After the train wreck of Batman & Robin in 1997, live action Batman films remained in obscurity for nearly a decade. Warner Bros. wouldn't find confidence in moving forward with production of a Batman film until 2003 when the studio hired Memento director, Christopher Nolan. Two months later, David S. Goyer was hired to write the film's script. Nolan stated that he wanted to tell the origins of the character, which had never been done before. Aiming for a darker and more realistic tone, Nolan and Goyer sought to keep the world of Batman grounded. The two have gone on record to say that the goal was to get audiences to care for both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Similarly to Richard Donner's 1978 Superman film, Nolan wanted an all-star cast to be a part of the film to lend it more credibility. The British director achieved this with an incredible cast that included Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Liam Neeson as Ra's Al Ghul, Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone.
As stated above, Batman Begins spends much of its time focusing on the origins of Bruce Wayne. While at an opera, Bruce Wayne is with his parents but becomes frightened by the show due to its imagery of bats. When the family leaves outside, they are targeted by a mugger, Joe Chill, who ends up murdering Bruce's parents. This leaves Alfred to be the primary caretaker of Wayne and raise him. Fourteen years later, Chill is freed in exchange for testifying against mob boss, Carmine Falcone. Bruce leaves Gotham to travel the world and learn skills to confront injustice in Gotham. He ends up meeting Henri Ducard who is a member of the League of Shadows. Ducard and the League train Bruce, and inform him of their plan to destroy Gotham, in order to purge it of its criminals and corruption. This results in a fight between Bruce and the League, which leaves their temple destroyed. Bruce then makes his return to Gotham with the intent on fighting crime. He develops an underground base at Wayne Manor, enlists his caretaker Alfred, and seeks out equipment from Wayne Enterprises scientist, Lucius Fox. As the Batman becomes a prominent and terrifying figure in Gotham, a new threat arises from a fear drug that is produced by the corrupt Dr. Jonathan Crane.
Nolan and Goyer were able to achieve their goal, and then some. Never before had audiences gained a true understanding of WHO Batman is, and why he is motivated to live the lifestyle that he does. That's because we never received a deep exploration into Bruce Wayne - the man. Nolan and Goyer managed to create a cast of characters that audiences could truly care about. The development of those characters, and their respective roles they play in Bruce Wayne's life help illustrate this story even further. Batman Begins is a film that focuses much more on story and psychology rather than action and spectacle. While there is some entertaining action beats in the film, it's doesn't heavily rely on these mechanisms to make a great movie. What I find particularly fascinating about Batman Begins is the relationship between Bruce and Ducard, who later reveals himself to be Ra's Al Ghul. The two share similar ideologies when it comes to fighting injustice, but their plans of action to carry out that ideology is very different. To illustrate this dynamic on-screen means that Nolan and Goyer really understand the characters that they translated.
Batman Begins has a multitude of underlying themes that explore their characters further. Fear is certainly a major theme, especially with the presence of the villain, Jonathan Crane a.k.a. Scarecrow. Terror and fear is something to be conquered, and Bruce Wayne undergoes a journey of exploration to help alleviate his fears. Not only does Bruce attempt to face his fears head-on, when he becomes a symbol of fear in the Batman. By guising himself as the Batman, the symbol is meant to strike fear in the hearts of criminals around Gotham as a means to also provide hope for its citizens. Bruce, himself, is a character who is constantly striving to do the right thing, but is wore down with his troubled past, and must seek to understand how he can serve the city of Gotham as he fights injustice - a battle that can never truly be won.
Batman Begins has stood the test of time as the reboot that the character so rightfully deserves. Begins is not only visually stimulating, but it is rich with ingenuity. Nolan and crew crafted the beginning of what would become The Dark Knight Trilogy, which launched some of the most successful and influential superhero films of all-time. Begins reimagined the psychology of the Caped Crusader, which would deliver one of the strongest character pieces in the superhero film genre. It's influence shouldn't be underestimated either. Begins paved the way for darker, more realistic realizations of superheroes in shows like Arrow, where the campy nature of comic books was removed in favor of a grounded worldview. Nolan eschewed in a new era of Batman by creating a unique world, filled with rich and complex characters. As the beginning of a new era for superhero film, Batman Begins ushered in a new wave of popularity for the Batman character, and still holds up today as the greatest origin story for any hero.