DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
Batman has always seemed to make great viewing and with the darker takes on him of the past to decades, great movies. This was a real treat though. It’s almost a rational take on an irrational super hero. Christopher Nolan has managed to give Batman a human face and the world he inhabits a sense of scale and realism. But that’s not to say that it is lacking in the sense of the theatrical.
Back in 2005, the hype for this film was building, with a new take on the old comic hero taking shape. Though I must admit that the design of the new Batmobile didn’t look cool to me, but I loved the concept of rooting him in a real world. The other questionable point was that lack of the big hitters in terms of the villains. The Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwomen were dumped in favour of The Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, with only one that I, as the un-indoctrinated in comic book lore, that I had heard of being The Scarecrow.
But this was not to be a typical Batman film in any sense of the word. In June 2005, Batman was reborn and not only had the career of an independently styled filmmaker, Christopher Nolan blown into the big leagues but Blockbusters had just been redefined, an event not dis-similar in effect t those of Jaws and Star Wars in the 1970’s.
Batman, a Warner Bros. cash cow for decades, was about to cross all the main lines within the industry and a blockbuster with art house sensibilities and real intelligence was about to born. It’s not the first, but it opened the door for Nolan and his like to change the way we think about movies of this kind. It doesn’t seem to be that long ago that Marvel was dominating cinemas was some first-rate adaptations such as X-Men, Spider-man and the underrated Hulk, which in many ways may be classed as a prototype for this, with art house direction from Ang Lee.
The plot of Batman Begins isn’t really that important though that’s not to sell it short. It’s a highly developed and conceived story, packed from the opening frame to the 140th minute, but it’s simply the perfect blend of the evolution of Bruce Wayne into Batman, and the usual diabolical plans of the super-villain, only it doesn’t feel like that when you’re watching it. It feels like a well judged story about a traumatised young man, struggling to come terms with his parents murder, and his place in the world.
Luckily for him, his family are billionaires and his butler is Alfred, or more importantly, Michael Caine! There are of course a whole host of contrivances to explain how Batman’s image was forged, how the Batcave was created and where the Batmobile came from, but no-one’s suggesting that this a documentary. This is a more grounded and psychological approach to the story of a nutcase who dressed up like a bat and fights crime without a single superpower to his aid.
But it’s how Nolan brings all this together that works so well. He addresses things so subtly that you can end up missing them if you blink, or at least fail to see them coming. Wayne is turned into a flamboyant excentric to maintain a distance from his friends, if he even has any. The Batcave never ends up looking how we’d expect either, but it is full of bats if that helps and he does park his car there.
It is not until The Dark Knight that we see a Batcave of sorts and that isn’t even in the grounds of Wayne Manor. So, the direction, conception and writing are great, what about the casting? Christian Bale is Wayne/Batman for me, though the animatistic tone to his voice maybe a little overdone, but I do get it. Katie Holmes is the weakest link and am glad that she was recast for the sequel. The rest of the players are first-rate and this may well be on of the best casts ever assembled for a single film in my opinion.
Gary Oldman, so understated as Lt. Gordon, Caine as Alfred is perfect; Liam Neeson is on top form, which he isn’t always, let’s face it and Morgan Freeman, like Oldman and Caine can seemingly do no wrong. Then there’s Hans Zimmer‘s collaboration with James Newton Howard for the score which is one of Zimmer’s best. Howard is an able composer and he clearly provided many of the excellent emotional riffs, but it was Zimmer who brought this together with his dominant, strident style, colossal beats and pacing.
The look and sound of this film sets it apart from so many of its bretheran. Batman Begins is a truly original, relentless and groundbreaking movie that is the best of the comic book movies by a mile, but not nesseserily the best comic book adaptation. Spider-man or Watchmen for example, may qualify for the fact that they more literally reflect their respective sources but Nolan’s masterpiece is a blueprint as to how film should tackle such adaptations.
And yes, that’s right; Batman Begins is a masterpiece if ever there was one, though a slightly lesser one in comparison to its own sequel, The Dark Knight which may have completely rewritten the handbook.