Monday, April 23, 2012

"Batman Begins" (Christopher Nolan, 2005)


Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Screenplay by David S. Goyer
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Executive Produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan
Produced by Emma Thomas, Larry Franco and Charles Roven
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Production Design by Nathan Crowley
Costume Design by Lindy Hemming
Editing by Lee Smith
Original Motion Picture Score Composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Christian Bale ... Bruce Wayne/Batman
Michael Caine ... Alfred Pennyworth
Liam Neeson ... Henri Ducard/Ras’ Al Ghul
Katie Holmes ... Rachel Dawes
Gary Oldman ... Sgt. James Gordon
Cillian Murphy ... Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow
Tom Wilkinson ... Carmine Falcone
Rutger Hauer ... Mr. Earle
Ken Watanabe ... Ra's Al Ghul/Ubu
Mark Boone Junior ... Detective Flass
Morgan Freeman ... Lucius Fox
Linus Roache ... Thomas Wayne
Larry Holden ... District Attorney Finch
Gerard Murphy ... Judge Faden
Colin McFarlane ... Commissioner Gillian Loeb
Sara Stewart ... Martha Wayne
Gus Lewis ... Bruce Wayne - age 8
Richard Brake ... Joe Chill
Rade Sherbedgia ... Homeless Man
Emma Lockhart ... Rachel Dawes - age 8
John Nolan ... Fredericks
Tim Booth ... Victor Zsasz
Ilyssa Fradin ... Barbara Gordon
Charles Edwards ... Wayne Enterprises Executive
Lucy Russell ... Female Restaurant Guest
Timothy Deenihan ... Male Restaurant Guest
David Bedella ... Maitre D
Flavia Masetto ... Restaurant Blonde #1
Emily Steven-Daly ... Restaurant Blonde #2
Turbo Kong ... Enormous Bhutanese Prisoner

After witnessing the senseless murder of his prestigious parents, orphaned heir Bruce Wayne travels abroad to learn the skills necessary to strike fear into the criminal element of Gotham City and take on the evils that plague her as the Batman.


Due to the less then well-received downer films directed by Joel Schumacher, Gotham City's most famous (or infamous) inhabitant took refuge in his Batcave and waited for things to evolve. In the meantime, audiences marveled (or cringed) at the exploits of Frodo Baggins, Neo and Anakin Skywalker. Soon the caped crusader was upstaged by Spider-Man and the X-Men as Warners floundered about without any direction to take him. Was there even a cinematic future for Kane's creation?

Rather than moving forward with another Joel Schumacher endeavor or pouncing on the elaboration of a new adventure following Clooney and O-Donnell’s exit (at one point, one even talked about the possibility of Wolfgang Peterson tackling a little project called "Batman vs. Superman"), why not jump on a streak which has been seizing the Hollywood firm for several years? Just look at the titles of the following works: "The Exorcist: the Beginning" (2004) or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning" (2006). These titles give a thought: to go back to the sources and roots and unearth what made Batman the captivating comic book myth that he is. Like many moviegoers and fans, when I learned that Christopher Nolan was to be the heir of this work, I felt that the project was in good hands. Little did I realize just how gifted those hands truly were and how vital they'd become in their contribution to Batman's rehabilitation in the eye of both moviegoers and popular culture.


As 2005’s “Batman Begins” opens, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is not a happy man. Being trapped in a cave full of bats as a child left him full of fear, and he can’t help but feel obligated to blame himself for the death of his parents at the hands of a typical street thug.

Years have passed since Bruce left Gotham City to travel the globe, never to return, after his parents were murdered and the man responsible was executed outside the courthouse. While here, he enters into harsh training with the League of Shadows, a band of stealth vigilante ninjas who have an apparent organization all over the world, not just in the mountains of Asia.

But when Bruce draws a line between being judge and executioner, he becomes a marked man by the League, and makes mortal enemies out of Ducard (Liam Neeson) and the group's leader Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Meanwhile in Gotham, things have gotten steadily worse since Bruce forced himself into exile away from the city. On the business front, Bruce must contend with a ruthless corporate raider (Rutger Hauer), and a powerful gangster named Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) who controls the city's central criminal elements and assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) - who's also a childhood friend of Bruce - is trying her best to find a way to have him incarcerated.

Falcone's wave of terror, however, is mere child's play compared to the scheme being orchestrated by corrupt Arkham Asylum psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who moonlights as a hooded maniac called "the Scarecrow" and is unearthing plans to contaminate Gotham's water supply with a powerful hallucinogenic drug that when vaporized and inhaled, will drive the denizens of the crime-ridden Narrows insane and then they'll begin to tear the city apart. When it becomes apparent that Crane is not working alone in his devious plans and that he is merely a pawn being used by a mysterious third party, Bruce is forced to spring into action as Batman.

"Batman Begins" takes something old and makes it new again, makes it fresh again.

But it does so not by piling on more polish, gussying it up and making it bigger and bolder than the previous efforts.

Instead, it strips the character of Batman down in essence, peeling back layers of rhetoric until we're finally left with a stunning portrayal of the man inside the persona; the spirit beneath the mask.

This is a film about Batman but, more importantly, it's a film about Bruce Wayne. The man who's discipline and will persevere to fuel the dark knight mantle he creates for himself.

It's as far a departure from the Joel Schumacher films as you can find.
Now the problem with the Schumacher films, among many things, is that those films ignored what is explored so proficiently in "Batman Begins”: the fragmented mind of a billionaire who grew up under the constant shadow of his family's legacy, and never wanted to accept his reality; a man who learns to hate crime (and more specifically criminals) after his parents are murdered before his eyes.

In time and through study, I’ve come to find Bruce Wayne to be a fascist at heart, whether he's aware of it or not. He's a man torn by a moment where control eluded him; now he devotes himself to ensuring that he's always in control. What sets him apart is that he has enough moral fiber to resist devolving into an executioner; the one line he'll never afford himself the risk of crossing.

"Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share."

"That’s why it's so important. It's what separates us from them."

That's something that the film latches on to, amongst other themes, and what makes it one of the better "Batman" movies around. There are themes in the other films if you look hard enough, but none are as universal as are presented here.

I suppose the biggest theme in the piece is fear. The tragedy of allowing fear to overwhelm you into submission versus the power to overcome fear and channel it into a means of motivation and action.


Bruce is traumatized not just by the deaths of his parents, but by the fact that it was his fear that led to them leaving the opera and it was fear that paralyzed him in hesitation; he was too afraid.

Thomas Wayne, realizing the dilemma and the potential ramifications it could have, leaves his parting words to his son.

"Don't be afraid."



Upon returning to Wayne Manor in adulthood, Bruce seeks to conquer fear before he feels he can rightfully master and control it. It depicts a man so driven, all consuming and, in the end, he's made all the more of an impressive hero because he realizes the importance and responsbility of not just inspiring Gotham to relinquish fear but of being the first person to do so himself.

And therein lies the true brilliance of "Batman Begins" and, as a result, the other films in the Christopher Nolan series.


Batman is created as a symbol and a means to an end that isn't won merely on fighting crime with gadgets and intimidation. To be honest, this Bruce Wayne couldn't care less about being Batman for the span of his life. He just sees the importance of being Batman long enough to inspire Gotham City to stand up and save itself.

A rallying cry for the underdogs to reclaim power from the corrupt overclass that rules them through fear and death.


"People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol; as a symbol, I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting."

In the political climate that both the film was released in and that we live in today, the message of taking that stand and fighting for ownership of your own future is something people can not only relate to but hunger for. As much as Batman is asking the citizens of Gotham to take a stand, perhaps in a subtle way, Nolan and Co. are recognizing the parallel of reality and, in their way, urging for us to take a stand against OUR greedy officials and corrupt beaurocracies.

What a wonderful spin on the character!


I admire the technical skill of this production and truthfully, "Batman Begins" might be among the most visually striking of the films in the series.


The fight scenes are fast and blurred, thanks to Lee Smith’s kinetic editing. I hated this upon first viewing, but it works well for me now because we're meant to fear the unknown. Sounds are used to great effect. Cinematic ally, Batman becomes a movie monster on occasion – the scene where a group of smugglers are picked off one-by-one in the darkness of the Gotham docks, with scattering sounds overhead and screams and gunshots piercing the silence, brings to mind images of Ridley Scott's masterful "Alien." In another segment, Batman questions a Fear Toxin induced Jonathan Crane, which results in some truly terrifying images.

I also like the fact that Christopher Nolan, who admittedly does not prefer using modern special effects, bases his film around the characters so much that, thankfully, he uses very little CGI. Apart from a few action sequences and swarms of bats, most of "Batman Begins" is tangible and it’s real, and that really impressed me. (I’m not fond of the over-use of modern effects, either.) I could tell that this Gotham City was real; I could tell the Tumbler was real, and thusly I could tell Batman was real.


Remember the segment in "Batman and Robin" where they surf 30,000 feet above ground on pieces of an exploding rocket ship and look like cartoon characters? The kid in me might still get a kick out of the sky-surfing once in a while, but there's none of that here and ultimately it’s for the better.


Another key scene as far as action HAS to be the famous Tumbler chase as Batman races against time and the Gotham Police Dpeartment to rescue Rachel from the effects of Fear Toxin.

CG vehicles have nothing on this bad boy, which was built with the capability to withstand all of the pressures of the production as it sped through the Gotham night with power and intensity, crossing rooftops and highways as if it were child's play.

Following in the footsteps of Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie,” Nolan does a great service by populating “Batman Begins” with a nearly flawless and all-star cast, perhaps one of the strongest casts in comic book films alongside “Superman” and “Sin City.”

Christian Bale is perfect for the contemporary Batman, and he fits every aspect of the character; he’s believable as a smug, ruthless and nonchalant playboy. We can see him as a troubled young man haunted by his past and an unbearable sense of guilt. And in the suit, he looks confident without being comfortable – he's still learning how to adapt to the trials and tribulations of fighting crime on a nightly basis. At the time we could only imagine how far he would progress in the sequel when, at the end of "Begins," he had set a firm foot forward in becoming the Batman we all know.



Aside from Christian, the cast is just spectacular. Notable standouts include Gary Oldman’s wholesome but competent turn as Gotham Police officer James Gordon, looking like he stepped right out of a David Mazzuchelli’s sketchbook.

The more I think about it, the more I find myself feeling like Gordon is my favorite character in the Chris Nolan films. It's truly a testament to Oldman as an actor; notorious for playing villainous roles, you'd never know it with the genuine heart and commanding presence his interpretation of Jim has.

He's absolutely amazing in the role, I think.

As faithful as I’ll always be to Michael Gough, having Alfred be played by the legendary Michael Caine is just a dream. His Pennyworth is a bit more authoritative of Bruce but Caine handles himself in a manner where it's clear that the only reason he can be tough on Bruce is because he cares that much for him.

"You still haven't given up on me."


The remainder of the cast is just strong across the board.

Cillian Murphy’s got the right quirky attitude for Dr. Jonathan Crane. He's charming in a way that's off-putting to the common passer-by and yet behind his eyes, you can see the stilted madness that's buried underneath, only brought to forefront when masqueraded in burlap.


"Would you like to see my mask?"

He's threatening without being physically imposing, and that's the best approach for someone like the Scarecrow. Murphy plays him as the guy who wouldn't slug you in the face but would absolutely plunge a syringe into the back of your neck if you turned around.


There's also an unbridled kineticism to Crane that, while Murphy keeps in check and composore for the most part, bubbles up here and there, such as when he catches himself getting exciting about showing his mask to Falcone. You can feel him fighting it the entire time but eventually, like a kid at Christmas, he can't help himself.

Tom Wilkinson's Falcone is a far cry from the one I always envisioned in "Year One" and "The Long Halloween." To me, 'The Roman' was always modeled after Marlon Brando as Don Corleone and here he's played more like a Brooklyn brute, accent and all. Still, he's got presence in what little amount he's involved in and I love his dialogue both in paper and in practice.

"You've never tasted desperate. You're uh, you're Bruce Wayne, the prince of Gotham, you'd have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn't know your name."


The no-nonsense presence of Morgan Freeman is delightful as WayneTech basement slummer Lucius Fox; his dry wit services the idea of portraying a man too smart for his own good but simultaneously Freeman's gravitas calls for an air of authority and respect just based on his existance, which makes it entirely believable when he transitions from a lowly tech guru to one of the acting heads of Wayne Enterprises.



There's also the malice and charm of Liam Neeson which, like Ian McKellen, instantly brings a quality to the picture. Neeson's great in everything he does and here it's only more of the same. How can you top that?

Even lower-tier characters are filled with incredibly talented actors, including Linus Roache, Rutger Hauer and Rade Sherbedgia.

However, the cast does have one weak link.

I'm sure you all knew where this was going.

Rachel Dawes (Wayne’s inevitable love interest) is portrayed in the film by Katie Holmes. She looks great but, like Elle MacPherson in "Batman & Robin," that's not enough.

While I DO love the change in pace by having her be a childhood friend of Bruce's rather than a love interest that conveniently rolls into Gotham as the story gets going, I just can't bring myself to buy her as a character with authority, which doesn't help her being positioned in a role of public service and law. Believing her to be a mature assistant D.A. with presence and conviction is about as easy as believing Alicia Silverstone is a computer genius capable of discovering Batman and Robin’s identities (ZING!). Seriously, I couldn’t help but laugh as Rachel was barking orders at Crane in one scene; it’s like everyone in the cast is a mature adult and Holmes is the obnoxious kid playing dress up to pretend to be an adult.

Why is she out and about at night anyway? It’s way past her bedtime.


"Batman Begins" is rightfully grim like Burton's but decides to take a more practical approach to explaining Batman’s world. It’s not glossy and perfect with heaps of polish like “Batman Forever” or “Batman & Robin.”

The Batsuit is imperfect, Batman's technology and secrets are exposed and explained, the Batmobile is ugly and efficient, and the Batcave doesn’t look like a man made underground army base. This time around it was originally part of the Underground Railroad used by slavery abolitionists (including Wayne’s great great grandfather) from 1810 to 1850 and doesn't have any gadgets or special super-duper display cases for the suits.

I understand and appreciate the use of the trophy room in the comics and I love the costume vault, but encasing the Batsuit in a special shiny glass container when no one was supposed to even see it except Bruce and Alfred got to become excessive in Schumacher’s films. But then again, EVERYTHING got excessive in Schumacher’s films.

What I also liked was the artistic front of the cinematography, art direction and production.

All three function with outstanding results in capturing the seedy and murky atmosphere of corruption and menace that is Gotham City.

This towering Gotham suited that of the creature of the night with its dimly lit streets and throbbing shadows creating such uneasy intensity that it works. The city here actually has breadth and scope and scale in a way we hadn't seen before in live action and that's to be VERY much commended.


The Narrows are almost otherworldly in the sense of mood and atmosphere, yet you instantly can identify with it and its hyper-representation of slums and urban projects. Nathan Crowley did such an incredible job portraying Gotham as a dense urban wasteland that Batman can weed through undetected as he lashes out against the likes of Falcone and Scarecrow. From hanging electrical cables and clothes lines to piles of trash on the street corners.

And when you throw in the graphic texturization of the rain?



Other standout sets and locations include the League of Shadows compound on the Himalayas; erected out of rich woods in a gorgeous design that doesn't clash with the terrain of its surroundings. There's also the Gotham Monorail System, which plays as an extension of the Narrows aesthetic. 

And of course you have Arkham Asylum. While I stand by my belief that Barbara Ling’s depiction of Arkham in the Schumacher films is superior in terms of tone and atmosphere and scale, I'll say that this Arkham plays its part on the front of being a more medical facility-based appearance. Like a dingy rat-trap with steel and glass doors and grated fenced security measures, it fits the bill of a demented site for clinical treatment and psychological torment.

Not since the work of Stefan Czapsky has a “Batman” film’s cinematography struck so harshly right with the use of swooping shadows and stark edgy lighting. Overseen by Academy Award winner Wally Pfister, The shadows of Gotham, like the bats in the film, consume and swipe across shots and scenes giving us a dark atmosphere where the light of Batman’s crusade can shine like a beacon of hope to stir the city’s populace.

The color work is also a point of interest that would come to be synonymous with the film for its amber hues; that decision makes it look and feel an awful lot like "Year One" to me, personally.

As for score, I’m just gonna come out with it right now; when it comes to Batman Music, NO one will top Danny Elfman for me. That theme is just so unbelievably perfect there’s no reason to try and match it.




So I highly commend Zimmer and Howard for not trying to duplicate it. The material here isn’t nearly as theatrical as Elfman’s, but like “Begins” the over the top operatic nature isn’t the mood they’re going for. It’s gritty, it’s ugly and that’s what makes it beautiful. The “Begins Theme” is thematic and heroic enough that it acts like a springboard for the character.

The plot structure of “Batman Begins” is beautifully conceived, albeit potentially clunky here and there.


The architecture of the first two acts is expertly crafted, taking us on a sprawling journey alongside Wayne as we shift back and forth between his past and present in a way that’s easy to follow and, by extension, isn’t muddled simply because the timeline isn’t linear. When we’re in need of information, emotional context and touchstone, Nolan makes sure to put us where we need to be and when.

Ultimately "Batman Begins" is to Burton's "Batman" what Burton's "Batman" was to the Adam West version. It's dark, it's surprising and it re-invents the character for a new generation of fans and audiences. Sure, there's action. But because the characters are given depth, we actually care about them. It’s a practice most contemporary and jaded filmmakers could learn a thing or two from. The film pulls off getting everything it needs right, bringing up the slack of those moments when it doesn't quite succeed.

But all nitpicks aside Nolan did successfully reboot a series that was all too quickly falling into the camp buffoonery of the Sixties TV show (nothing wrong with that for its time but by the late 90s, attitudes had changed) that Tim Burton had previously departed from. It will be interesting, not to mention utterly exciting, to see how long the darkness can be sustained before it shifts again but I have a feeling that won't happen any time soon.

Even when we change to another filmmaker, I’m sure the tone will be kept intact purposefully longer.

And it does very well to lay the foundation for future films, with obviously brilliant results.


“Batman Begins” is a breathtaking piece and the rightful instigator of an astounding cinematic resurrection for Batman.

Like “Mask of the Phantasm” before it, the movie chose to use the villains to enrich the story rather than consume it and, in the end, we’re given a wonderful film about the one character it should’ve been about all along.

Wayne is a fascinating figure and “Begins” knows it, thankfully.

We empathize with the young boy who’s become suspect to tragedy.

And we cheer on the man he’s become in tempering unbridled discipline to atone for and honor the legacy of his name, albeit in a un-conventional way.

“Batman Begins” proved that a character could survive his own history to be resurrected into something amazing again.


“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can't stop you...then you become something else entirely."

"Which is?"

"Legend, Mr. Wayne." 




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