Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Premise: This film takes the series back to the beginning and explains how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) began his career as Batman. While traveling the world, Wayne discovers the League of Shadows, a secret fraternity of warriors who destroy civilizations that they determine are too corrupt to survive. As Batman, Wayne defends Gotham City from organized crime, which is cooperating with an mysterious figure known as Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).
What Works: Batman Begins restores a seriousness to the series not seen since Batman Returns. A major difficulty for many comic book films is a tendency to go too far over the top and create characters and action sequences that lose their credibility. This film is grounded enough in reality—or it’s own version of reality—that it is able to be believable and dramatic despite having a guy flying around the city in a cape. The filmmakers have taken the unusual step of jettisoning the familiar conventions of superhero stories and try for something different. Although it does follow the Joseph Campbell Departure-Initiation-Return cycle, as many origin stories do, Batman Begins is more about the initiation than the return and the film plays much like a character study. Christian Bale is more than adequate in the role and brings physical qualities that give his heroics credibility while also giving the character an emotional seriousness that aids in grounding the film. More than any other incarnation of Batman, Bale’s version of Bruce Wayne has serious character flaws and his choice to be Batman requires personal and social sacrifices that he is not altogether satisfied about. This film also gives much more space to its supporting cast, namely Gary Oldman as Lieutenant James Gordon and Katie Holms as Rachel Dawes, whose own dealings with corruption in law enforcement mirrors Bruce Wayne/Batman’s growth toward inspiring hope and finding the good in a bad place. Using these rather heavy themes very skillfully, Batman Begins is able to be an entertaining superhero film while also dealing with substantive issues of heroism, law and order, and the individual’s responsibility to his community.
What Doesn’t: Batman Begins only wobbles when it falls back on the scenarios and dialogue that is familiar to this kind of genre filmmaking. This is most notable with the character of Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), the super villain of this film. He always seems slightly out of place. The filmmakers apparently realize that and reduce him to a henchman for a greater, more realistic threat to Gotham City. This may work against the film’s appeal to the Batman fan base who might expect more traditional villains. Batman Begins was director Christopher Nolan’s first studio tent pole film and he is a little unsteady behind the camera when it comes to action scenes. Many of the fights are a flurry of punches and kicks without coherent choreography and the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, which supposedly the chief motivation for this entire adventure, is not executed in a way that suggests the level of trauma that it should convey.
DVD extras: The two-disc set contains featurettes, trailers, weapon gallery, and a photo gallery.
Bottom Line: Batman Begins is a very satisfying entry in the Batman franchise and it ranks with Burton’s1989 film among the best superhero pictures. This is a breakthrough for the genre as the film addresses the major problems faced by it and comes up with solutions that make the film entertaining and delivers on some surprising substance.
Episode: #198 (July 27, 2008); Revised #398 (July 29, 2012)