Christian Bale - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Michael Caine - Alfred Pennyworth
Katie Holmes - Rachel Dawes
Liam Neeson - Henri Ducard
Cillian Murphy - Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow
Gary Oldman - Sergeant James Gordon
Morgan Freeman - Lucius Fox
Tom Wilkinson - Carmine Falcone
Rutger Hauer - Earle
Ken Watanabe - Ra's Al Ghul
Genre - Action/Adventure/Crime/Fantasy/Comic Books
Running Time - 140 Minutes
The extremely popular DC Comics character, Batman, has had a very successful run on television and films. Popular serials like 1943's BATMAN and 1949's BATMAN AND ROBIN led to the 1966's camp classic, BATMAN THE MOVIE - which was a spinoff of the popular television show that lasted two years. As the character regained his dark roots inside comic books and superhero films seemed possible, thanks to 1978's SUPERMAN, Warner Brothers [who owned the rights to DC's characters] figured it was time to bring Batman back to the mainstream audience. Hiring Tim Burton, who thrived on dark and gothic styles, 1989's BATMAN was a bigger hit than expected, making $400 million-plus at the box office and doing even more business on the home video market. Obviously, this led to a sequel in 1992, BATMAN RETURNS [also directed by Burton], that happens to be my personal favorite but wasn't as appreciated at the time of its release. While it was successful, the sequel didn't do as well financially as the first film due to it being seen as "too dark and sexually explicit". Now, many fans consider it one of the better BATMAN films.
Due to the "darkness" that turned many away from BATMAN RETURNS, Warner Brothers fired Tim Burton from the director's chair and hired THE LOST BOYS director, Joel Schumacher, to lighten up the franchise. Schumacher's first BATMAN film, BATMAN FOREVER, was a more family-friendly comic book adaptation - one that was mega successful due to a great cast, exceptional merchandising, and a best-selling soundtrack - even if it wasn't critically well received as the two Burton films. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers saw the money in merchandising to a younger audience, wanting to drive the series into that direction. This led to 1997's BATMAN AND ROBIN, a film that played more like a live-action cartoon than an actual film. With a head-scratching cast, and costumes and dialogue that'll make the strongest man blush, BATMAN AND ROBIN bombed at the box office, only making a little over $100 million domestically. It's now considered one of the worst comic book films ever made - without much argument from me. This ruined plans for a fifth film, BATMAN TRIUMPHANT [which would have had Scarecrow and Harley Quinn as the villains], as the franchise was in an indefinite hiatus. It also didn't help that comic book films weren't as big of a cash cow in 1997 [besides Marvel's BLADE doing some good numbers].
However, 2000's X-MEN proved that comic book adaptations still had a place in movie theaters, doing decent numbers. It wasn't until 2002's SPIDER-MAN [which was a box office blockbuster that broke records] that making comic book films was considered cool and profitable again. As Marvel dominated movie theaters by bringing many of their characters to the big screen [while DC focused on its animation department and TV shows like Smallville and Birds of Prey], Warner Brothers realized that this was the perfect time to bring back Batman.
Hiring director Christopher Nolan, who was an indie darling for his great 2001 film, MEMENTO, and hiring David S. Goyer as screenwriter [who was responsible for the BLADE trilogy], the idea of rebooting Batman for movie goers seemed more ideal as it reached its production. Inspired by the classic Batman story, Batman: Year One, and wanting to use lesser-known villains such as Ra's Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Carmine Falcone to not overshadow Bruce Wayne/Batman's rebirth, BATMAN BEGINS was highly anticipated by comic book fans. Hiring intense actor Christian Bale as the lead and using Academy Award nominated and/or winning actors such as Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman as the supporting cast, the buzz for the reboot grew. Intended as a trilogy, BATMAN BEGINS was released in 2005 to critical raves and good financial success [it would be nothing until what came next]. Bringing a more realistic Gotham City and a story/characters people could relate with and sink their fangs into, BATMAN BEGINS still remains one of the most beloved films in both franchises. And seven years later, it still holds up very well and proves to be a strong beginning to what would become an epic journey for our favorite Caped Crusader.
As a young boy, Bruce Wayne's (Christian Bale) world comes crashing down when a mugger named Joe Chill murders his parents during a mugging. As the sole heir of Wayne Enterprises, Bruce is unable to get over the events of his parents' death, blaming himself and wanting vengeance in order to deal with his dark feelings. After college, Bruce leaves his home of Gotham City without the knowledge of his loved ones - making many believe he's dead.
In truth, Bruce has traveled to the Far East where he begins putting himself in the shoes of criminals to understand their mentality. He's arrested, but after beating up six men at once, a man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) takes interest in him. Ducard leads Bruce to the lair of the mystic fighting group known as The League of Shadows to train under Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). After months of training, Bruce becomes an expert fighter in martial arts and the art of ninja. However, Bruce's views and the views of the League of Shadows differ when it's revealed that Ra's Al Ghul and Henri Ducard knew who Bruce was all along and trained him in order to return to Gotham City for its destruction. During a fight that burns down the headquarters of the League of Shadows and murders many of the members, Bruce leaves and returns to Gotham City.
With the help of his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Bruce decides to stop the criminal activity in Gotham by taking down mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Announcing he's alive, Bruce takes interest in Wayne Enterprises - especially its high tech division run by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). With Lucius' help, Bruce gains some heavy duty and hi-tech armor and weaponry to create an identity that will strike fear into the criminal world. Inspired by his childhood fear of bats, Bruce creates his new identity - Batman - using his skills from The League of Shadows to take down foes and scare Falcone. Along the way, he realizes that Falcone is targeting his childhood friend and future District Attorney, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Bruce also has to contend with a psychotic psychiatrist named Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who maintains his power over his clients by donning the role of The Scarecrow and making them relive their darkest fears. Not only that, but certain members of The League of Shadows arrive at Gotham, wanting to destroy it.
BATMAN BEGINS is considered the first Batman adaptation that gives the comic book fans exactly what they were looking for all these years. The film is gritty, dark, and real - proving that you don't need gimmicks, camp, or Bat nipples to create a great Batman story on film. The movie takes its source material seriously while adapting it for those who may not have read Batman: Year One, giving something to everyone - drama, action, and characters you can care about. The film does have a couple of flaws, but BATMAN BEGINS is definitely the perfect start to reinvent the live-action Batman films.
The screenplay by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan is a completely different beast from the previous BATMAN films. For the first time, Batman gets a full origin story that explains why he dons this costume and fights crime for a city that seems to have lost a lot of hope. We did get glimpses of what happened to Bruce Wayne as a young man in previous adaptations - just enough for us to understand what drove him to become Batman and why he constantly broods, even though he's one of the richest people in the world. But never to the extent this story shows us. Briefly mentioned in BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN BEGINS gives us a real look as to how Bruce first encountered a bat, how he became afraid of the animal, and then used it to put his own fear into others. While the origin was changed in BATMAN, we actually get Joe Chill murdering Bruce's parents. This allows us to explore Bruce's guilt over the situation and his frustration over the justice system, feeling the need to take matters into his own hands in order for the pain to go away. When he's robbed of that and sees how the criminals have the power, he goes away and lives the life of a petty thief to understand a criminal's mentality. This explains why Batman is usually one step ahead of his villains, because he understands the way they think. We also find out how Batman got all his cool moves, as the film takes a chunk of time to show his training and what led him back to Gotham [and why]. It's also great to find out where his gadgets and outfits came from.
The point of the matter is that BATMAN BEGINS is the first BATMAN film to explore Bruce Wayne as Batman, instead of Batman as Bruce Wayne. Hell, it's the first BATMAN film where Bruce/Batman is actually the main character. Almost every scene involves the character, allowing the audience to know him and identify with him. Sure, we're supposed to root for him because he's Batman. But BATMAN BEGINS gives us a reason why, which was never a focus for the other films prior to the reboot. He's a human being, not just a guy who wears a silly costume and fights crime. The film is about his struggle to clean up Gotham City to avenge the death and restore the memory and legacy of his parents - and not the villains. Nice to see someone finally understood who the main character of the franchise was after all these years.
That's not to say the villains don't get focused on, because they do. They're just not the highlight of the film. Ra's Al Ghul tries to use Bruce to destroy Gotham. And when Bruce refuses, he decides to have revenge on him by doing the destruction himself. Carmine Falcone motivates Bruce into training into what would become Batman by threatening him and the people he loves. Falcone was also behind Joe Chill's murder - something taken away from Bruce. And Jonathan Crane, also known as The Scarecrow, is working for both men and threatening Bruce's love interest, Rachel Dawes, because she's getting too close to the truth. He also allows Bruce to deal with his fear, allowing him to somewhat overcome it. I also thought The Scarecrow was the best villain of the three - he was written very well. So while the three villains may not be the most memorable part of BATMAN BEGINS, they actually play important roles in developing Bruce's character as Batman. Without them, Bruce wouldn't have much of a reason to become a masked vigilante. They enhance his story, giving it depth and reason. That's what great supporting characters do - they offer great support, not steal the spotlight away.
The other characters do the same thing. Alfred is still Bruce's only true loyal friend, who keeps him grounded by offering him parental advice and helping him with his cause reluctantly at first. Lucius Fox creates Bruce's weapons and vehicles to stop the crime syndicate, only because Bruce is the only Wayne Enterprises employee or stock holder that pays him any attention and shows him respect for his talent. Plus all the stuff used are military prototypes, which grounds Batman into reality unlike previous installments. James Gordon, not a Commissioner yet, is Bruce's link to the crime world through the police force. Gordon is one of the few officers not corrupted by greed or pride, which allows him to see Batman as someone trying to help, not a threat.
And then we have Rachel Dawes, Bruce's childhood friend and eventual love interest. For me, she's the weak link of BATMAN BEGINS. It's not that she's a terrible character. In fact, she actually has some depth and is quite likeable. Most comic book films need to have that damsel-in-distress, girlfriend character that needs saving from the hero. But she doesn't really add much when it comes to that angle, to be honest with you. Sure, she needs saving from Scarecrow more than once. Sure, a lot of what Bruce does is because of things that she said that resonated in him. And she's one of the few characters that's not corrupted by power and wants to see Gotham City cleaned up the right way. But the whole girlfriend angle is barely there and feels forced at the end because this aspect of the story had to be in the film. Plus, she never really helps Bruce defeat the bad guys [although she does scare away The Scarecrow, who's not really a threat to Batman at that point anyway]. Once she's saved in the middle of the film, she doesn't really need to be saved by Batman again. Plus the two characters never felt like they naturally had to have a love relationship of some sort. It was more like a brother trying to protect his best friend, or sister, rather than someone he's madly in love with. So it's nice to have Rachel around, especially for THE DARK KNIGHT, but she doesn't have much of a greater purpose in this film like Vicki Vale, Chase Meridian, or even Selina Kyle had. You understood why those three women were in their respective BATMAN films. Rachel is more of a friend character that pops up every now and then to give the main character important information to move the story forward. I never felt Rachel's purpose was greater than that, which brings BATMAN BEGINS a bit down for me.
I also felt that the villains could have used a bit more depth, although I didn't have much of a problem with their portrayals. But it would have been nice as to why Crane resorts in becoming The Scarecrow. How did Carmine Falcone suddenly gain so much power in Gotham City? Where's the Lazarus Pit for Ra's Al Ghul and how did he do what he did to explain his appearance later in the film? These are questions that won't nag at you because the story has so much interesting things going on and moves fairly quickly. But the questions are there and would have been nice if they were answered for those who don't know the history of any of these characters. Then again, the film is long enough as it is, so I can see why the film just went right into it.
I will say that the dialogue is excellently written, even the silly one-liners and punchlines that are actually quite funny and lift the mood up a bit. There are a lot of memorable quotes in this film and they all seem to mean something for the characters as they reach the climax. BATMAN BEGINS is a very talky film, but one that's engaging. Characters say things that end up being important in the end, instead of just hearing themselves speak. Can't hate on that.
Christopher Nolan really outdid himself and brought Batman back to prominence in terms of box office success. His direction is fantastic. He keeps the story real and human, unlike the kookiness that Tim Burton inserted, or the camp that Joel Schumacher is associated with. Gotham City looks like an actual city, rather than a set. I liked the atmosphere and the mood that kept you visually invested. It's not the dark, Gothic looking place Tim Burton did with his version of Gotham City. But Nolan gives the film a gritty, corrupt, and bleak version of a true crime metropolis - with graffiti laced subways, dark alleys, and chaos due to the crime world being in charge. This looks like the Gotham City of the comics and the graphic novels. Nolan did his homework and did it well.
I also felt that Nolan handled the action scenes quite well. They are few and far between, so anytime they appear they end up being energetic and exciting to watch. This is due to the fact that the quick cutting during these scenes ups the kinetic energy [although sometimes it was a bit distracting, but nothing that ruined any of these scenes], as well as great angles and subtle CGI effects that enhance the scenes. I also felt that the choreography felt more real and genuine, as you actually believed that Batman can kick someone's ass due to all the training we saw him receive. The fight scenes in previous films was a bit lacking in some aspects, so it was nice to see Batman beat people up and act like a detective like he would in the comics. I also felt that the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard added to the emotion of the film as well. Just a beautifully directed film by a man who researched the character and understood how to make a Batman film that everyone could appreciate, fanboys or not.
The acting in BATMAN BEGINS is exceptional. While I still favor Michael Keaton, I do believe that Christian Bale is the closest to matching him in terms of live-action cinema. I think Bale makes a perfect Bruce Wayne, displaying a tough, masculine, dark, and sometimes playful rendition of the character. There are moments where you sort of see Patrick Bateman from AMERICAN PSYCHO come out through the performance, which I liked. As Batman, he's a great physical presence. The voice is a love-it-hate-it sort of deal, but I think the voice is better here than it is in THE DARK KNIGHT. Bale is great though and takes the role seriously.
Everyone else is great. Katie Holmes is very likeable as Rachel Dawes. I don't think she's the strongest actress out there, but she makes the most of what's written for her. Plus I don't hate her like some people do, for whatever reason. It's a shame that Bale and Holmes don't have much romantic chemistry, which sort of ruined those scenes for me. Cillian Murphy almost steals the show as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow. It's nice to see this villain portrayed for a live-action film and I totally bought Murphy's crazy act here. Funny enough, I found him creepier as a psychiatrist then I did seeing him as The Scarecrow. That's a great performance! Michael Caine plays Alfred with a ton of class. Whoever cast him deserves a raise. Liam Neeson brought class as well. Love the guy. Gary Oldman was great as James Gordon. Nice to see the character given some time to develop in one of these films and Oldman is the perfect actor to pull that off. Tom Wilkinson was cool as Carmine Falcone, playing a convincing mob boss. Plus we get some extended cameos by Ken Watanabe and Rutger Hauer, all bringing the awesome. Just a fantastic cast that made BATMAN BEGINS more special than a lot of people had believed before its release.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE COMBING MY WOLFMAN COSTUME BEFORE FIGHTING CRIME
- Bruce Wayne beat up a few criminals in prison. They must have made fun of his Huey Lewis and the News record collection.
- Some thug murdered Bruce's father [and mother] over money and jewelry. Some people have no sense of Law and Order.
- Bruce learned combat and discipline from Henri Ducard. As a man who trained with Jedis, tangled with wolves, and fought against assassins, you couldn't ask for a better teacher.
- Bruce believes that as a man, he'll be ignored. But as a symbol, he'll be incorruptible. Explains that phase Prince had during the 1990s. Too much Batdancing will do that to you.
- Alfred was worried about what excuse Bruce would make about his bruises after his Batman activities. I think saying that Drake and Chris Brown were fighting over him would work as good as any.
- The Scarecrow uses dust to make his victims experience their fears.
"Three feet tall!
Two inch fangs!
Three feet tall!
Two inch fangs!"
Yeah, I'm not messing with that dude.
- Bruce insulted all of his guests at his birthday party, calling them "sycophants" and "two faced". Listening to those tapes during the filming of TERMINATOR: SALVATION, they shouldn't have been so surprised.
- Rachel is willing to wait for the Bruce Wayne she knew to come back from being Batman. Yet, she doesn't want to wait for her life to be over. Must be a Scientology thing.
THE FINAL HOWL
BATMAN BEGINS is definitely the best Batman adaptation since BATMAN RETURNS [until THE DARK KNIGHT would later take that crown three years later]. The script is exceptional besides the forced Bruce/Rachel love subplot, the acting is A-list and fantastic, and the direction and visual style by Christopher Nolan brought the real Batman back from the camp that started to destroy the character. Why it took so long to finally make a Batman film actually about Bruce Wayne and Batman rather than the villains is beyond me, but I'm glad Nolan and Goyer made it happen. Still a great film and the Nolan era would get better from here.