Batman Begins (2005)

Before Batman & Robin became a critical and box office disaster there was a fifth movie planned.  Several names have popped up for it, but what is known is that the Scarecrow was to have a significant role and that it was supposed to be darker and more serious than the two Joel Schumacher movies.  There was even talk of a prequel.  However, Batman & Robin pretty much killed the series and, if Marvel hadn't come along, may have done the job of killing off superhero films for quite awhile.

What followed was almost a decade of the likes of Blade, Spider-Man and the X-Men getting their own series and proving that there was still life in the genre.  After going through a number of directors and ideas for who should star as Batman it finally fell to Christopher Nolan, who had two critically acclaimed movies with Memento and Insomnia, to reboot the whole thing and start over with a fresh new take on the Dark Knight, taking a lot of inspiration for the tone from the graphic novels of the same name. 

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is imprisoned in a Chinese labor camp when he is contacted by a man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson).  Ducard offers him a chance to train with the League of Shadows, an organization dedicated to fighting crime across the world.  When their view on how to handle justice begins to conflict with his own Wayne decides to return to Gotham, summoning his family's long-term butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) to retrieve him.  

Upon returning he finds a Gotham in further decay than he left it.  Crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) is the true power in the city, despite the efforts of Wayne's old friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), one of the few police officers that is not on the take.  Wayne uses the skills he learned from Ducard, as well as items from abandoned projects at Wayne Industries, to build a symbol - Batman - that will return power to the normal citizens of Gotham.  Unfortunately, Falcone at this point is only a tool of a greater force, represented by Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), a psychiatrist with unorthodox methods of treatment. 

This is the first live-action movie to feature the Scarecrow, even if nominally he isn't the main villain.  He's interesting, but one of the few faults about Batman Begins is that it continues the trend of having too many bad guys to the point where they don't matter.  In addition to Falcone, Crane and Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the head of the League of Shadows, there is also a minor bad guy in Mr. Earle (Rutger Hauer), the man currently in charge of Wayne Enterprises when Bruce makes his return.  In addition Rachel Dawes, a character not from the comics, is severely underwritten, and Katie Holmes is never convincing in the role.  

While it may seem strange that Batman Begins goes over Wayne's entire origin story again, there are changes from 1989's Batman, particularly that the person responsible form Bruce's parents' deaths is known from the beginning, and it's not the Joker.  There are hints to a greater conspiracy behind it, but those remain hints, as per the title of the movie it is the life experiences and construction of the myth of Batman that we are to experience.  There are some leftovers from the previous series, particularly with the life-changing encounter with bats that largely got cut from Batman Forever, but Nolan co-writer David S. Goyer seem more concerned with storytelling than with flash and wowing the audience with grand sets. 

Much of the equipment Batman uses, as presented by the character Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), has real-world equivalents, and while Nolan does use a good amount of CGI he does prefer using practical effects when possible.  There was also a good deal of location shooting in Chicago, which meant that the chase scenes involving the Tumbler, as Batman's vehicle is called in this movie, weren't confined to a stage set, and thus to about 15 miles per hour.  These attempts to bring some sort of realism to the movie, as well as the solid acting by the majority of the leads, helps overcome the flaws.  There is enough story to where the weakness of the villains doesn't really matter.  It still has the tacked-on "big threat" at the end, but it is also handled well and in a way where it helps certain characters emerge and points the way to their future selves.

As good as Batman Begins is, it tends to be overlooked due to outside events surrounding its sequels.  This was able to stand on its own originally without a major star's death or tragic events surrounding its opening, but despite it being in some ways the best of Nolan's trilogy it also suffers a drop in reputation due to the mess that was The Dark Knight Rises.  It is worth another look as it stands up well, and thankfully without some of the more cringeworthy issues that the series became known for as it went along.  

Batman Begins (2005)
Time: 140 minutes
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy
Director: Christopher Nolan 



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