The following retro review of Batman Begins was written in August 2016.
I grew up with many different takes on a live-action Batman and Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton. Val Kilmer. George Clooney. But it wasn’t until I saw Christian Bale in Batman Begins that I loved, I don’t just mean liked, a live-action version of the character. When I first saw Batman Begins, I hadn’t seen Bale in a lot of films (probably just American Psycho and Reign of Fire), but when I saw Bale as Bruce Wayne I was just overjoyed this was going to be my Batman – like I, at that time, saw Roger Moore as my James Bond.
Thankfully, this trilogy ended up being pretty solid as a whole, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought it was one of the best trilogies ever (even though I am not in that camp). Christian Bale’s version of Batman, or at least Bruce Wayne, was, for a while, the quintessential version of the character. It wasn’t until Ben Affleck showed off what he could do in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that people started to ask if he had overtaken that role. At the time of writing, I don’t know what Affleck’s time as Bruce Wayne will end up meaning for the legacy of live-action Batman films.
But what I do know is that Christian Bale’s time as Bruce Wayne, so far, is the peak of live-action versions of Batman stories. And that is, in large part, due to Christopher Nolan who, at the time of writing, is one of the best directors in the world. But we often forget that Christopher Nolan wasn’t one of the most well-regarded directors in the world when he agreed to direct Batman Begins.
After having only directed three feature films, Nolan was trusted with the keys to the franchise. Memento was his big film back then, and his remake of Insomnia had seemingly convinced Warner Bros.: Christopher Nolan was their guy – and it may be one of the smartest decisions Warner Bros. has made in a long time. Because Batman Begins is becoming a superhero movie classic, and it is one of the strongest superhero movie origin stories ever made.
Batman Begins tells us how Bruce Wayne became Batman, and, no, that doesn’t just mean that we’re getting told about how his parents died. Batman Begin takes you through Bruce Wayne’s training, and it gives you starting point for all the relationships we know from the comic books. It doesn’t just give you a single flashback to his parents dying. It constantly returns to the lessons that he was taught as a child, while Bruce is being taught by Ra’s Al Ghul and, later, while he fights different villains in the streets of Gotham. It is exactly what you would want from a Batman origin story.
It focuses on how Bruce Wayne should deal with fear, and how his fear made him greater by accepting it and living in it. Nolan really makes that angle work well, and seeing a visibly shaken Wayne time and time again strongly supports the idea that Bruce Wayne is a broken individual, and over the course of this film he starts to put some of the pieces back together.
The other prevalent theme is the impact of a father figure. Unlike the Bruce Wayne of the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice timeline, Nolan’s Bruce isn’t tortured specifically by the loss of his mother. Fear is tied to Bruce’s memory of his father, and in his adult life he has two men that both try to shape him as a man and as a hero.
Liam Neeson’s character is the tough father figure, who desperately challenges Bruce to reinvent himself, and he is contrasted by Michael Caine’s Alfred. Alfred is a much more warm and supportive figure in Bruce’s life. Alfred loves Bruce Wayne, and Michael Caine is wonderful as the famous butler. Also, Morgan Freeman and, especially, Gary Oldman are pretty perfect as the characters they play.
I like Liam Neeson in the film, but he isn’t a very memorable villain. Instead, I still think the other main villain in the film is handled much better. Cillian Murphy’s version of the Scarecrow is terrifying and the character really works here. The final antagonist is Tom Wilkinson’s Carmine Falcone, and he is, well, he is just fine. He doesn’t really do a lot in this film – compared to the other two, at least – but I like what Wilkinson did here.
Now, I thought Christian Bale was pretty perfect as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and I’ve already mentioned how this became my favorite version of the character when he showed up in this film. So, let’s talk about what doesn’t work very well in this film, and I really have two problems with it. Katie Holmes and the action in the third act.
I don’t think the Wayne-Dawes relationship was done very well in this film. Bale and Holmes didn’t have any chemistry, and Holmes really wasn’t that good in this film. Their scenes together don’t always work, and their final scene together in this film was tough to get through, I thought.
What’s really remarkable is that this amazing Batman film handles the story elements much, much better than it handles the action. I didn’t really remember the final act that well. I didn’t really remember much about Ra’s Al Ghul in Gotham. The action isn’t nearly as exciting as the character moments earlier in the film, and thus I guess you could say the final act betrays the heart of the story in some way, shape, or form.
8.9 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex