Batman Begins

English Title: Batman Begins

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Warner Bros. Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, DC Comics

Director: Christopher Nolan

Producer(s): Michael E. Uslan, Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Benjamin Melniker, Larry Franco

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer

Cinematographer: Wally Pfister

Art Director: Susan Whitaker, Dominic Masters, Paul Kirby, Peter Francis

Editor: Lee Smith

Runtime: 140 minutes

Genre: Action/Adventure/Superhero

Starring/Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christian Bale

Year: 2005

Volume: American - Hollywood

As a child, Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder by common criminals and grows up troubled and disillusioned; only his loyal friend Rachel Dawes and Wayne’s family butler Alfred keep him from self-destructing in a city that is gradually being overridden by crime and corruption. Wayne disappears to Tibet and eventually encounters the ‘League of Shadows’, fronted by Henri Ducard and Ra’s Al Ghul, who teach him how to confront his own fears and utilize them as a proactive tool in combating the crimes of Gotham City. When Wayne returns to Gotham, he uses every financial and methodical tool at his disposal to develop a set of weaponry, vehicles and contacts (including a confidential relationship with sidelined Wayne Enterprises employee Lucious Fox and a burgeoning ‘friendship’ with Gotham’s Lieutenant Jim Gordon) to create an urban legend through the persona of ‘The Batman’.  Just as Batman begins to make a positive impact, Ra’s Al Ghul reappears with plans to upend the civility of Gotham, forcing Wayne/Batman into a physical and psychological conflict that will determine the fate of the city.

The character of Batman has endured media interpretations of varying form and quality for decades, from theatrical serials of the 1940s to the camp (but nostalgically admired) 1960s television series, to the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher films of the 1980s and 1990s, and the numerous animated television versions launched in between. The story of a man who dresses up like a bat to strike fear into the evils of his city has continually fascinated both those that write and illustrate the character for DC Comics and an increasingly widening general public, who continue to devour tales of ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’ in comics and media.  ‘Where does he get those wonderful toys?’ the Joker rhetorically asks in Tim Burton’s 1989 film adaptation. Christopher Nolan’s somewhat revisionist take on the character attempts to answer this question while simultaneously adding depth and embellishment to a story that was only told abstractly in the comics.  
In redefining Batman’s origins, objectives and environment in a more ‘realistic’ way than Burton or Schumacher’s arguably more surreal worlds, Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer take the time to both introduce new elements and reflect on what has come before. The utilization of comic book-derived nemeses Dr. Jonathan Crane (The Scarecrow) and Ra’s Al Ghul is new to the franchise, as are the script’s attempts to give precise definitions to nearly every weapon and tool that Batman wields – but the black rubber costume that Batman adopts, as well as his initial attitude toward criminals, adopting a menacing voice and intimidating demeanor, are both not that far removed from Burton’s and actor Michael Keaton’s original 1989 portrayal (upon his first public appearance, Bale’s Batman even utters ‘I’m Batman’, mirroring Keaton’s first line of dialogue as the character). Nolan assembles a talented cast who deliver committed performances of emotional gravitas, particularly Caine’s Alfred and Oldman’s Lieutenant Gordon, who discovers an unexpected ally in his crusade against corruption. Chris Corbould helped Nolan design a fully-functioning ‘tumbler’ (an early prototype for the Batmobile) which is unlike anything Batman has driven before on-screen. Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard collaborated equally on composing the film’s score, which effectively creates a mood of underlying tension and menace (and lost childhood) that greatly enhances the drama and warms up Nolan’s usual stylistic coldness. Even though this Batman film was approached as a new take on the material (without any narrative ties to previous cinematic interpretations), in promotional trailers preceding the release, Warner Bros. attempted to re-introduce the franchise as if the audience were welcoming back an old friend, acknowledging the character’s global media presence while attempting to differentiate this new film from previous theatrical installments (though perhaps the studio did their job too well, as numerous media outlets misprinted the title as Batman Returns in the months leading up to the film’s release, subconsciously referencing Burton’s 1992 sequel).  
Among the choice moments that reference Batman’s cinematic return are Liam Neeson’s Ducard greeting a roughed-up Bruce Wayne in a third-world prison cell, telling him ‘The world is too small for someone like Bruce Wayne to disappear’; Ducard then offers up the potential for Wayne to become a ‘legend’. Also meta-textually amusing is a moment where Alfred greets Wayne on an airstrip with ‘You’ve been gone a long time’, slyly referencing the character’s seven-year disappearance from cinema screens.  Legendary Pictures, a conglomerate of private equity and hedge fund investors, co-funded the picture with Warner Bros., in a move designed to decrease financial risk for the studio; this was the first production in a long-term deal between Warner Bros. and Legendary, which signals how Hollywood film production is modifying itself to adjust to contemporary financial difficulties and uncertainties. During production, DC Comics also attempted rebranding itself as both a comic and media producer; a new animated company logo (which mirrors Marvel Comics’ own multi-media rebranding throughout the 2000s) appears here for the first time. Batman Begins spawned an enormously successful sequel, The Dark Knight (2008), which will be followed by a third film in the series (set to be released in 2012).

Author of this review: Michael S. Duffy