Running time: 140 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman
Genre: Comic book, Action, Thriller
Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer would sit, uninterrupted, in a café working on a screenplay called Rory’s First Kiss, the Rory in question would be the director of Memento’s son – the first kiss a decoy. Having raided several comic book stores of the most influential graphic novels the two men set about the gigantic task of bringing Batman back to the big screen in a way that nobody has ever seen before.
Origin stories and superheroes go hand in hand yet there’s something different about Batman Begins. While Nolan sticks firmly to several core texts in telling how Bruce Wayne went about becoming more than a man in order to save Gotham from being eaten alive by corruption, crime and fear he does it in such a way that is confident, patient and doesn’t just craft the hero but the landscape, both structural and socio-economic that surround him.
Having witnessed his parents death as a child a young Bruce Wayne turns his back on Gotham and the corruption that’s seemingly choking it in order to find himself, what he finds along the way is Liam Neeson’s Henri Ducard, The League of Shadows and a desire to save his homeland by becoming more than a man, becoming a symbol that will strike fear into those who deserve it and hope into the rest. The symbol is that of his childhood, a bat.
The casting of Bruce Wayne/Batman is absolutely critical, where Tim Burton got it so right (for the time) with Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns) Joel Schumacher got it horribly wrong (George Clooney in Batman & Robin) – the man behind the cowl strikes a tone that will echo throughout the entire film. Enter American Psycho star Christian Bale who, like Kevin Conroy, will make the role his own. Bale’s use of a “Bat Voice” for when he’s in the suit is inspired, he is animalistic – filled with rage and the sort of overwhelming thirst for justice the sort you would need to stalk the streets nightly. He is combative, fierce and most importantly, most welcomingly after so many years of shortcomings and neon – he is dark. Michael Gough’s four performances (despite the decline in quality of the films) cemented him as “the Alfred Pennyworth” yet Michael Caine is sooo right. Granted he’s less subservient that Gough, more of a father figure than an employee and has all the characteristic Caine charm and wit, he’s everything you want to expect from the role and his scenes with Bale showcase a shorthand and familiarity that’s remarkable. There are so many great performances in the film that you could almost spend the entire review praising the performers, Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon) are both fantastic but their best work is yet to come. Liam Neeson (as Henri Duchard) is excellent, as a Northern Irish cinema lover I’m more than familiar with the work of “Big Liam” and quite often can see how the writing or his performance has come up short but in Batman Begins Nolan manages to coax out the dark and light sides of his character so skilfully and draw out the mentor that lives inside him. A mentor that George Lucas so club-handedly tried and failed with Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Similarly Rutger Hauer gives a marvellously restrained performance as Earle as he strives to pull Wayne Enterprises in a direction that Thomas Wayne would not have been comfortable with. Until this point Hauer had been tragically underused in good films and largely used to pad out mediocre productions. His craft showcased in Batman Begins demonstrates that this star is shining as brightly as it did off the shoulder of Orion. Katie Holmes is, sadly out of her depth, at the time I thought it was a wonderful role for her – and it was but her shortcomings are only ever highlighted when on screen with Bale or Caine and recasting for The Dark Knight was the right thing to do as so much of it’s story relied on Rachel Dawes. Similarly Tom Wilkinson, who is a fantastic actor, is horribly miscast. Though his accent was a safe mobster tone for Carmine Falcone I found him too aware and very distracting. There’s so many brilliant Italian-American performers it baffles me why he was cast so awkwardly against type. On a side note it was great to finally see Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow make it into a live action film as it’s a tragedy that such a long standing antagonist has had to wait this long to be portrayed.
The direction and pacing of the film is brimming with confidence. Nolan allows the film the time required to create a complex and realistic
Gotham. Throughout all the Batman films, television
shows and animated projects I’ve never felt as though we had an understanding
of what makes the city tick, what’s wrong with the city and even the
geographical districts – how The Narrows differ from Downtown or the Financial
District. The cinematography is earthy
in tones, deep in shadows as the dirty urban sprawl of the city engulfs the
screen. Truly remarkable. The Batsuit is functional, for the first time
the gauntlets worn on Batman’s arms are used, part of his weaponry, his
fighting style yet it has hint of it’s origins – a real tribute to the long
suffering fans, he still can't move his neck but we're almost there! The Tumbler is perhaps
the greatest vehicle Batman has had, and most practical and incredibly
intimidating as it tears straight out of the pages of Frank Miller’s mind. At times the fight sequences feel a little
too close, I can understand the rationale behind the close quarters shooting
style but when you can’t actually figure out what’s happening it’s a little
distracting and takes you out of the film.
The script is remarkable; I’ve read all the source material that Nolan and Goyer have mapped out as the template for Batman Begins yet the story is fresh and original and doesn’t allow itself to be second guessed. In the 1960’s Nelson Riddle’s scoring of Batman was close to a masterpiece, it was so infectious that it was difficult to imagine how anyone would score it differently, Danny Elfman (somehow) replicated Riddle’s mastery in creating a completely new but similarly phenomenal score. It was difficult to see how James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer would go about stripping away audience expectations in order to create a new sound for a new
but oh how they did! The music is
perfect for the film, stripped back, realistic, unromantic and yet beautiful in
it’s own way.
Batman Begins has finally delivered a Batman film that’s been crafted for the lifelong fan, yes the certificate is low, yes there’s merchandise but the film is a dark, menacing and sophisticated superhero film that creates a world so real that you almost forget that Batman is a character. A fantastic film that comes so frustratingly close to perfection and the birth of the most anticipated cinematic trilogy in years.
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