Christopher Nolan managed to not only reinvent Batman but do so in a grounded and realistic way. This is not a colourful, fantastical origin for a billionaire playboy who uses his wealth to fight crime. This is a dark, gritty and modern take on the hero. At times you wouldn’t even know it is a superhero movie and that isn’t a criticism.
It is because Nolan decides to slowly develop the character and his origins rather than rush to action or the reveal of the titular character. That doesn’t mean that the film shies away from action, but instead it trusts the source material and helps the audience understand how a man of money and no experience can become a vigilante force waging a one-man war on crime.
Nolan does this by perfectly balancing the “training” of Bruce Wayne with the flashbacks that inspired his “quest.” The origin of Batman is a well-known story, told many times but here it is developed: becoming more than just the night Bruce’s parents are killed but the aftermath and the reasons the man disappears from his home-city for seven years.
Of course the movie comes into it’s own when Bruce Wayne does actually become Batman and the film doesn’t disappoint. Batman has never looked better. No Bat-nipples, no gratuitous shot of backside or crotch. No big yellow bat-symbol. This is a Batman steeped in realism. Even the way that Bruce Wayne acquires and develops his instruments, tools and gadgets makes more sense, coming from his own corporations R&D department rather than all being invented by the man single-handed.
This decision to stay as realistic as possible means that the iconic gadgets have gone the same way. It works though and instead of a flashy, pointy car that Joel Schumacher preferred, the Batmobile is now The Tumbler and one that is much more functional. It is also a lot cooler and the sequence in which Batman is dodging the police in a chase through Gotham is one of the many impressive set-pieces.
The realism continues through to the characters too. Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne as a uncomfortable playboy, struggling to juggle the double-life and he handles the cape and cowl very well. He is ably supported by the comic-relief and heart of the movie, in both Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.
A superhero is only ever as good as their villain though and Batman Begins has two original but effective ones. Nolan made a bold choice to go for villains which haven’t been seen on-screen, in live action movies, before. Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul plays both mentor and over-arching villain and delivers the solid Neeson performance we have come to expect. It is Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow who really steals the film, using his scare-serum effectively, offering some of the more gruesome and disturbing scenes when we see the effects of his toxin from the victim’s point of view.
The final character mention must go to the first really good James Gordon, Batman’s trusted ally, played by Gary Oldman. This is a story which takes Batman back to his roots and attaches itself much closer to the comics so a decent version of the man who will become Commissioner Gordon is a welcome one. It is just a shame that Katie Holmes’ Rachel Dawes never quite elevates herself past “damsel-in-distress” but her story serves the overall movie well.
Like any origin movie, this is a prequel to bigger and better things and at times, especially towards the film’s finale, it certainly feels like it. The film is never less than entertaining and always packs the punch it promises but you would be forgiven for feeling the finale doesn’t live up to what has gone before.
Overall, Batman Begins is the perfect reintroduction for The Dark Knight. It is a gritty, darker retelling of the superhero’s origin story. It also delivers a version of the character much closer to the comics, introducing key elements, characters and reinventing and improving staples of the story like The Batmobile. You can never shake the feeling that this movie is a prequel to something better though… and what comes next is well worth the wait!
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)