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Batman Begins (2005)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Superhero Running Time: 2 hrs. 20 min.

Release Date: June 15th, 2005 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Christopher Nolan Actors: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman

A

fter the highly lucrative but critically skewered string of Batman films (teetering out with “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin”), director Christopher Nolan helmed this project to completely start anew, reshaping and redefining the famous cloaked avenger. “Batman Begins” takes the story back before Tim Burton’s 1989 entry, to go more in depth on Bruce Wayne’s childhood, his fear of bats, and the death of his parents. The sobersided and weightier tone previously adopted by Burton is again present, crafted to extinguish the overly colorful and nonsensical design of Schumacher’s attempts – two films that drastically hurt the image of what was once a foreboding vigilante hero.

Young Bruce Wayne tragically loses his parents to a tatterdemalion thief with an itchy trigger finger. Years later, distraught at the overpowering amount of crime that blankets his home of Gotham City, Bruce (Christian Bale) runs away to lose himself in inner turmoil, routinely battling prisoners while held in a remote Asian camp. A mysterious man called Ducard (Liam Neeson) discovers the embittered Wayne and leads him to the training base of the League of Shadows to undergo rigorous tutelage from master martial artist Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). With newfound skills, Bruce can become the warrior necessary to bring justice back to the polluted streets of Gotham.

When Al Ghul demands that Wayne take the life of a convict without witnessing a trial, the once-confused man realizes that his mission is to protect the innocent, not to serve as a mere executioner. A fight ensues, resulting in the installation burning down and Al Ghul perishing. Wayne returns to Gotham City, takes back his father’s multi-million dollar company, and begins to piece together the image of dread that he wishes to strike into the hearts of the criminals corrupting his home. Donning custom armor in the likeness of a giant bat, he descends upon the underworld of the seedy metropolis to wreak havoc on crime boss Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), who orchestrates a majority of the unlawful dealings. If that wasn’t enough for the newfound hero, the League of Shadows makes a shocking reappearance, plotting to exterminate the citizens of Gotham – a civilization that has reached the pinnacle of its decadence.

Christopher Nolan wisely chooses to employ the darkest tone possible within the limitations of a PG-13 rating and a man in a bat costume. All the characters take themselves seriously and there is little comic relief, except in the forms of Michael Caine as iconic butler Alfred and the sarcastic Lucius Fox, played by the inimitable Morgan Freeman. This grimmer approach helps to dispense with the inherent silliness of the original source materials and previous filmic adaptations, as well as allowing for a chance at redefining some of Batman’s greatest villains (though the Scarecrow is certainly a less popular, more unexplored figure in the annals of the Dark Knight).

Only two weak links appear in “Batman Begins,” though they’re easily engulfed by the many impressive ideas that flourish. Firstly, Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes is a routinely flat character that never resembles much of a femme fatale or a genuine love interest (Cillian Murphy’s villain is comparably less than spectacular). And secondly, Bale’s gruff, hoarse Batman voice – though used somewhat infrequently – just doesn’t seem appropriate. After all, Superman never even wore a mask, yet no one could figure out his identity.

All in all, “Batman Begins” definitely changes the course of this formerly failing franchise. The scripting employs a notable focus on practical reasons for each piece of equipment and every trick up Batman’s sleeves, demonstrating that this superhero is better grounded in reality – especially with his admirable absence of real superpowers. More pragmatism, a perfectly dark atmosphere, the debut of the Tumbler (Batman’s armored tank that predates the Batmobile), nicely choreographed stunts (despite difficult-to-decipher hand-to-hand combat scenes), and a few modern surprises make this production a refreshing take on Bob Kane’s classic crime-fighting character.

– Mike Massie

 

 



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