Today I watched Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins, as the name suggests is a return to the origins of the dark knight, kick-starting a new series of adaptations helmed by Christopher Nolan. This film then is the origin story, something Tim Burton only used as a setup for his first film. We all know about Bruce Wayne’s parents dying but this film fills in the blanks of where he goes between that and his return to Gotham as the Batman. Turns out he went to train with ninjas at a secret Himalayan fortress, but their brand of justice is an apocalyptic cleansing so they have a falling out and Bruce destroys the place, hopefully dispersing the League of Shadows, as they call themselves. He decides to take what he has learned here and return to Gotham, to become a symbol of justice and fear for the criminals and corrupt politicians. Gotham seems to be run by one big mob boss named Falcone, he has everyone in his pocket and works with psychopharmacologist Jonathan Crane to keep his men out of prison with insanity pleas. As Batman begins his crusade with Falcone, he begins to uncover a significantly more insidious plot, one headed up by the League of Shadows and their leader Ra’s Al Ghul.
This film seems to have been largely overshadowed by it’s incredible sequel and I can see why. While some people like to talk about how the origin story is the most interesting and transcendent version of the superhero fable, Batman’s takes about eight minutes. So my first problem with this film is the pacing in the first act, it has interesting subject matter sure, but seeing Batman plan out the Batcave is about as boring as watching anyone plan a renovation. The film is also plagued by some rather unfortunate traits of mid 2000’s action movies, namely extremely confusing camerawork and editing in fight scenes, and an over-abundance of torture used without presenting any moral qualms.
This raises my biggest problem with the film, it’s sense of realism and how that reflects on the morals at play. Now i bet most people will disagree with me, but I think all superheroes need to be portrayed as either anti-heroes or need to exist in an over the top comical setting. My reasoning for this is that there is nothing particularly heroic about acts of violence in the real world, so when Batman uses intense psychological torture and the film portrays him as a fairly pure hero, I balk with disgust. Furthering my disgust is the casting of Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul, casting a white person in this traditionally Asian role is a slap across the face of Asian actors everywhere.
All that said the rest of the casting is largely very good and Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Jonathan Crane along with Tom Wilkinson as Falcone gives this film a very threatening rogues gallery, even if neither of them ends up fulfilling their full potential. We also have Michael Cain as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Sgt. Gordon (one day to make commissioner), and Morgan Freeman as Batman’s tech guy Lucious Fox and they are all acting to their fullest, delivering great performances one and all. Finally we get to Christian Bale as Batman and while he may not be my favorite incarnation of the character on screen, I still quite enjoy his stoic portrayal, if only his moral compass matched the realism of the setting or if the flaws in it’s mechanisms could have been examined, gotta wait for the next film for that I suppose. 3/5