It takes serious balls to attempt to revamp a franchise that met its demise at the hands of Joel Schumacher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Uma Thurman, and even more decent (and great) talents. But leave it to Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker virtually unknown to the mainstream culture but admired by some film circles for such works as Insomnia and the highly revered indieMemento . But I think it’s safe to say that every true Batman fan has secretly (even if subconsciously) thanked a higher power every day Chris Nolan.
Without him we wouldn’t have these three Batman movies, which, while certainly garnering a brutal and unnecessarily passionate fanbase, have redefined comic-book movies for a new, mainstream audience in ways Burton’s films never did. For the first time, people walked out of a Batman movie saying, “Wow. That was a realistic and grounded film .”
And it holds up eleven years later. Eleven years. Eleven . Kind of crazy to think that this is over a decade old, but indeed it is. Somehow, although it’s not as well-shot, financed, or acted as its sequels, I think Begins is, in more ways than not, the best of the three.
I know that when I say something like that fans are sure to jump down my throat, but I have to say what I think, and after rewatching both this and The Dark Knight today, I really do think that Nolan’s first movie is the best film, which more heart and more precision, even if it is notably of lesser technical quality than its sequels.
It’s a flawed film, no question, with Katie Holmes somehow dragging down some scenes with overacting and a mood that suggests she doesn’t want to be there (thank god Maggie Gyllenhaal stepped in for the next one), but so are the two that follow. Sorry, Dark Knight enthusiasts, but even I, someone who has watched the spectacular second installment well over twenty times and loves it with a passion, can admit that it isn’t perfect.
One of this film’s problems is that it doesn’t look quite as good as the second and third (not directly referring to Wally Pfister’s cinematography which really is beautiful at times, specifically the shot of Gotham directly after the poison is released). Another is that the acting of lesser quality than the sequels, with some of the actors seeming to be getting into the groove and then firmly settling into good performances by its third act and the next movies.
That’s really it. And what do you notice about those flaws? Apart from Holmes, they only exist while in comparison to Knight andRises , which means that if you view this movie on its own without any sequel, it may just be a 5-star movie (I don’t think the miscasting of Holmes alone is enough to deduct half a star).
Really, this is a terrific film, one that may not be spot on in terms of bringing the comic-books to life (like Batman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises did), but one that is spot on in almost every other way imaginable. It is, in many ways, reminiscent of Frank Miller’s pinnacle Batman: Year One , which isn’t a totally unbelievably fictional comic; so, in a way, you could say thatBatman Begins does do a fine job at bringing the comics (or, a graphic novel) to life.
But it isn’t just rebooting Batman movie that requires balls, but it’s rebooting the franchise and throwing in villains that much of the mainstream audience hasn’t even heard of. But again, this is another reason to appreciate what Nolan did.
Tapping into the psychologic aspects of the character, this is another reason why Begins is my favorite Batman movie. Sure, a lot of The Dark Knight is about the psychological battle between Batman and the Joker and I love that about it, but a lot of it is also about the Joker wrecking chaotic havoc on Gotham and the mob sporadically. In Begins, Nolan and Goyer focus almost entirely on the psychological, dealing with Bruce’s early years in Gotham and his desire to become a beacon of justice, all driven by the mental results of the death of his parents.
And it isn’t only the psychological aspects of Bruce’s journey that are on display here, but also the villain himself. Jonathan Crane, one of Batman’s best nemesis for obvious reasons, is brought to the screen impeccably, making Batman’s first real opponent in this world one that thrives on sparking fear, something our protagonist knows everything about. Really, the theme of fear is what drives this movie, and I think Crane/Scarecrow is one of Batman’s most underrated opponents, and Cillian Murphey was a great casting choice that more people need to appreciate.
I also admire how Nolan pulls no punches in devoting the first hour to setting up Bruce. The script relies on flashbacks, which, in the hands of a less caring filmmaker, could’ve resulted in a movie that starts with Batman, then flashes back to Bruce training, then back to Batman, then back to training. But Nolan makes us wait a full hour before showing us Bruce suited up, and instead uses the flashbacks to go from younger untrained Bruce to older untrained Bruce, who goes through training in the present. It’s ballsy, but like Jaws , it has a great payoff in the last hour.
I also want to note that from the minute Rachel goes to Arkham to investigate Crane, the intensity becomes non-stop till the credits roll. The entire film is entertaining, but the last forty-five minutes or so give us the still exhilarating Tumbler chase, the fire, the poisoning of the city, Batman crossing the bridge, Batman fighting on the train, and all of that in all its glory.
For a first hour that is all about character, the second hour is fully devoted to giving fans what they want to see: Batman being Batman. Even people who don’t like the opening hour can’t deny that that the second hour delivers the goods.
Finally, I want to mention that as someone who has had such a deep affection for the character of Batman for as long as I can remember, the final minute of Batman Begins is one of the most satisfying, spine-chilling, and tear-inducing final minutes in any movie I’ve seen.
Gordon: You know, I never said thank you.
Batman: *turns slowly*
And you’ll never have to.
Batman: *Jumps off ledge and soars toward the camera, his cape engulfing the lens.*
The Dark Knight may end with a nice and cozy monologue by Gordon and Rises may have a satisfying sense of closure, but nothing can beat Batman telling Gordon that he’ll never have to thank him. That he’ll defend the city because it’s what he’s meant to do.
Because it’s who he is.
He’s the Batman.