Chistopher Nolan's 'Batman Begins' (2005)

After the horrible embarrassment that was Batman & Robin, I was dismayed when I heard about a new ‘Batman’ film set to hit theaters this year. Thankfully, Warner Bros. wrenched the reins from Joel Schumacher’s gaudy little hands and handed them to Christopher Nolan, best known for directing the indie thriller Memento. Nolan redirects the tone of the film from the over-the-top flamboyance of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin toward the darker, noir feeling of the first two films. But Nolan does not mimic Tim Burton’s style — he creates his own.

The film’s assets:

  1. The acting. Christian Bale, the fourth actor to don the mask and cape in the films, does not try to imitate the actors who came before him. Bale is indeed the first actor who actually develops Bruce Wayne/Batman into a real person — he makes Batman more than just the suit. Coming to Bale’s assistance is a cast of fine actors who deliver solid performances. Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox are especially noteworthy. Cillian Murphy, who uncannily resembles Mike Erwin in this movie, is also terribly creepy as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow. Liam Neeson delivers a satisfactory but ultimately forgettable performance as Ducard.
  2. The action sequences. Nolan knows how to direct action sequences — he keeps them fast-paced and interesting. But if you enter the film with high hopes of seeing a lot of fists smashing into faces, you will probably be disappointed. The blood in this movie is very minimal. The way Nolan directs the action mimics Batman’s fighting style. Just like the bad guys, the audience sees his movements but not necessarily the effects.
  3. The nocturnal rodents. Bats are used the most effectively and to the greatest cinematic impact in this Batman installment.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Repeated dialogue. I will never understand the rule of Hollywood that says, “If a line is emotionally resonant the first time a character says it, it will be even better when it is repeated.” Even talented actors, like the ones in this movie, have trouble selling such instances.
  2. The underdeveloped romance. Katie Holmes and Bale show some definite chemistry in their first scene together in the kitchen, but the script fails to build their relationship to the point at which the audience feels a sense of loss when she “rejects” him. Despite the movie’s more numerous flaws, Spider-man succeeds at nurturing the chemistry between the romantic leads where this film fails.
  3. Continuity. There are a few continuity mistakes between this film and the preceding movies of the series: Jack Napier is not shown as the murderer of Bruce’s parents; Bruce first encounters bats before his parents die and they terrify rather than comfort him; Alfred has a coarser, Cockney accent. And I’m certain that greater Batman fans than I can name other inconsistencies. As I am not a reader of the comics, I do not know if the details this film presents are closer to the comics.

Batman Begins is arguably the greatest installment in the ‘Batman’ series. My mother raises the first film as a worthy contender, but I cannot compare the two. The Tim Burton installments should have been called ‘Joker’ and ‘Catwoman’ respectively — the villains of the films are more memorable than the Bat. Begins has Bruce Wayne/Batman at the heart of the film and the difference is readily apparent. And Nolan’s dark, gritty approach serves the material well.