I remember where I was when I saw Batman Begins. I was studying philosophy at Villanova University. At the time, all my living expenses were provided, and I had a small personal stipend. One day, I used that stipend to purchase a ticket to “the new Batman movie,” and thus began my modern fascination with The World’s Greatest Detective.
I do not remember what kind of expectations I had going into the theater. I do not believe I was as nerdy about movie news then as I am now. All I remember is that I left the theater wanting more. More Batman. More stories. Shortly after, I remember calling my friend Oscar to talk about the movie. Oscar was also a longtime fan of the character. He had probably kept it up from childhood better than I had. Upon his recommendations, I sought out Batman graphic novels. There was a Borders (remember those?) near my residence. Most of my stipend went to that retailer for the rest of the summer. I picked up such gems as Hush, The Long Halloween, and Dark Victory. I think my collection of all things from the DC animated universe began during this time as well. I became a late to bloom, full-on Batman nerd.
The movie itself is unlike its predecessors in so many ways. What stands out most is that it delves into the man in Batman. Bruce Wayne is front and center. We see his tragedy, feel its effects. We watch as a man, hell bent on revenge, begins to understand true justice.
With Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan has crafted a story with strong characters. We believe that Bruce Wayne exists and understand his mission to fight crime. After witnessing the murder of his parents, Bruce’s anger and feelings of guilt leave him aimless in life. When the ability to have his version of vengeance is taken from him, he has to make a choice. Does he feel sorry for himself and take his anger out on the world? Or does he use what he has been given to take a stand for justice, to fight the criminal element in Gotham, and ensure no child ever has to watch his parents die on the ground in front of him. I do not think it is spoiling anything to say that he picks the latter.
That decision drives the movie. It is fascinating to watch as Bruce Wayne is transformed through his experiences. We see how his crime fighting code evolves. He overcomes his anger, or at least has more control of it. He understands his purpose more completely and know himself more deeply to fulfill it. His journey eventually takes him back to Gotham, ready to begin his one man war on crime. This ridiculous notion is made believable through Nolan’s direction and vision for the character.
Bruce uses his wealth and resources to produce all manner of gadgets to aid him in his fight. Everything from his handmade batarangs to his military-grade Batmobile. He takes on the mantle of a bat so that his enemies fear him. Batman uses fear to his advantage. He is a whispered word in the dark, the boogeyman.
Fear is a running theme throughout this movie. The fear to act. The fear of evil. The fear of failure. It is only fitting that one of the villains of the movie is The Scarecrow. Getting his first time to shine in live action, Nolan’s Scarecrow (played creepily by Cillian Murphy) preys on the fear of others and attacks people using their fears against themselves. For Batman, he revisits his fear that he may fail in his mission and disappoint his parents.
There is rich cast of characters throughout, making the film all the more enjoyable. Alfred is perfectly cast. Caine gives just the right balance of fatherly encouragement and friendly rebuke as Bruce moves forward with plan to clean up the city. Gary Oldman as Gotham police lieutenant Jim Gordon is also an inspired choice. He is a good cop in a rotten city, and probably, one of the few people Batman trusts.
But lest I be accused of going too easy on Nolan, I always have felt a little underwhelmed by the main villain’s plot against the city and the subsequent action scenes. They are certainly fine but there have been more exciting scenes in other action movies. The action works better for Nolan when it is scaled down. Bruce Wayne’s training. Batman’s first appearance.
Batman Begins is a very welcome reboot in a sea of unnecessary film making by big studios. It succeeds in taking an 83 year old character and making him new again. Real.