In early 2003 I remember reading that Warner Bros. was ready to resuscitate Batman. To be honest, I didn’t want him back, unless it was a shocking detour from the previous two films. Based off casting rumors, some of which revolved around Ashton Kutcher, I’d rather Batman stay buried. Then Christopher Nolan came on board, assembled a terrific cast, and stripped down the grating qualities that preceded Batman films before. For as miraculous as it was, deep down in me was a residual hesitance. Like an adolescent boy giving love another try after being cheated on, I wanted so desperately to welcome back Batman back into my life, but I didn’t want my heart-broken. For the better part of two years, my love for Batman, and trust in the impending film, played out like a season of Dawson’s Creek. Emotions were raw, and I just wanted Dawson to love me…Err, I mean Batman, or something. Slowly, but surely, my trust in Nolan gained momentum. With each leaked production still and whispered rumor, Nolan sold me on the world he was creating. Unlike the advertising for Schumacher’s Batman films, secrecy shrouded begins like a cocoon around a caterpillar. The only guarantee found in the trailer was the consummate birth of a once impenetrable legend. Thankfully for us, Nolan ripped back the cowl and provided a great deal of introspection. Finally, here is the beginning of something great…
Batman Begins (2005):
Batman’s film reputation needed a complete overhaul. Brick by brick, Batman was rebuilt by the heralded Christopher Nolan. Through Nolan’s eyes, Batman rises in a gritty, reality based adaptation. Buried deep under the ashes of the last two films, Batman Begins defied all odds, escaping film development hell and reigniting an iconic character. In order to truly resurrect the character, Nolan hit the reset button and delivered a more in-depth origin story about a billionaire that transforms into a selfless creature of the night. The score itself, jointly written by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, is a microcosm of what Nolan’s intentions are with the reboot. By eliminating the triumphant nature of the previous film’s scores, we get a raw, visceral sounding soundtrack that embodies Wayne’s evolving grasp on the burdens of a sleuthing beast.
Grounding the film in reality, with a Gotham City that could double as any major metropolis found in real life, Batman Begins is a slow burn that doesn’t mind taking its time getting to the heroics. More so than the other films, Bruce Wayne, and his assumed duality between rich playboy and righteous hero, is the film’s main focus. Why would this well off man sacrifice his life in favor of redeeming a city? Nolan attempts to answer this question by concocting a tragic man who refuses to sit idly while his city rots at the hands of criminal cockroaches. Unlike the previous Batman adventures, the impact of Wayne’s past is felt immediately. His origin feels like a valued anthology, not a footnote. Considering that every move Nolan made in Begins purposely distanced itself from earlier Batman incarnations, it should come as no surprise that the film’s villain isn’t sexy by any means. Ras al Ghul, played with virtue and great restraint by Liam Neeson, provides the perfect launching pad for Batman’s ascent into hero folklore. Even more interesting is Nolan’s perspective on Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, two prominent characters that received ancillary status in the four preceding films.
Gordon is particularly special because he receives an arc similar to our titular hero. Batman’s mythological ascension matches Gordon’s deserved rise up the police ranks. Alfred, a character that supplies Wayne with unmatched love and support, is beyond a simple servant. But, for as great as the supporting turns are, especially a devilish Morgan Freeman, Begins is all about the bat. Bale, as the incorruptible Bat, is probably the best Batman cinema has seen. His gruff nature allows for Batman’s intimidation tactics to seep through the screen, while his innate ability to expose the fragile psyche of Bruce Wayne establishes a great deal of credibility. Keaton kept Bruce as a mystery; Bale shows us Wayne’s bloodied open wound. Admittedly, Nolan’s lack of experience in shooting grand action can hamper the film at times, especially scenes that find Batman dodging between shadows, but he always directs our attention to the characters. Impeccably written and directed, Batman Begins lays the foundation for a franchise that filmgoers deserved.