In 1997, the Batman franchise’s future was left in limbo due to the bomb that is Batman & Robin. Eight years later, Christopher Nolan’s grounded, mature character study/cinematic origin tale of the titular caped crusader, Batman Begins, simultaneously rejuvenated the franchise and set a new bar for the level of depth that comic book adaptations could aspire to.
Begins explores the finer details of how Bruce Wayne became Batman and what drives him in his quest to rid Gotham City of crime, something the Batman films up to this date had never given more than a surface glance. Bruce starts as a troubled youth lost in the world, literally and metaphorically, and still haunted by the murder of his parents. He is then recruited by a man known only as Ducard, who, along with his organization (The League Of Shadows), trains Bruce to overcome his fear and turn it against those who seek to prey on the weak. The film uses this set-up as an avenue to delve into the reasoning behind elements of Batman lore; why he dresses like a bat (bats frighten Bruce, and he wishes for criminals to feel the same by turning that fear onto them), why he chooses to help the people of Gotham as a vigilante (Gotham’s savior cannot be merely a mortal man, but an incorruptible symbol who can shake the masses out of complacency), and why he refuses to kill his enemies (as a symbol meant to inspire people, Batman cannot indulge in such an injustice).
The majority of Batman Begins is centered around the concept of fear and how people react to such feelings. This theme acts like webbing, touching and binding every aspect of the film into a whole, from Bruce’s character arc to the ultimate goal of the film’s villains. Much of the film’s imagery complements the idea of fear as well, even evoking images of hell at certain points, and scenes where Batman delivers his brand of justice to criminals are shot reminiscently of a horror film. There is another, slightly less prominent theme; that of legacy, mostly embodied by Bruce’s butler/confidant, Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred clearly disapproves of Bruce’s crusade, especially since he views the man as a surrogate son, and instead wishes for Bruce to continue the work done by his late father. While Bruce destroys most of his family’s physical legacy in his quest for justice, he opens up the door for a brighter tomorrow, both for himself and Gotham at large, in the process, leaving behind the exact sort of legacy his father would’ve wanted. Additionally, by the end of the film, Alfred has gained a deeper understanding of Bruce’s mission and what he is trying to accomplish, and offers more willing, if not wholehearted, support.
Aside from Katie Holmes as Bruce’s childhood friend Rachel Dawes, the casting of Batman Begins is simply impeccable. In a film much more devoted to examining Batman’s character, a strong lead performance is required, and Christian Bale more than delivers. Showcasing Wayne’s visceral anger just as flawlessly as the yuppie facade he puts on in public, Bale is perfect in the role and ranks among the top tier of superhero casting. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman excel as Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, respectively, offering a more humorous bent to a film that is generally serious. Gary Oldman plays Sergeant Jim Gordon, Batman’s sole police ally, well despite the role being a change of pace for him as an actor, while Liam Neeson is unforgettable as Ra’s Al Ghul, leader of the League Of Shadows, Wayne’s mentor, and the film’s primary villain. Even the film’s more minor actors, from Cillian Murphy as fear-obsessed psychiatrist Jonathan Crane and Tom Wilkinson as haughty mobster Carmine Falcone leave their mark on the film.
The performances are helped by a near air-tight screenplay, inarguably the best work of screenwriter David Goyer. While much of the dialogue had the potential to come across as hollow exposition, there is a poetic air which makes it so endearing. Despite the overall excellent writing of the film, one hiccup happens in the film’s climax; Batman leaves Ra’s to die, justifying his choice with the dubious statement, “I won’t kill you but I don’t have to save you”. This line contradicts much of what had been established about Batman’s character, and is the only flaw that cannot be forgiven or overlooked.
Regardless of a few flaws, Batman Begins provides an excellent origin for the dark knight, works perfectly as both a standalone & the opening act to the trilogy it would eventually spawn, and is one of the finest Batman stories in any medium.
Rating: 4.5 Out Of 5 Stars
We're the passionate staff of WOBAM! Entertainment, covering the worlds of heroes and galaxies far, far, away.
Latest posts by WOBAM! Writing Staff (see all)
- TAKING A STAND: Why We Will Not Be Covering Bryan Singer’s RED SONJA (Or His Future Endeavors) - January 27, 2019
- REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER - February 16, 2018
- Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 - July 5, 2017