We're getting there, folks. In two weeks time, The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in director Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Legend, will be released, and I can possibily die a happy man. In many interviews with various cast and crew they say they're bringing the story full circle so let's go back to the beginning and talk about the 2005 film that started it all, Batman Begins.
The big buzz about this film, as the semi-uninspired title would indicate, is to show how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) became Batman, something that hadn't yet been seen on screen. Sure, we had hints to the alleyway origin here and there, but we never saw the in-between, with him choosing to becoming a vigilante dressed as a bat. So before I go into the plot, let me just say that they definitely succeeded. While I love the entire movie, and credit it with getting me into comic books (I should maybe hate it for that, too), the first two acts are definitely where it shines the most, with Bruce Wayne developing the heroic persona that is the Batman. The third act kind of becomes a stereotypical blockbuster 'save the city' ending, though that's hardly a problem, in my quasi-humble opinion. For Batman to be established as a true hero, cinematically, he needs to do something to earn it. Saving your city from being fear gassed to death is a pretty big accomplishment in your first week as a superhero.
The story is well-known and classic by this point. Young Bruce Wayne's parents are killed in front of him, and as a result he becomes Batman to avenge them and fight back the cancer that is crime. The difference in this film is in the details, where he doesn't immediately want to become a superhero; rather, he's a directionless, twenty-something, who at first wants to kill the murderer of his parents, Joe Chill (Richard Brake). When that opportunity is taken from him, he runs away and travels the world to understand the criminal element, only to be imprisoned.
Along the way, he did learn how to fight, though Sensei Liam Neeson... I mean, Ducard, invites him to the League of Shadows, a group dedicated to worldwide justice. They're also ninjas. With them, he hones his skills and becomes a great warrior. However, he learns that the League is filled with extremists, and in a great moment says that he's not an executioner, as the willingness to commit outright, deliberate murder is what separates the heroes from the villains. He chooses to leave, and as a result, he blows up their monestary. Accidentally, granted, but still. This leads to the death of their leader, the great Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe).
Liam Neeson as Ducard and Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne
From there, Bruce makes his way home and begins collecting the gear and allies to become the Batman, including trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Sergeant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). He also reunites with childhood friend Rachel (Katie Holmes), who is now an assistant D.A. and thinks he's wasting his life, giving into the playboy lifestyle as opposed to being like his parents and doing something to help Gotham City. However, this is not the case at all, as once he is Batman he ends the reign of crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) in a single night. In this, at least, Batman is really quite competent, and the scene where he strikes at Falcone's men is the one where Nolan's quick cuts of the action adds to the atmosphere.
Batman's actions lead him to psychologist Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who at first gets the upper hand when he douses him with a panic inducing toxin (fear gas, if you will). Crane is obsessed wtih fear and the power it brings, much like Batman, and conducts experiments on the patients of Arkham Asylum. After being cured by Fox, Batman returns to Arkham Asylum where he saves Rachel from Crane. Rachel had become suspicious of the good doctor and began to investigate him only to get gassed for her troubles. Batman gasses Crane, driving him insane (erm, more insane), and races home in the Tumbler, a black tank that serves as this universe's Batmobile. He cures her in the nick of time, and gives her the cure for mass production. Crane and an anonymous boss were planning something, and Batman being Batman, feels they need to be ready.
Christian Bale as Batman
Bruce Wayne, however, needs to appear at his thirtieth birthday party, though he clearly thinks it's pointless and wants everyone to leave as soon as possible to focus on the Crane situation. However, he is introduced to a 'Mister Ra's al Ghul', who, it turns out, is the true identity of Sensei Liam Neeson. He reveals that the League is responsible for the end of countless civilizations that had grown decadent, and that Gotham is merely the next one on their list. In a memorable scene, Bruce throws his guests out while acting every bit the spoiled rich prat the public suspects. This turns out to be a good thing, because after waxing philosophical with Ra's, his manor is set ablaze by the League. He is stabbed by his former mentor and left for dead, only to be saved by Alfred, who inspires him to save the day.
And save it he does! With the help of Gordon, who unfortunately is a bit of comic relief in this scene, using the Tumbler to destroy the monorail (which is assisting with the dispersal of the fear gas city-wide), Batman stops the League and fights Ra's, leaving him to die in the exploding train, stating "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you." I don't mind that line, as many do, because this was a young Batman, who was consumed by rage still. If this was experienced Batman, I'd be angry, but since Bruce didn't deliberately kill him, I'll let it slide. Also, for all you Game of Thrones fans, this ending act features the first on-screen slapping of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Now, granted, he's nowhere near as evil in this movie as he is on the show, but it's still pretty entertaining to watch.
Now we get to the set-up for the more-known The Dark Knight. During the end battle, Rachel learned that Bruce was Batman after he saved her, and at the end she confronts him at Wayne Manor, sorry that she dismissed him as just a playboy. They kiss, chastely might I add, and she then says that she can't be with Bruce while he's still Batman, because Bruce is the mask and Batman is the real him. This scene I do have a problem with, because the roles should be reversed. Rachel should be wanting the relationship, thinking that Batman is just a symbol, while Bruce should reveal that Batman is the real him, and "the man she loved, the man who vanished, never came back at all." Then he could add that there's hope that he'll no longer be Batman one day, though everyone knows that he'll quit when he's dead (or...well, that's more of a Dark Knight comment, I'll save that one). After she leaves, Bruce talks with Alfred, and they agree that they'll take the opportunity that rebuilding the manor provides to improve the Batcave.
Now we get to the film's most iconic scene: a rooftop meeting between Batman and now-Lieutenant Gordon, who throughout the film has come to believe in the Batman, going so far as to create the Bat-signal. He reveals that the Narrows, where the League of Shadows set off the fear gas, is lost, and that crime is escalating, including a theatrical criminal who leaves behind a Joker calling card. Who could that be? Batman promises to look into it, leading to this exchange which sets the tone for the two's entire relationship.
Gordon: "I never said thank you."
Batman: "And you'll never have to."
That, right there, sums it all up.
This is, even in light of its sequel, a very good movie. I'd go so far as to say that this is overall a better Batman film than The Dark Knight is, but I myself flip-flop on that position. Batman himself, however, comes across as more of a force than in the sequel, and Bale gives a better performance as Bruce Wayne is given more to do in Begins. There's a whole subplot involving Bruce taking back control of Wayne Enterprises from Hauer's Mr. Earle, which ends in him buying most of the shares of the company and installing Lucius Fox in the position of President or CEO...one of the two.
Speaking of, the supporting cast is excellent. Michael Caine is always reliable, even if he is merely Butler Michael Caine, and the same goes for Liam Neeson, who at the very least plays his stock mentor role a bit more sinister than expected. Morgan Freeman is great, Cillian Murphy is suitably creepy, and Gary Oldman transforms himself into James Gordon. The only weak link is, expectedly, Katie Holmes. It's not that she's particularly bad, it's that she's not particularly good, which you need to be in such an all-star cast. And, worse, she and Bale have no chemistry, and their romance is really given no development. But more on that next week.
Praise must also be given to Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's soundtrack which, while lacking a definitive theme for the titular character, does suit the film quite well, and I find myself listening to it from time to time. Standouts are the music that plays during Batman's escape from Arkham Asylum, and the track 'Lasiurus.' Give that a listen if you ever get a chance, it's quite a beautiful piece.
I love this movie, and I consider it one of my personal favorites. While it is nowhere near a direct adaptation, it maintains the spirit of the comics, which to me is more important when adapting long-running comic books. And as I said before, I've heard it said that it ties in with The Dark Knight Rises, so it's definitely worth a watch before that opens in two weeks, especially if you haven't seen it in a while. And even if you have... I heartily recommend a rewatch.
Fixed Rating: 9 out of 10