Christopher Nolan's epic The Dark Knight trilogy is a force to be reckoned with in the world of film. Whilst the second film in the franchise, The Dark Knight, has become the benchmark for all superhero films, receiving universal acclaim and becoming the 4th highest grossing film ever at the time, and it's sequel The Dark Knight Rises also receiving acclaim and becoming the 7th highest grossing film at the time, it seems that the first film: Batman Begins, does not receive the credit it deserves.
Released in 2005 in an attempt to reboot the Batman franchise after 1997's infamous Batman & Robin "killed it", Batman Begins was met with critical acclaim and adoration from critics and fans alike, all who appreciated the return to the character's dark roots. Moreover, it allowed us to see characters who we had never seen on the big screen before, such as Ra's Al Guhl, Carmine Falcone and the Scarecrow. The film was helmed by strong performances from Christian Bale, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes, screen legends Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Bale's portrayal of Batman was applauded. Fans took very well to the emotional arc Bruce went through as he transitioned from a vengeful vigilante into a hero, seeking the means to fight injustice. Furthermore, at the time, it was considered to be like a holy grail of sorts for comic-book fans as it finally gave us a complete Batman origin story on-screen. Bale's portrayal of Batman received acclaim and the growled rasp he used to conceal his voice was an intriguing conception, also met with approval, especially when he uttered those famous words... "I'm Batman!".
The film grossed a brilliant $374.2 million. This figure may seem rather small compared to the gigantic figures that superhero movies bring in these days. However, Batman Begins came well before this trend...a trend that was kickstarted by it's own successor, The Dark Knight.
So despite reinvigorating the Batman franchise, giving us an origin story and returning the character to his darker roots...for some strange reason, Batman Begins seems to have fallen from people's memories when talking about the Dark Knight trilogy. The Dark Knight has become the measuring stick for every other superhero film out there: it deals heavily with realism and gives us a more gritty, realistic approach to crime, not to mention a stunning Oscar winning performance by the late, great Heath Ledger as the Joker. And The Dark Knight Rises closed the trilogy with a bigger, longer production, pitting Batman against his toughest adversery ever in Bane. Hardy's Bane was praised, as was Anne Hathaway's performance as Selina Kyle (effectively Catwoman), although the film met some criticism for some of it's "plotholes". I loved the film though and give it a quiet round of applause once the credits rolled. But even with these two modern masterpieces, their realism makes them less comic-book. Yes, that's not necessarily a bad thing...we wouldn't have wanted them turning into Batman & Robin. However, it is their predecessor Batman Begins that injects just enough comic-book into the realism to get the perfect blend and ultimately create one of the greatest comic-book films ever made.
Before 2005, Batman had seemingly died a media death. Nobody talked about him, there were few animated movies and most importantly, there were no live action movies either...nothing major since Batman & Robin. However, that all changed when Batman Begins came out. Interest in Batman grew once again and the Dark Knight himself had indeed risen.
Being younger at the time, there was still lots I didn't understand about movies. But even at this young age, I knew that Batman Begins was literally like a comic book come to life. And I don't mean that it became a colourful over-the-top pantomime performance like Batman & Robin, I mean that it became a real life graphic novel, true to the Batman mythology. When I was younger and first read renowned Batman graphic novels such as Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Hush and Batman: No Man's Land, they altered my perception as to what a comic book actually looked like. I realised that they weren't all "POW" and "ZAP" like the 60s ones or the cartoon-like ones in the newsagents. They were adult narratives that told well-written adult storylines befitting of a cable show.
Batman Begins took great inspiration for Batman: The Long Halloween particularly evident from Falcone's heavy involvement as well as drawing inspiration from Batman: The Man Who Falls and Batman: Year One for Bruce's journey into Batman.
While the first hour of the film deals with Bruce's physical and spirtual journey away from vengeance and towards Justice, the second half of the film provides us with a dark, gothic Gotham City ruled by the criminal underworld. Whereas in the following two films, Gotham seems to look like any famous city, Batman Begins does a beautiful job of visually portraying Gotham as the lowly, crime-ridden city that it is in the comic books. Furthermore, the area known as "the Narrows" intensifies the Gothic feel to the film, with broken down streets overrun with criminals. The concept of the Narrows is an incredibly interesting idea - the murky area of the city that the sheer mention of it's name invokes shivers down your spine. Moreover, the fact that it's always raining throws us back to Batman: The Animated Series in which it literally rained in Gotham all the time. The bridge to the Island is very reminiscent of other Batman adaptations where Arkham is refined to it's own island. Unfortunately, the Narrows is almost completely dropped for the two sequels and we rarely, if ever hear about it. Although they are explored in the animated sequel Batman: Gotham Knight.
The visuals in the film set it apart from the two sequels. Whilst they deliver incredible visuals in their own right, everything is explained away in the whole man-made sense of the world. All the technological advancements seem real. However, in Batman Begins, the fantastical element of the comic-book remains through the visuals, yet it is the story that allows it to remain "real". Like in the sequels, there are explanations for everything, however, Batman Begins is allowed to have some fun through the toxin-fuelled visions. The Narrows being covered with Crane's poison made for plenty of opportunities for some interesting CGI. The scene where the Scarecrow's horse breathes fire must be commended because it is literally like something that was ripped from the pages of one of the many dark, gothic Batman graphic novels.
Furthermore, when Batman flies over the infected Gotham, it's residents see him as a gigantic Bat creature, with fully blown red eyes, claws and a terrifying demon-like screech. The stunning visuals in the film managed to deliver to us all the best aspects of a comic book. There is a perfect mix there between comic book and film and this makes the film a success. It never ventures too far into the comic world and end up a pantomime like Batman & Robin with neon lights. Instead, it focuses on a compelling and realistic storyline, adding layers and nods to the comics that solidified Batman's legendary status. The thing that sets Batman Begins apart from other comic book movies (like Batman & Robin) is that it picks the right comics to draw from! The tone of the film is dark and dull.
Much like it's successors, Batman Begins chose some of the less mainstream villains to focus on. The choices of Scarecrow, Ra's Al Guhl and Carmine Falcone are choices that are faithful to the comics. These characters heavily feature in many of the famous Batman graphic novels. Ra's Al Guhl, in particular, has a reputation for besting Batman and that is never clearer than it is portrayed in this film. Liam Neeson is superb and embodies everything that the character stands for and more importantly...stands against. To be able to take villains that aren't high on Batman's rogues gallery and be able to make an outstanding film with these characters is a testament to the team behind Batman Begins.
In a trilogy where the last two films were highly commended for their realism and how they managed to take comic-book characters and place them in very realisitic situations, it was the trilogy opener that managed to become one of the greatest comic book manifestations we have ever seen. And that is why Batman Begins should be considered just as a formidable force within The Dark Knight trilogy as it's successors!