By Liam Alexander
Ah yes, we’re nearing Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, and being the DC fan I am, we thought it’d be a good idea to take things back a little bit to the film that started the 21st century DC film craze, Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan’s revival of the caped crusader, a pivotal shift in the way comic book films were going to be perceived by the general movie going audience. Gone were the days of goofy fun, over the top villains and nipples…god…damn…BAT NIPPLES (Sorry, Batman and Robin does things to me). Say hello to a seriously serious crime drama, because that is what Batman Begins is, a crime drama…with a guy that dresses up every night like a bat. It may sound like it can’t really work, how could it work? The last time we saw Batman on screen was way back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was blasting ice puns right in our face. How could this film possibly work? But oh boy, it sure does with Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros & DC cooking up the first true masterpiece of comic book cinema all the way back in 2005, and it's the best revival of a character since Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction…I had to.
Batman Begins is the origin story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), better known as Batman. The film follows Bruce from a child, developing his fear of bats and witnessing the brutal murder of his parents in the back alleys of Gotham, his training with the league of shadows all the way to his first act of saving Gotham city from a poisonous toxin attack as Batman. This already separates Batman Begins from every single live action batman film before it. We actually truly care and understand the Bruce Wayne aspect of the character within the first 20 minutes of the film, setting Bruce up as a prisoner in an unnamed camp, a trainee under Ra’s (Liam Neeson) mentorship and a broken human. That is something that Christian Bale excels in for the entire trilogy and especially this film, he understands that Bruce Wayne is really a facade for Batman, they’re separate characters and he plays them to a tee. Bale is the most complex and yes, I’m going to say it, BEST, Batman to ever hit the silver screen. He’s believable as a playboy billionaire, a broken man and a crime fighting bad ass… however, that could change come March 24th.
The film delves into Bruce’s training with the league of shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul. Liam Neeson absolutely kills it as Ra’s, and we don’t even know that he is Ra’s until later in the film, but he plays the wise and skilled master so well. He is one of the antagonists of the film, as well as Scarecrow, who is played exceptionally by Cillian Murphy. That is one of the major major reasons why Batman Begins and Nolan’s Batman Trilogy transcend and stand above many other comic book films, the villains. Neeson as Ra’s and Murphy as Scarecrow are fully realised characters, almost being complete parallels of Bruce Wayne and Batman, that is what makes them so compelling. Think about it, Ra’s and Batman both want to sweep the streets of Gotham, to make it a better city, they both have similar goals, but are on opposite sides of the same coin (yes that was a two face reference, more in The Dark Knight review). Batman just wants to do it with a little less deadly hallucinogenic poison. This provides amazing drama between both characters, allowing Ra’s to break out of the simple conventions of the “villain” and become something much more, a character who just thinks he's doing the right thing.
Now, let's take a look at the real heroes of this film (yes that was a Deadpool reference in a Batman Review, calm down Liam), director Christopher Nolan and co-screenwriter David S Goyer. Both Nolan and Goyer rejuvenate life back into the Batman franchise with a film focused more on story and characters then explosive action. Christopher Nolan brings the darkness, mood and grittiness that has always been sitting there in the comics just waiting, begging, screaming, to be put on screen and he just does it so well. The mess that is Gotham City is captured beautifully by frequent Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister, who relishes in the darkness of the film. It all feels real, tangible, like this could actually be happening somewhere in the world as I type this very sentence.
Nolan brings insanely good performances from the leads, as well as the supporting characters, including Michael Caine as the soft and caring Alfred Pennyworth, who helps Bruce every night is brilliant, Morgan Freeman as Lucious Fox, who infuses some great moments of dry humour as he knows something is up with Bruce’s “strange” requests, and my god, whoever thought of Gary Oldman as the only good cop in the city, Jim Gordon, is a genius. He’s one of the best characters in the film and plays so well with Batman. When Gordon has to operate the Batmobile, I laugh every time at his reaction of its power, and when he utters the line “I gotta get me one of those” it's so, so good. Christopher Nolan constructs a film that not only works exceptionally well dramatically, but it’s also really entertaining. That is great filmmaking.
Now, you couldn’t have possibly thought I'd talk about Batman Begins without mentioning Hans Zimmer’s and John Newton Howard’s superb score, could you? Zimmer and Newton’s score for Batman Begins is brilliant. It encompasses the darkness, the epic moments and the tragedy of the character and the world, and it does what any great film score should do, go mainly unnoticed, but elevate the scenes to a new height when it is used. Zimmer and Nolan are probably one of my favourite cinematic relationships in Hollywood. My favourite track from the Batman Begins score is probably ‘Corynorhinus’, it’s exceptional and emotionally charged. Zimmer’s score’s for Batman only get better from here (hint hint The Dark Knight).
The ending to this film is one of the greatest teases ever, the joker playing card made me squeal the first time I watched the film and still does every time. With Batman Begins, Nolan brought back the caped crusader to all his glory. He gave the movie goers and the fans the Batman they deserved, it’s treated seriously and is first and foremost a great crime film, superhero second. It’s impact on Pop Culture and cinema is profound, Batman Begins may just as well be the French Revolution of Comic Book movies, but wait until my next review of Nolan’s 2nd Batman film, the Renaissance of superhero cinema, THE DARK KNIGHT. Ah yes…history references in a Batman Begins review, gotta love it.