With "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" coming out later this month, I figured that I'd give my thoughts on the more recent depictions of the titular characters. I'll be reviewing Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy as well as 2013's "Man of Steel" leading up to March 25, so let's start it off with 2005's reincarnation of Batman.
"Batman Begins" is directed by Christopher Nolan and it stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in his journey to understand stuff like justice, criminals, and conquering fear and using these things to help him become Gotham City's Caped Crusader. This movie also features the all star cast of Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, and Ken Watanabe.
In the years leading up to this movie, the last feature film about Batman was "Batman and Robin" and I don't think that movie needs to be talked about anymore than it already has. Comic book movies at the time had, for the most part, matured with hits like the first two "X-Men" films and Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" adaptations, but it was arguably "Batman Begins" that rebooted the franchise and introduced us to how dark comic book movies could be. The character of Batman is undeniably dark, so Nolan's approach fit well in terms of not just the dark tone, but the gritty realism that was in this universe. After this movie and to a further extent, "The Dark Knight", almost every filmmaker was trying to replicate the dark, grounded tone for their comic book films and for very good reason.
The thing that works so well in this movie is how it spends a lot of its time as just a Bruce Wayne story rather than an all Batman movie. Batman doesn't even make his appearance until a full hour in and that could make for a potentially lackluster film, but the character of Bruce Wayne is elevated by both interesting writing behind the character and a great performance from Christian Bale. Bale has the challenge of playing different variations of Wayne including the vengeful college student, the recluse, the cocky playboy, and the true side of him that seeks the means to fight injustice, and Bale knocks it out of the park in all of those aspects. Take that performance and mix it with a look into the mind of Bruce Wayne and you have a genuinely interesting and engaging first half. This is really the first time we see in film the true psyche of Wayne and why he wants to become Batman and everything from his parents murder to his training with Ra's al Ghul feeds into his character perfectly.
As for the actual depiction of Batman himself, I also like the direction that was taken. I think the suit looks really cool for being a starter and I even don't mind the gravely voice used. His voice is no where near as raspy and exaggerated as in the next two installments, and I feel that the voice used in this movie was the right blend of unrecognizable while also not sounding completely overdone. Also, the the way Batman takes on his enemies is one of the best things to watch. Batman is all about striking fear into his enemies and whenever he's unseen and stealthily moving around a group of bad guys, it's great to actually see a version of Batman where his full potential as just a man in a suit comes to play.
This movie also has some things that I feel belong in a Batman movie yet they were never really explored in previous films. One of these things is the relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon, played excellently by Gary Oldman. The Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies never really had Gordon doing anything other than just showing up at a crime scene and saying a few lines , but this movie actually has him as a character who develops the close, yet still skeptical bond between him and Batman as they stand as the two people most dedicated to fighting corruption in Gotham City.
Another aspect of this movie that I felt really worked was the relationship that Bruce Wayne shares with his butler, Alfred. Alfred is a character who's always going to stick by Bruce's side and do everything to care for him whether it be stitching him up or providing some sound advice, but he'll still have time to occasionally make a quip and bust his balls over mistakes he makes. It's a very sweet relationship to watch and it's one of the trilogy's strong points in my opinion.
The villains in this movie are that of Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul and Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow, both great actors who play their villainous roles well. With Scarecrow, he's the lesser of the villains in terms of screen time, but he has an unassuming screen presence whenever he's just Jonathan Crane, and his short-lived time as the Scarecrow may disappoint hardcore fans of the character, but his purpose to the story fits, not to mention that Murphy plays up the role very well.
With Ra's al Ghul as a villain, Neeson is perfect casting for the role and he's the perfect villain for what this movie's theme and story is, it being one of fear and how to conquer it. Ra's starts out as Bruce's trainer and you eventually learn small pieces of his backstory which become relevant in "The Dark Knight Rises", as well as his affiliation with the League of Shadows. When you see Ra's and what he stands for, you actually begin to understand his motivations for trying to destroy Gotham. It's more than just a "I will destroy the city and rule the world" plan. He's ultimately one of those villains who sees himself as a hero in his own mind, just one who takes justice to VERY extreme measures. Upon closer inspection, he's a version of Bruce Wayne should he become a Batman who has less regard for human life.
The one thing I don't like about this movie is how most of the fight scenes are filmed. Whenever Batman is taking out a large group of bad guys, it's filmed in a very close, rapidly edited style to where all you see is limbs flailing and the next thing you know, Batman is suddenly standing victorious without ever really seeing how he did it. You could very well make the argument that it's representative of Batman's stealthy style of fighting, but there's a fight scene in the very beginning of the film with Bruce taking on a large group of prisoners, it being filmed just like all of the other fight scenes. It's supposedly just Bruce Wayne getting in an all-out brawl like any other prison fight, so I don't think that style of quick editing quite works for that scene. That said, the rest of the action such as the Tumbler chase is well filmed, practical, and plenty exciting to watch.
"Batman Begins" is the reboot to this film franchise that we needed and with the emphasis on story and thematic elements like fear, we got a personal story of Bruce Wayne and his journey into becoming the Batman and taking a stand to clean up the streets of Gotham. In fact, that's pretty much the arc of the entire trilogy. With this movie, we got a great start for Bruce/Batman's story and it helped kick-start what is arguably the best comic book film series we have.
Rating: Full Price!