The Film: Batman Begins (Buy it from CHUD!)
The Principles: Christopher Nolan (director), Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson
The Premise: Disappointed by Batman & Robin? So was everyone. It took Warner Bros. eight years to repair the franchise that Joel Schumacher unraveled. And they did it by going straight to the character’s roots. Tim Burton’s 89′ Batman was an origin story in its own right, but Batman Begins gets downright methodical in recounting not only Batman’s beginnings, but Bruce Wayne’s travels leading up to donning the cowl. Christopher Nolan and David Goyer show us a Wayne who’s adrift in a real world setting, driven by fear and yearning for revenge. The film released in 2005 to much a critical acclaim and fan support.
Seven years later and the franchise is still kind of a thing.
Is It Good: The Dark Knight is a great film, and it deserves its accolades. I easily accept the argument that The Dark Knight is the best film in the franchise, Ledger’s performance and Nolan’s own technical craft warrant that assessment. But where Knight is a great crime film, Begins is a great Batman film, and my favorite in the franchise – a distinction I always feel necessary to make when I discuss my appreciation for these films. This was the first live action Batman that felt true to the roots of a character who has seen many different iterations in his 73 year history. The film’s not a straight adaptation of Frank Miller’s extraordinary Year One (which features neither Scarecrow nor Ra’s al Ghul), but the filmmakers zeroed in on the most important aspect of that book – the burgeoning relationship between Lieutenant James Gordon and The Batman.
We also see Bruce Wayne: World Traveler, learning about the eight years he spends abroad – formulating this dark persona that will eventually dominate his life. The idea that Bruce Wayne is trained by the League of Shadows and Ra’s al Ghul is organic both to the story and the characters. Moreso, Liam Neeson’s Ducard revealed as the true Ra’s is one of the more satisfying surprises yet seen in a film like this.
Prior to Begins, Batman had always been the least interesting character in his own films. We don’t meet the Bat until well in the second act here, and Bale’s performance as Wayne anchors the film. You almost forget that you’re watching a Batman film, because it’s such an appealing journey in the lead-up to the cowl. So perhaps Batman still isn’t the most interesting character in his film. But Bruce Wayne absolutely is, and that’s the film Nolan was making: moviegoers could never fully appreciate Batman until they first understood Bruce Wayne.
Is it worth a look: You mean again? Time’s been very kind to the film, but six years has given perspective on just how important this movie is to the whole of modern cinema – and its impact hasn’t all been for the better. Certainly, you can thank Batman Begins for fresh takes on beloved genre characters. Casino Royale, Star Trek and The Incredible Hulk are three solid films that wouldn’t exist without Batman Begins proving the “reboot” was not only viable, but that it could be commercially successful.
So aside from being a very enjoyable film, Batman Begin‘s overall contribution has been twofold: First, it forwarded a notion that comic book films could be presented as serious dramatic fare (a viewpoint that wouldn’t be fully realized until one more film) Second, Batman Begins is patient zero in this current era of rebooting every conceivable property imaginable. So while it serves as a great entry into a great franchise, it’s also a very big reason why you’re enduring one of the most creatively bankrupt eras in film history. For every original work like Drive or Attack the Block, theatres are now inundated with new Freddy Kruegers, Jasons, Punishers, Captain Kirks, Conans, Mummies and, of course, Spider-Man.
And while not all of those films have been awful, they haven’t all been great, either. Batman Begins proved that you could keep churning these new takes on recognizable brands to reestablish commercial franchises – quieting a need for new ideas. By crafting such a fine work, Nolan perhaps made it look too easy.
Random Anecdotes: CHUD will have a TDKR review live tomorrow.
Cinematic Soulmates: Batman movies. There are a few of them.