Batman on the big screen has, in the past, been a less than heroic mishmash of big stars, flashy effects, and well, we have to mention it, nipples on the bat suit. Seeking the summer blockbuster, Warner Brothers has repeatedly looked too big names to fill the bat suit (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney) and directing roles (Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher) and while they indeed help sell tickets their performances and styles in bringing the dark prince of Gotham to life have all been a bit batty.
Enter Christian Bale, a relative newcomer, who unlike his predecessors brings no pretense or presumptions to his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. As unobvious a choice to star in the role as the selection of Christopher Nolan to direct, Bale steps into the saga with the confidence and coolness of the character he embodies. Throughout Batman Begins both Bale and Nolan improve upon everything that has existed so far in the franchise and exhibit one of the movies overarching themes that "it's not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you."
Batman Begins Anew
With an iconic character such as Batman, virtually everyone watching the film already has some knowledge of the back story. Yet for most the details are probably sketchy at best. Where Batman Begins works so well is translating the story out of a dark comic book into a darker "real world".
Gone are the fluorescent costumes, elaborate bat-cave techno-junk, and way over-the-top villains - and really, good riddance to the likes of Jim Carey as the Riddler or Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze (though Jack Nicolson was great as the Joker in 1989 original Batman film). Replaced instead with a world that feels real, like this is happening in a real city, with a plausible plot, alluring villains and superb explanations of how batman came to possess all his "wonderful toys."
The story opens at Wayne Manor (the home of the opulent and respected Wayne family in Gotham City) with Bruce Wayne as a small child. Upon chasing his childhood friend Rachel Dawes, Bruce falls into a well where he encounters a horde of bats that frighten him – a fear that will last well into adulthood. Flash forward several years to a Chinese prison where a well-grown Bruce is being held for yet unknown reason. There he meets Ducard (Liam Neeson) who becomes his mentor.
The next hour of the movie focuses on Ducard training Bruce in the ways of the League of Shadows – a mysterious group of ninja-like men - the leader of which is known as Ra's Al Gul. There are some excellent montages and flashbacks which set the tone of the film and introduce us to other major characters including Bruce Wayne's love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) and the Wayne's butler Alfred (Michael Cane). We also witness, along with Bruce, the death of his parents at gunpoint outside an opera house.
Ducard teaches Bruce to use his fears against his opponents and leaves him with the advice: "If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely." However unknown to Bruce, Ducard has a sinister plan for him to lead the League of Shadows into Gotham and destroy it. When Bruce learns of the plot he destroys the temple in which he has been training and leaves Ducard and Ra's Al Gul for dead. It is then he returns to Gotham with the will to save the city from corruption and greed. He takes the advice of Ducard quite literally by transforming himself into an idea, the dark and mysterious Bat Man. Alfred: "Why bats, sir?"
Bruce Wayne: "Bats frighten me. It's time my enemies share my dread."
Virtually everything and everyone. As touched on before Bale is fantastic as both Bruce Wayne and his dark alter ego, Batman. The confused and troubled Wayne compared with the collected and omnipresent Bat Man would be hard for two actors to pull off convincingly yet Bale changes from one to the other with style and grace.
Liam Neeson as the mentor. Famous for his roles as a wise teacher, Neeson has done this before and continues to do it well. He also holds one of the movies biggest twists which if unfamiliar with the series you will not be expecting.
Morgan Freeman as the Wayne enterprises tech-head, Lucious Fox. Fox helps Wayne transform into a tech-savvy dark creature of the night by introducing him to various "leftovers" from military experiments. It is really fun and refreshing to see Batman's technology explained in real-world terms instead of leaving us wondering like in previous films…ok where did this guy get a bat-shaped airplane?
Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow. A cool villain with a sinister secret and plot to take down Gotham who works much better than any previous villain in the series (save for maybe the Joker) Though highly underused (the Scarecrow is but a pawn in a larger plot) Murphy is just creepy enough to leave a very evil impression.
Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. Holmes plays a District Attorney who wants to take down Gotham's biggest crime boss, Carmine Falcone. Her presence always lights up Bruce and the on-screen chemistry between the two is excellent.
By far the best of the series. Great characters, great storyline, great acting, and a grin-inducing cliffhanger ending. Forget anything you saw in the previous 4 films as this one completely reinvents the franchise and quite literally saves the day.