Ever since witnessing the murder of his parents as a child, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Bale) has been haunted by fear, grief and anger. As the once-prosperous Gotham City becomes overrun with crime and corruption, Bruce wanders the globe in search of answers, until he’s recruited by the mysterious Henri Ducard (Neeson) to join a deadly ninja cult dedicated to combating society’s evil-doers. Eventually returning home, Bruce uses his training and will together with family wealth and company resources to become a symbolic vigilante who will take Gotham back from the criminals…
Despite being one of the most iconic and popular comic characters in existence, after a TV show, an extended-length feature and four major movies Batman had yet to receive a screen adaptation which did him justice. The Adam West-starring series and movie, while huge fun, were all tights, high-camp and kapow-ing; Tim Burton’s gothic take had him play second fiddle (or sometimes third) to the villains; and Joel Schumacher nearly buried Bat films altogether with his second attempt, the universally-trashed Batman And Robin. Indeed, you could almost hear Alan Partridge protesting: “Stop getting Batman wrong!”
But then along came filmmaker Christopher Nolan to gift us with Batman Begins, the first worthy Batman interpretation thus far and, arguably, the best comic adaptation to date. Intelligent, gripping and emotionally complex, Nolan wipes the slate clean with a genre-elevating triumph which is refreshingly grittier, tougher and more satisfying than all the previous efforts combined, resulting in one of the few comic flicks which truly deserves to be described as “dark”. An arthouse flick disguised as a big-budget blockbuster, it’s a serious, adult and moody superhero movie for those who don’t like ‘superhero movies’.
Admirably adhering to realism at all times, Nolan’s take exists in a world as close to reality as possible, far removed from Burton’s art deco stylings and Schumacher’s fancy dress party on steroids. As the title suggests, the focus here is on Batman beginning and becoming the hero we know, so we see him failing, being beaten and learning from his mistakes. Fleshing out every single element of The Dark Knight’s identity and outfit – from the utility belt to the bat-signal to the jagged fins on his gloves – the British director and crucial co-writer David Goyer give each one purpose and a credible reason for being. For the first time, we understand why a man would choose to dress like this in order to fight crime.
Wisely plucking influence from the best graphic novels (most notably, Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween) and blending them into a coherent story, the result provides a definitive portrayal of The Caped Crusader. Lurking in the shadows, suddenly vanishing into the darkness, perching on skyscrapers as his cape billows, Nolan uses clever editing to ensure that the costume never looks silly or out of place. Importantly though, Batman Begins doesn’t just restore the focus to Batman – but to Bruce Wayne.
Taking time to fully explore his inner demons, it’s about an hour before we see the fully-formed Batman, yet it’s to Nolan and Goyer’s credit that we’re never marking time till the cape is on. Using fear as the recurrent psychological theme of the day (in Memento it was memory, in Insomnia it was, well, insomnia), there are a few powerful scenes (Bruce embracing his fear of bats, a young Bruce weeping over his dead parents) and a terrific score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Truthfully, Nolan is less at home with the third act’s big, pre-requisite set-pieces, but they’re still exciting and well-earned.
Christian Bale is a terrific choice in the lead, convincing as both a man who could commit to such an ideal and the amusing playboy. Inspired by Superman: The Movie, Nolan employs an A-list supporting cast too: including Michael Caine, Gary Oldman (who even looks like Gordon from the comics), Tom Wilkinson, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Ruger Hauer, Mark Boone Junior and Katie Holmes. Interestingly, there’s three or four baddies at play, but the movie never feels over-crowded and the villains are all well-chosen, while the lead-in for next time is nothing short of mouth-watering…
The first worthy Batman movie and, arguably, the best comic adaptation to date. Gritty, intelligent, satisfying, realistic, superbly-scored and boasting a top-drawer cast, Chris Nolan has raised the bar big time with Batman Begins. Don’t worry about thanking him though, you’ll never have to.