Already being hailed by many as the movie of the year, Batman Begins can also take a bow for being the best live action film featuring the Caped Crusader. Was there ever any doubt? Director Christopher Nolan and a superb cast have delivered. The indecisive will believe! Note: No bats were harmed during the making of this film.
Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) wanted to do something different with the film. "...a superhero story told in a realistic fashion," he remarked in a recent interview at Dark Horizons. "And doesn't step outside itself and acknowledge the form and the medium it's coming from, but one in which the audience is just immersed in the reality that's going on." What we get for two hours is an illustrious and thoroughgoing film, one that answers many questions and has people coming back for a second (or third or fourth!) time. Anticipating it as much as I had, it still left me stunned. Movie of the summer? Yes. Of the year? I wouldn’t be surprised.
What we know of Batman that has been touched on in other films is brought out in major detail in Batman Begins. A young Bruce Wayne loses his parents, and years later he has to deal with their murderer being released from prison. This triggers some heavy scenes that eventually lead to Wayne’s disappearance. He is gone for years, wandering aimlessly around the world. He goes into hiding and gets all scruffy and tough. He is offered a chance to become a skilled warrior, and during that time he goes through a world of hurt and fear. He returns to Gotham a changed and determined man, and Batman is soon born.
There should be a law made that from now on only Christian Bale plays Batman. Nolan: "What I see in Christian is the ultimate embodiment of Bruce Wayne. He has exactly the balance of darkness and light that we were looking for." Bale has played a wide range of roles, from the adorable Laurie of Little Women to the maniacal killer Patrick Bateman of American Psycho. In Batman Begins, our hero does the usual fight fight fight, but more than anything else he goes through a ton of internal struggle. Bale encompasses this in every sense, movement, and line. He’s tacked down both the hero and the man behind the mask. As Bruce Wayne he is charming and seems self-assured, yet he is still dealing with his parents' death. He goes from wanting to kill his parents' murderer into something bigger, something that involves an entire city and not just him.
It is a darker and more severe Batman than what the other live action films have given us, and it's the closest we have gotten to him. "It’s far more human than any of the others," Bale remarked. As Batman, Bale is just amazing and terrifying. When Bale goes from Bruce Wayne to Batman, he does more than just put on the suit. It’s a major transformation, especially with the voice. When a random ruffian freaks out and bumbles “…swear to God…,” Batman pulls him in close and growls “SWEAR TO ME!” I had a hard time accepting that the same actor could do two completely different voices like that.
Up there with Bale’s performance is that of Liam Neeson, who just seems to get better with age. Henri Ducard, Wayne’s guide and trainer, has a very strong presence in the film. Ducard is not Neeson's first mentor role, but it just might be his best. He also delivers a good chunk of the movie's best lines. “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely,” is one that Ducard addresses to Wayne, and when he speaks, you listen. The relationship between Wayne and Ducard is a very significant one, and Bale and Neeson together is exciting to watch.
Michael Caine makes a really, really good Alfred; I will be upset if he's not back in the sequels. Alfred, as butler and caretaker, has been there throughout all of Wayne's life, but Caine brings out something really endearing about the character. There is more attention given to Alfred as family rather than to Alfred as servant. In one scene he barks at a frustrated Wayne, "I give a damn, sir, because a good man once made me responsible for what was most precious to him in the whole world." Later on when Wayne asks "Still haven't given up on me?", Alfred gives a resolute "Never" without hesitation. He is genuine, and it's apparent why Wayne lets him in on the Batman plan without question.
Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman also get props for their roles. Freeman is smart and sharp as Lucius Fox, a scientist at Wayne Enterprises who Wayne befriends. He lets Wayne in on all these nifty goods that are tucked away here and there, suits and gadgets and whatnot that for some reason Wayne is interested in (Hmm...wonder why?). Fox points out that while he knows something is up, he's not going to tattle. Oldman, like Caine, is another actor I would like to see come back to reprise his role. In a city like Gotham, it's not common to find good cops. Jim Gordon is one of the few. When first encountering Batman, Gordon is a bit unsettled, but he knows the Caped Crusader is not a bad guy. After that, he and Batman team up to help save the city. He is not commissioner yet, so he's not as assertive, but he knows and wants and will do what is right.
Hello Scarecrow: Enter Cillian Murphy (most recognizable as "that dude from 28 Days Later") as Dr. Jonathan Crane. He is prime at being creepy and making it known that “Hey, I am obviously not a good guy!” However, he overdoes it a couple of times. The way he gasps out “The BAAATMAN” had me thinking that maybe he was on something at the time (and not that evil freaky gas that he’s spraying people with). Perhaps he shared some of it with Ken Watanabe (“Gotham must be DEEEstrooooyyyed.”). But he’s very expressive and makes a wicked villain. His riding a black horse with fire and chaos going on around him in the background makes a hell of a shot.
While I have no problem with Katie Holmes’s performance, I am a bit miffed at her character. Rachel Dawes, Wayne’s childhood friend and “love interest” (I use the term very loosely here), was created specifically for the film, but...why? Recalling some scenes she was in, I wonder if the movie really needed her at all. She is a good citizen who wants a better Gotham, but so do...Batman...and some other characters. The love interest deal is just about nonexistent because nothing really happens between Dawes and Wayne. Pay attention to what she says to him throughout the movie, and then watch what she does in the end. I’m a little lost here.
The action sequences are awesome, but what goes on in the first part of the film is much more dramatic than the second half (not to mention easier to follow). Neeson and Bale training with swords out on the ice did it for me. It’s not an actual fight, but it’s intense because it’s a defining moment in Wayne’s life; his inner struggle is evident. While that confrontation occurs pretty early, to me it’s the most memorable and captures the essence of the whole movie.
And let’s not forget the Batmobile! Before the film it was understandable why some might have been a bit skeptical (“What is that yellow thing?”), but I promise that it’s ok. In fact, it’s pimp. It makes a hell of a chase scene (screw you cop cars, I’m going to drive over you), and there is no doubt why Wayne’s so proud of it. It also makes some moments of the film a bit amusing. Oldman’s face when he first lays eyes on it is priceless, and Morgan’s sarcastic remark about it is choice. “What’s that?” asks Wayne. Fox says with a smile, “The Tumbler? Oh, you wouldn’t be interested in that.”
Batman Begins has the most realistic Gotham out of all other films. The city remains very dark and corrupted (as it should be), but it’s a city that looks like it belongs. It’s not too flashy, not too fantastic; it’s not overdone. I could connect to it and see it somewhere on the map, and Bale’s Batman fits right in. The dialogue is wonderful. While a couple of lines are stressed a bit too much (Again, say it with me: “Deeeestroooyyyed”), the rest were carried off nicely. There are a lot of heavy, profound quotes, but they’re not cheesy or exorbitant.
The score also brings out the realism of Batman Begins. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard are beyond well known for their work; name a movie and chances are one of them did the score. Rather than having a fantastical feel like the other Batman scores, the music of Batman Begins focuses on mood more than anything else. The movie is full of depth, and its music hits you hard, especially during the first part of the film. Eptesicus is a fine example. If somehow the visuals of Bruce Wayne's journey, training, and struggles had't get to me, the music would have done the job. And don't forget the darkness, confrontation, and terror going on. Tadarida has an impending air: a quiet thudding going on in the beginning, then it gets freaky and warped as the Scarecrow comes into play. Molossus is the perfect battle music. It's exciting and hits like a hammer. The opening track Vespertilio builds up more and more and sets you up perfectly for what the other tracks will bring. Say Zimmer and Howard: "Collaborating on this project was a unique opportunity. Since Batman Begins is a character driven story, we've created an orchestral, symphonic score true to the duality of the character capturing the motion, energy, darkness and rage of Batman." Really, it could have been left at that. The rest of this paragraph is unnecessary.
Batman Begins is a very different film from what we're used to, but it's the truest. It's much more serious, much more intricate, but it's not over the top. While it has been a long wait, it has been worth it. With the recent news that there will be sequels (with Bale in them), there is much to look forward to.
Another note: In regards to the bats, Bale says that he actually liked them. "I would go in the cages with the bats on the set."
It's a sign.