“There is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge… Me.”
2005. Rated PG-13. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer. Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson and Rutger Hauer.
A lot of people I’ve talked to have seen The Dark Knight without seeing Batman Begins. While it’s not necessary viewing for continuity’s sake (other than perhaps, the Rachel Dawes romance subplot and the cameo in Knight from the Scarecrow) it definitely heightens the experience of its sequel. Director Christopher Nolan establishes the new world that his Batman movies take place in and the totally different style and tone he brings that his predecessors.
Batman has always been my favorite superhero because he doesn’t have any superpowers and because it lends itself to darker, more complicated stories than a hero like Superman. I loved the old animated series but pretty much every prior Batman movie sucked. I’ll admit to never having seen Tim Burton’s first Batman but I did see his horrible Batman Returns. And honestly, considering that Burton is one of the more overrated directors working today (I guess Beetlejuice was okay, but really..Mars Attacks? Planet of the Apes? Two of the worst movies I’ve ever seen), I don’t see the need to see the first one, not when Batman Begins fills the origin story void so well.
To summarize the plot quickly, it’s not much we don’t know — billionaire heir Bruce Wayne loses his parents at the hands of a criminal as a young boy, which eventually leads him to establish a vigilante alter ego who dresses like a bat. In this film, he finds himself in China, where he trains with a mentor (Neeson) before coming back home to Gotham City to reunite with his trusty butler Alfred (Caine), his childhood crush Rachel Dawes (Holmes) and begin his development of Batman.
The cast, with one notable exception, is quite good. Bale is a perfect choice for Batman, and Caine is ideal as Alfred, Bruce’s father figure and protector. Both Oldman and Freeman are good in smallish parts and I thought Murphy was great as the villain Scarecrow. Katie Holmes was pretty bad as Dawes and was replaced in the sequel, and Wilkinson as a crime boss was a little hammy and out of place in Nolan’s more realistic take on a comic book story.
The story is solid, and certainly achieves the reboot effect that Nolan was going for. The origins of Batman are well-known so it’s tough to imbue any originality into it, but there is a slightly different twist. The love story isn’t as bad as other Batmans, but still feels a little forced in this movie, but it definitely lays the groundwork for the sequel. Scarecrow is cool but a minor villain at best, and Ra’s Al Ghul feels a little wasted. Obviously, they were saving the top villains for the next one.
Nolan, even before this film, was one of my favorite directors, on the strength of Memento, the underrated Insomnia and his first, the excellent low-budget Following. Every one of his films (including the subsuquent The Prestige) is so well-directed and intelligently paced, plotted and the tone is always absolutely perfect. Batman Begins is no exception, and proves what you can do with a superhero/action movie when a good director is at the reins.
Batman Begins is one of the better superhero movies out there, and up until last weekend was easily the best Batman movie. If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight or Batman Begins, I’d recommend trying to catch the first before the second.