Could I review Batman Begins? Of course I could! But would it be built upon the same pillars – no spoilers, managed expectations and a sense of perspective – that my usual reviews are? Unlikely. But I do like writing about it, and with it now being fifteen years old (wtf), it feels like a great time to revisit my retrospective.
Better writers have dissected the themes and characters of Nolan’s first Batman film. You don’t need someone else telling you that fear is core to it all. What I can do is share my history with the film and give some insight into my appreciation of it. Some rough math tells me I’ve seen the film at least thirty times, so we’re averaging out at a viewing every six months. Plenty of time to grow an appreciation of the things I love, and at least try and live with the parts that irk me.
Before anything else though, check out the posters released for this film. Absolute beauties, with the fourth adorning my bedroom wall for years.
By the time I discovered that a new Batman film was on the way I’d started to read comics. From Year One to The Long Halloween, my Batman horizons and knowledge were now spread far wider than my childhood of Keaton and West. I was ready for something new. Discovering that the director of Insomnia and Memento (thank you Film Studies A/S!) was directing was extremely exciting! But where would I share this excitement?
The discovery of the Batman-On-Film forums provided me with a spoiler-free haven in which I could enjoy discussion and news. Ensconced in an online world I gained some of my first ‘online friends’ (some of who I still know today and are just ‘friends’). We pored over photos of the new Batmobile and Batsuit whilst marveling at the cast Nolan had assembled. I bet they were sick of me revelling in how I’d posited Bale as a great choice years before.
An important thing to keep in mind is that reboots were not the common occurrence they are are now. Dark and gritty wasn’t the assumed position, and we hadn’t heard of the Avengers Initiative yet. We didn’t even have Facebook and Twitter! I knew there was space in this chest to love more than one incarnation of Batman. I knew there could be more out there.
Good thing to as this Batman, and just as importantly this Bruce Wayne, was and still is top notch. Violently interrogating Detective Flass but also charming secretaries into playing golf, I knew this was something special.
Crouching on rooftops, throwing batarangs and generally being really bloody intimidating, I was in awe of a legitimately scary Batman! There may be more comic accurate Batmen, but this one came with a fully realised world that made sense. A hyper-realistic ninja, I instantly adored everything from the thick-necked cowl to the high frequency gadget in the boot.
Then there’s Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t know what’s going on, he writes cheques he can cash but really shouldn’t, and he creates new pool areas. But he’s also determined, intelligent, handsome, and…well he’s completely jacked. That’s all the more impressive when you remember that Bale had become emaciated for his role in The Machinist and only had a few months to get into Bat-shape.
A guy who dresses up like a bat clearly has issues. Here though those issues are explained and explored; we know why this Bruce does what he does and we understand his approach. Being able to buy into Bruce is crucial to a good Batman story, and Bale fits the bill.
The cast…wow. Oldman is a pitch perfect Gordon, with a great mustache. Michael Caine is soooo good as both a Father figure and a source of humour, whilst Freeman takes on somewhat parental duties too in charming fashion. Neeson leans into his mentorship history, lending a lot of exposition an authoritative air and combative edge. Then there’s Murphy. He had the unenviable task of being the most ‘comic-booky’ character in film that at most could be called hyper-realistic. “Would you like to see my mask?” What a creepy dude! He is however also low-key hilarious. Faithful, funny, and frightening in fantastic fashion.
I haven’t mentioned Katie Holmes with the others as she deserves more attention. Holmes got a rough time at release, with unfair comparisons between ‘the girl from Dawson’s Creek’ and her Oscar winning cast members. She did not deserve a Golden Raspberry nomination for playing Rachel Dawes. She’s earnest and courageous; any awkwardness is down to writing and directing, not her performance, which provides the counterpoint to Bruce’s views, and ultimately plays a big role in setting him straight.
Time to talk about Gotham City as a character I’m afraid. It finally felt like a real place! Gone was the gothic and neon overtones of the previous films. In it’s place was a real city – a cross between London and Chicago – with some impressive blending between real life and miniatures thrown in for good measure. It all ties into Nolan’s use of CGI, something we’d see a lot of in his later films. He uses it sparingly and for the right reasons. From the suit to the car to the city, it’s all believable and grounded.
Most of the first viewing was a blur, except for the ending. Begins did a wonderful job of explaining why the world would need someone like Batman and how he came to be, but the attention it gave to Jim Gordon as he fought a losing battle against a tide of corruption gave it heart. At first cautious, his relationships with this “nut” gradually grows (they become two!), culminating in a final scene that I truly and deeply treasure.
The rooftop denouement sums up Gordon’s newfound optimism and Batman’s heroism whilst also hinting at a hugely exciting future. Were I asked to provide a summation of Batman, I would present this scene.
The now Lieutenant Gordon makes a bold move installing a faulty light on top of the Police Station. Some trust has been established, but Gordon is well aware that whilst his new ally is powerful, the criminal element of Gotham could well rise to meet the new challenge. But the veteran cop can’t help but smile at Batman’s response to his thanks. Every time he smiles, I smile too. Goosebumps.
Keaton is my childhood Batman, and I’ve got a lot of love for Affleck and Conroy. Pattinson’s Batman has started strongly too. But Bale and Nolan’s take on Batman will always be special, spreading out across my twenties.
I mentioned that I’m aware of the things that irk me didn’t I? The Tumbler turns the opposite way to which Bruce steers on the test drive, and what kid wants to get the condensed milk from the top shelf? The fighting could have been shown off better, and Batman ‘not killing’ Ra’s is majorly squiffy. It’s a solid manslaughter surely? Oh well.
Many people would say that The Dark Knight is a better film. Technically speaking I’d agree. But when it comes to emotions Batman Begins is where it’s at for me. I love this film, and part of that is having an acceptance of where it doesn’t hit the mark too.
We don’t see the title card until the end of the film. With his dive into the night Batman had begun, and in seriously impressive fashion.