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Batman Begins (2005)

| July 3, 2005 | 0 Comments

“Batman Begins” is, at long last, a movie that dismisses all the flash and overkill of the previous Batman films and simply concentrates on the business of getting inside the head of a man so damaged that he is driven to a destiny of donning a batsuit in order to clean up the streets of his beloved Gotham. At last, here is a movie that understands what the previous directors have missed.

Christopher Nolan’s film is a work of common sense mounted on the understanding that Batman is more than just a flashy costume. Buried beneath all the gadgets beats the heart of a man whose soul burns with guilt, hatred and a need for revenge. This is something that the previous films have explored lightly and without much insight. Nolan traces Bruce Wayne’s roots in a logical way, telling a grounded story that is nearly devoid of the trappings of all previous productions in this series. This is a stripped down version of the Batman legend, not overwhelming in set design or even in the central villain (there isn’t one), but in the realistic mold that attempts to see this legend from the ground up.

Nolan refuses stunt casting. Christian Bale is a good actor who works through the title role, not as a guy dazzled by his own fame, but as a damaged man who sees urgency in creating this persona. His journey is odd and transformative, given to him by what he has experienced. Bruce, as a boy, had an accident that left him with a deep fear of bats. That fear leads indirectly to the death of his parents at the hands of a mugger, for which he will blame himself for years to come. Bruce’s decision to put himself inside the guise of a bat is a way of attempting to reverse that mistake even though he knows that it is a personal prison from which he will never escape.

Christian Bale succeeds, I think, where Michael Keaton wanted to go before his performance was trounced by Jack Nicholson’s Joker. We follow the process of his transformation. After some early passage that show young Bruce and the events that led to her parent’s murder, we catch up with him as an adult exiled to an Asian prison where he uses the experience to study the criminal mind. He beats up a pack of thugs in the prison yard and is given an opportunity by a strange man calling himself Ducard (Liam Neeson), the leader of a shadowy ninja group called The League of Shadows, an organization dedicated to upending society’s nasty habit of courting the criminal element through compassion, and overturning major empires when they get too big for their britches. Ducard offers Bruce some pseudo-Jedi training in order to deal with his fears and to fight and disappear like a shadow. Bruce and Ducard hold well to many similar beliefs except one: Bruce long-held policy against murder. It is a decision that will come back to haunt him.

Bruce takes that training home where he vows to upend a Gotham City that has become so corrupt that justice is bought and paid for, and the city is run by an Italian crime boss called Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkenson) who seems untouchable in the courts. Bruce channels what he has learned into becoming the symbol of resistance. We see the formation of this Bat-person, the batcave, the batsuit, even the Batmobile – all of which just happen to come out of the now-defunct R and D department of Wayne Enterprises. Again, Nolan is intent on using logic to tell this story. He’s not trying to sell toys, he’s trying to give Batman a sense of reality.

He also avoids a central villain. There is a classic Batman villain in the story, but the movie isn’t about him. Besides the crime boss, a slick criminal psychologist who has been moving gangsters away from prison and into his asylum via a toxin that brings their worst fears to life. He, of course, is Jonathan Crane (an effectively creepy Cillian Murphy), better known as The Scarecrow. Yet, he isn’t at the center of this story. He’s exists around it’s edges, as part of the ensemble rather than taking over as Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer were allowed to do. In fact, the movie is more than just the hero and the villain, there are small and effective roles all through the film. Gary Oldman plays the weathered James Gordon (not quite a commissioner yet); Michael Caine as Bruce’s level-headed butler Alfred; and there reliable old Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, who works as Batman’s Q. The only weak character in the film is Bruce’s love interest played by Katie Holmes. She works as an assistant D.A. trying to bring Falcone down, but she’s too young, giving off the vibe of a law student rather than a tough-as-nails lawyer. And her relationship with Bruce is never really developed very well.

“Batman Begins” is a breath of fresh air. After a decade of half-wit Batman adventures, it is refreshing that it has finally fallen into the hands of a director willing to explore the origins of the character without giving in to putting on a dazzling spectacle. He allows Batman a learning curve and allows him to fail now and then. We’ve always known that he was a flawed hero and it’s so nice to have a filmmaker who understands that as well.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.