styled characterization.
The action sequences are superbly staged, with plenty of tension and moody atmospherics to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Coupled with Hans Zimmers’ pounding orchestral score (with James Newton Howard providing the less active moments) the film rockets along, with some dazzling moments of bravura filmmaking (the Batmobile along the rooftops moment, in particular) as well as more tender, emotive moments. While Batman Begins is set in a dingy, dark Gotham City, and the main protagonist is almost always shown half covered by shadows, this manages to bring out the eerie, creepy feeling of vengeance personified in the Bat. While the idea of Batman as a character was always to strike fear into the hearts of criminals (unlike Superman, who was seen as the utter personification of good and a veritable beacon of hope and light), Nolans take on the character is almost like he’s trying to strike fear into the hearts of the audience as well.
The main antagonist, Ra’s Al Ghul, is almost ineffective compared to The Scarecrow (one of Batman’s lesser villains, but one that’s in keeping with the films themes of duality) played by Cillian Murphy with truly creepy malevolence. The Scarecrow manages to keep the newly formed Batman off his feet a couple of times, with his strange hallucinogenic poison gas, and the effect it has on it’s victims is truly scary and unsettling. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox is the spanner in the works of Rutger Hauer’s attempts to take over Wayne Corp, the company founded by the Wayne family and trying desperately to squeeze Bruce out of the picture. Fox is the one who gives Bruce (Batman, that is…) his tools of trade. Strangely, he doesn’t want to know why Bruce wants those marvelous toys (a line which would have been much more appropriate in this film, it must be said) but knows it’s for something other than just a rich playboy playing about.
Katie Holmes, as Rachel Dawes, is the films love interest, although Holmes seems a little young compared to Bale to be playing his girlfriend….. that must be a holdover from her role on Dawson’s Creek that makes me think she’s younger than she appears. She’s somewhat limited in her emotional range (so far outclassed by Bale it’s not funny) and you can almost see why she declined to take part in The Dark Knight; she cannot possibly hope to match the performances by the rest of the cast.
The epic scope of Batman Begins leaves little room to reflect well on previous film installments, as this reboot essentially shoves all the crass, campy rubbish from the Schumacher films aside and creates it’s own version of the character. Most modern audiences would have looked at Batman and figured that it’s always been your Adam West/Tim Burton/Schumacher styled half camp, half comic romp, garish colours and bad one liners included. Thankfully, Nolan and his team designed a realistic, dark and appropriately frightening take on the character, one which successfully rebooted the franchise and gave it new blood.