GBUK film classics: ‘Batman Begins’

Looking at some all-time film favourites…

 

“It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me…”

Year:  2005

Starring:  Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes

Director:  Christopher Nolan / Written by:  Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer

What’s it about?

After a seven year absence (and being declared dead), Bruce Wayne, orphaned as a young boy when his parents were murdered before his eyes, returns to Gotham City with a mission: to turn fear onto those who prey on the fearful.  To do this he must cultivate a symbol, a legend and bring about change to return Gotham to its once proud glory.  He will become…the Batman.

In review

After enduring the hell of Joel Schumacher’s woefully camp Batman Forever and (shudder) Batman and Robin, in 2005 Batman fans (and audiences in general) were treated to the film they deserved thanks to the efforts of Memento and Insomnia director Christopher Nolan and his production team.

With a screenplay from Man of Steel’s David S. Goyer (fully versed in Batman mythology, drawing on elements of classic stories such as Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One), Batman Begins takes us to the very beginning of the Batman legend and presents us with a psychological examination of Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman, handled in a grounded and relatable manner.

One of the strongest elements of Batman Begins is its cast, most good films would normally have two or three great actors but here we have several phenomenal actors.  Christian Bale gives a nuanced and (I hasten to use that word again) relatable performance as Bruce Wayne and is supported by Michael Caine as (a more Cockney) Alfred, the Wayne’s ever loyal butler – who also serves as Bruce’s conscience – and Gary Oldman (one of the finest actors ever) filling the role of Gotham Police Lt. James Gordon.  Their portrayal of their respective characters evokes the spirit of their comic book counterparts, nailing effectively the key relationships between Bruce Wayne and Alfred and Batman and Jim Gordon.

Special mention should also of course go to Morgan Freeman who takes on the role of Wayne Enterprise’s Applied Sciences caretaker (and Bruce Wayne’s very own ‘Q’) Lucius Fox, who falls foul of CEO William Earl (the ever superb Rutger Hauer).

The villains of the piece are Henri Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul (neatly combining the two comic book characters) and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), played by Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy respectively, serving the story well and providing plenty of conflict for our protagonist…but as most will agree – the best is to come!

Amongst the grand locations, Gotham City is realised on an epic scale – the Chicago City location is complemented by a CGI monorail network and impressive, elaborate physical sets creating the slums which provide the decaying gothic aesthetic of the city as we know it from the comics.

A strong A-list cast and layered and poetic screenplay aside, none of the expected excitement (albeit without any onscreen ‘Zzaps’ or ‘Pows’, for that you need the 1966 Adam West movie) and action of a comic book film is lost.  There are chases across (and many a leap from) rooftops, high octane Batmobile (aka the ‘Tumbler’ – an interesting reinvention of the most iconic piece of Batman’s arsenal) chases and mixed martial arts fisticuffs aplenty!

Overall, Batman Begins is a testament to quality film-making and craftsmanship – from the strong cast performances to the screenplay and direction, all topped off nicely by a thrilling and emotional score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.  It gets to the heart of Bruce Wayne’s character and the world of Gotham City, offering the viewer a deeper understanding and legitimacy to the Batman’s purpose.

Standout moment

Bruce Wayne makes an excursion into the cave below the foundations of Wayne Manor where, unyielding to his fears, he stands and faces a swarm of Bats…the legend is born!

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It takes Batman seriously and provides a grounded and relatable interpretation of the character and the world he inhabits without sacrificing the key elements of the mythology.
  2. As well as a phenomenal cast Batman Begins benefits greatly from a rich and layered screenplay.
  3. It features beautiful (and Oscar nominated) cinematography from Wally Pfister.

Did you know?

Cillian Murphy originally tested for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

If you like this then watch…

Batman (1989):  Tim Burton’s gothic fantasy followed the lead of the darker and more adult comic book tales of the Eighties and presented us with a serious and brooding Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), grappling with his own demons as he faces the threat of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.

Man of Steel:  With a story developed by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (Nolan also serving as producer), the recent smash-hit Superman reboot takes the Batman Begins approach of grounding (not literally) the character and making Krypton’s Last Son more relatable to modern audiences.

Batman (an intense Christian Bale) confronts Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) .

Batman (an intense Christian Bale) confronts Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) .

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