I absolutely adore Batman. Despite not being particularly excited by most of the DC lineup (I'm an unrepentant Marvel fan), the Dark Knight of Gotham has always had a special place in my heart in terms of superheroes. I just love the fact that he is a normal human being with no superpowers beyond stupid amounts of money. In a world of Gods and Monsters, Batman really does stick out of the crowd in a thematically fantastic way.
And this love of Batman is shared with a lot of other people because Batman has been adapted into film and television...a lot. Like its actually kind of ridiculous. There is obviously the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher-era Batman films, the Adam West Batman TV show, and the atrocities that were the DC Extended Universe. Out of all the adaptations however, one really stands above the rest as peak Batman.
Batman: The Animated Series. Absolutely no fucking contest in any way shape or form.
But if I had to pick a close second, it would have to fall to the obvious choice of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Released in the late 2000s as a realistic take on the Batman mythos, this trilogy has achieved an almost legendary status among superhero films, even if that legacy might now be hurting the DC live-action films
I plan to discuss all the films in the franchise eventually, as well as all other adaptations of Batman down the line. Today however, we will start off with the film that brought Batman back into popular consciousness after the utter silliness of Batman and Robin. While it may be forgotten when standing beside its more famous and successful sequel, 2005's Batman Begins propelled Batman back onto the big screens and may be responsible for kick-starting the entire superhero film craze that we are still going through.
- Directed by Christopher Nolan
- Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Running Time: 140 Minutes
The first entry in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, Batman Begins shows the transformation of Bruce Wayne, the orphaned son of Gotham billionaires, into the caped crime-fighter Batman. Following the tragic death of his parents, Bruce begins a vendetta alongside Officer Jim Gordon of the Gotham Police Department to eliminate the corruption and organized crime which plagues Gotham, all while uncovering and stopping a conspiracy to destroy the city from an international cabal of ninja terrorists.
With the benefit of hindsight, I really think that Batman Begins has sort of gotten a bit of a raw deal in the history of superhero movies. I've never really seen people talk about this movie like they talk about its sequel, almost treating The Dark Knight as if it were a standalone film rather than the second part of a trilogy. And I do honestly think that sort of comes down to what this film contains compared to its direct sequel, as its much more similar to The Dark Knight Rises than it is to The Dark Knight.
On a technical level, the film is on par with the rest of the franchise in terms of being a high quality superhero film, though it is definitely much more traditional than some of Christopher Nolan's more surreal and artistic works. The music is absolutely on par with anything that you would find in any other Nolan outing as the man definetely has a musical brand to his films, though the music is perhaps less memorable when compared to the scores of its sequels.
Despite the more familiar narrative and visual structures at play, it still utilizes Nolan's masterful skill with scope and familiarity with an overall theme. And it is my firm belief that the strength of the Batman character and his rogue's gallery lies in the overall selection of theming. Specifically in terms of how what Batman thematically represents in comparison to his apparent villain.
Where The Dark Knight's underlying theme involved order vs. chaos through the struggle between Batman, the Joker, and Two-Face, and The Dark Knight Rises focused on the balance between freedom and control exemplified by Batman and Bane; Batman Begins underlying focus is on the nature of fear and hope, and it is shown through the balance of Batman, Scarecrow, and Ra's al Ghul.
This theme of fear pervades the entire film. Batman's entire persona is predicated on the notion of striking fear into criminals as a means of deterrent. This correlates to Scarecrow's obsession with fear and his use of fear toxin on regular civilians, which is further exemplified in Ra's al Ghul's plan to use the fear toxin that has been slowly infused into Gotham's water supply to destroy the city in a wave of mass hysteria to leave room open for new growth and a better Gotham. All three characters use fear, though Batman's use is more directed and constructive.
On the other side of that coin lies the characters of Jim Gordon and Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne's childhood friend and romantic interest. Rachel especially becomes symbolic of the best of Gotham City, as she never loses sight of what the city should become and remains a permanent check on Bruce's psyche, ensuring the Batman never goes to far. Her thematic focus slowly shifts throughout this film and the next to being a symbol of Gotham's future, a world without Batman where Bruce and her can be together (which only makes her fate in that film all the more tragic).
All this thematic storytelling and filmmaking only works because of the skill of the director and the talent of the cast in this film, who are all top notch. While I do believe that The Dark Knight absolutely has the best interpretations and performances for all of these characters, Christian Bale is still an amazing Batman despite his weird voice choices. Also I have to applaud Nolan's decision to not utilize the most famous members of Batman's rogues gallery for this first outing. Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul are staples of the comics and TV shows but were complete unknowns for the big screen and they both work really well, though Ra's role is very understated despite being played amazingly by...well spoilers. Cillian Murphy is sort of a staple of Nolan's films and his role as Scarecrow is quite good, if a little washed out when compared to the bigger names in the franchise.
Honestly I think this all goes back to Batman Begins biggest issue: being the film which preceeded The Dark Knight. On its own, Batman Begins is a really good introduction to a grounded realistic take on the Batman mythos. But when placed as the prequel to The Dark Knight, it unfortunately comes off as kind of bland and comparatively unremarkable. In the grand scheme of the trilogy, its important for contextualizing and setting up the narrative for The Dark Knight Rises, but it does sort of feel like the awkward middle child of an amazing superhero franchise.
Which is a real shame because, again, the film is structurally excellent with great musical moments as expected of a Nolan venture, the characters are all really good representations of their distilled thematic essences from the comics (though not fully actualized until the sequels perhaps) due to the phenomenal work of good actors. If this were any other superhero film, I would probably give Batman Begins a perfect 10/10 film.
Unfortunately, it is the Batman film which preceded The Dark Knight, so a 9/10 in total will have to do. It just is what it is. In spite of my many issues with The Dark Knight and its memetic impact on the superhero genre (specifically in relation to Warner Bros. handling of the DCEU) one cannot deny the sheer impact and awe that that film evokes even today. Leaving Batman Begins as the second place film in the trilogy that it spearheaded.
Sorry, but that's just the way it is.
FINAL SCORE - 9/10
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