BATMAN BEGINS Review

Looking back on Christopher Nolan's first venture into Gotham City it does show us how far he has come as a filmmaker. His confidence alone in what he can accomplish and what he can control to the point he can put it on screen in an organized fashion is stunning. When going into Batman Begins though, we had no impression of what was to come and so we took it for what it was at the time: the best Batman movie that had ever been made. I've always been a huge Batman fan, and like anyone from my generation, a child of the 90's, they likely gained their fondness for the character through the animated series of that decade. What was odd about the correlation between that series and the live action films coming out at the time is that the only correlation had already passed in the Burton films. The Tim Burton films painted an eccentric and somewhat dark picture of the caped crusader. Certainly, to that point they were the closest thing anyone had come to the original comics of Bob Kane. Still, after Burton and Keaton retired from the series it crashed and burned under Joel Schumacher who turned the live action adaptations into more kid-centric entertainment than the 1992-1995 animated series. This cartoon series, partially inspired by the success of Burton's films gave my generation a better idea of what Batman was supposed to be (not you, George Clooney!). With Batman Begins Nolan and writer David S. Goyer delivered the extension of that series to the kids who grew up watching it every day after school. Begins gave a darker and more realistic tone to the gritty world of Gotham City and the rich boy who in one act gained fear and despair for what his world truly was. It didn't simply deliver the superhero in a suit fighting bad guys, but it gave us the motivation for a man to cover his face and force out evil.

Batman rescues citizens of Gotham with the help of Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes).
What I found particularly appealing about Batman Begins was the fact it filled in those gaps that had always been left out of the Batman origin story. Anyone who has ever seen a Batman movie knows the part where Bruce watches his parents murdered at a young age. We know this is what motivates him to fight for what is not necessarily revenge, but justice. How though, did such a young boy decide to take on the persona of a bat? Where did he learn to fight? Where did he gather his theories and divulge the psychology of the criminal mind? What made him any kind of authority to try and stop those who threatened what he desired to salvage? The questions are endless yet somehow Nolan and Goyer were able to blend this analysis of a hero into the story of Batman's coming to be and his first face-off with the mob and criminal masterminds that would come to litter his city. Beginning with and going in a non-linear fashion to reconstruct the struggle of a boy through his young adult years and on into manhood the film does a wonderful job of painting a full picture of who Bruce Wayne is as a man. In doing this, Batman Begins was able to do something few superhero films had accomplished before. The audience was not simply counting the time until the man put on the suit, but instead we were somewhat forced to become just as engaged in the story of what was going on underneath the mask. When Bruce leaves Gotham after seemingly closing a chapter in his life dealing with the death of his parents he carries the sorrow and spark of a realization from mobster Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) around with him as he explores the criminal mind. He is searching to find a way to avenge the guilt he feels for his parents death by ridding the world of the filth that took his parents from him.

In doing so, Bruce comes across a man who presents himself strictly as Ducard (Liam Neeson), a recruiter for a mysterious group of vigilantes known as the league of shadows who, at first glance, seem to have the same goals in mind as Bruce. When it becomes clear that Ducard and his leader, Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), do not view the way in which a criminal should be treated with the same ideals as Bruce a rift is formed between the billionaire and the boys in black. Wayne fights back and seemingly makes his way back to Gotham, with little more than a lesson well learned. Despite their differences in theory Bruce has taken a few cues from his teacher and implied the use of theatrics into his plan to rid Gotham of those that have torn apart everything his idealistic father worked to build. Thus we are now given the complications of corrupt cops and officials in nearly every office in Gotham. Using long time friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes, later to be replaced by Maggie Gylenhaal) and reaching out to new ally Sgt. James Gordon (a flawless Gary Oldman) Bruce begins the revolution to clean up the corrupt. It also helps that he still has the full support of family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) also serving as a kind of father figure as well as Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) a Wayne Enterprises employee in the applied sciences division that provides the cool gadgets Wayne uses to up the intimidation factor of his alter ego. In one of my favorite aspects of this reboot though, we were given a live action interpretation of what I always found to be one of the creepier Batman villains. As personified by Cillian Murphy, Dr. Jonathan Crane is at the same time what brings this first installment out of its strictly grounded reality while also assuring the audience that such an outlandish kind of villain can still fit into Nolan's world.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) aka Batman makes his presence known.
Besides the story though, it is everything about the film that consistently captivated me. Never has the music felt so integral to the actions that are taking place on screen. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard set the tone for the entire series with this score by giving this Gotham a completely different feel than we'd ever related to it before. The look of the film was integral, the orange and yellow tones tinted with shadows in each shot. The imagery, how Bale and Nolan made a point to get stoic shots of Batman and truly bring to life that persona of Batman from the comics. There was the reinvented batmobile aka "The Tumbler" and the way in which each actor complimented the intended tone that made audiences take it as seriously as the characters were. It all falls into place and creates a coherent picture where, while inevitably still having a few flaws, made it clear that director Nolan took this superhero stuff seriously and we were in for something we'd not experienced prior. The complaints are few, though after seeing the renovated batsuit for The Dark Knight I wished they might have discovered it a few yeas earlier so that our first introduction to Bale's Batman might not have been the clunky, stiff hero we have here. There is also the case of the final act slightly devolving into standard action movie stuff. The plot becomes slightly predictable when a ship is hijacked and a Wayne Enterprises tool is stolen. I remember thinking the first time I watched the film that the pacing had been perfect up to this point when it becomes evident how much the film was trying to accomplish. The script gave us what we needed to know in the most subtle of ways up to this point, but as we neared the climax of the film it simply felt more of a mess than necessary. Still, it could not take away from the excitement Batman Begins roused in me by seeing the Bruce Wayne/Batman story get the treatment it always needed, what it had always deserved. If I only knew what was to come.