Batman Begins

Cast:
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard
Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox
Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon
Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul
Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes
Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow
Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone
Rutger Hauer as Richard Earle
Sara Stewart as Martha Wayne
Richard Brake as Joe Chill
Gus Lewis as Young Bruce Wayne
Emma Lockhart as Young Rachel Dawes
Linus Roache as Dr. Thomas Wayne

Summary:
Batman Begins not only revives the Batman franchise, but it’s one of the best films of 2005. The fantastic cast, good story, and reality-based comic characters make this movie a treat for both comic fans and general audiences.

Story:
Batman Begins returns to the early years of the life of Bruce Wayne. The film starts with him as a young man in a prison in Asia. He has been there researching the criminal mind and learning to fight. We learn how Bruce got there as he relives through flashbacks the death of his parents, his thirst for revenge as an adult, and his ultimate decision to fight injustice in Gotham. Through anger Bruce seeks to bury his guilt about his parent’s deaths.

As Wayne aimlessly seeks his purpose in life, he’s visited in prison by Henri Ducard, a representative of the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul. Ra’s Al Ghul is the leader of an ancient group of vigilantes who dispense their own form of justice when dealing with criminals, chaos, and corruption. Ducard invites Bruce Wayne to learn their secrets and fighting techniques. After intense ninja training, Bruce becomes a full-fledged member of the group. But he abandons them when he realizes their twisted plot to cleanse Gotham City of crime.

When Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after having disappeared for 7 years, he finds he’s about to lose his father’s company. He also finds Gotham to be more corrupt than ever before. It is then that he adopts the persona of Batman to strike fear into the hearts of the criminals and the corrupt city officials. He uses all of Wayne Enterprises’ technology to aid him in his quest. But can one man make a difference when facing the likes of Scarecrow and his fear inducing chemicals?

Batman Begins is rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

What Worked:
Is this the same Warner Brothers that made “Batman & Robin” and “Catwoman”? It’s hard to believe, but they knocked this one out of the park. “Batman Begins” is the film that comic fans have been waiting for and it’s a film that general audiences are going to enjoy as well. I’ve been a Batman fan my entire life and I have to say I was happy with practically every aspect of this movie. From the cast to the production design to the story, it all just works wonderfully together. You could debate whether it is the best comic book movie ever made, but I’d say it’s very solidly in the top 5. I will also say that this is the best movie I’ve seen in 2005. (Yes, that’s coming from a Star Wars geek who has seen “Revenge of the Sith” four times.)

The biggest reason this movie works is the cast. Every single actor in the film delivers a fantastic performance and has a moment to shine at one point or another. Michael Caine seems like he was born to play Alfred Pennyworth. He acts as a father figure and conscience to Bruce. Caine makes it totally believable that his character would be willing to go from high society butler to the helper of a vigilante. Some of his scenes comforting young Bruce after the death of his parents are quite touching. Then you have Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard. He brings a lot of nobility and credibility to a character that could easily be very absurd. Neeson seems more Jedi-like in this role than he does in The Phantom Menace. Morgan Freeman is also great as Lucius Fox. The way he offers Bruce help and slyly aids the young billionaire is quite charming. You instantly like him. Cillian Murphy is also exceedingly creepy as Dr. Jonathan Crane and The Scarecrow. His character has always been a B-Grade Batman villain in the comics, but here he’s quite scary. He borders the horror genre, actually. I’ve always thought Gary Oldman is one of the best living actors and he reinforces that in his role as Lt. James Gordon. Oldman is so different from role to role that he’s almost unrecognizable. It’s great to see him as a friend and partner to Batman. As for the rest of the cast, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes, Tom Wilkinson, and Rutger Hauer are all good in their respective roles.

Then there’s Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bale delivers one of the most unique takes on the dual persona that I’ve ever seen. His Wayne is a much more human character than in any of his previous incarnations. His desire to get revenge on his parent’s murderer is one of the most emotional scenes in the film. Then as Bale heads to Asia for training, he becomes a very physical character and you see him battling without his mask on. This makes him more believable when he puts on the Batman mask and starts fighting. Bale also plays Wayne as an irresponsible playboy in order to get rid of any suspicion about his double life. Those are some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Bale’s performance as Batman is even more landmark. This Batman is flat out scary. It’s the scariest version of Batman that I’ve ever seen. (I wouldn’t recommend taking sensitive young children to this movie. It’s pretty intense.) The way he swoops out of the darkness and snatches away criminals is as good as you’ll see in any monster movie. One particularly noteworthy scene is when Batman interrogates a corrupt cop atop a building. The cop spills his guts and says, “I swear to God!!!!!” Batman yells back in a gravely voice, “Swear to ME!!!” The way he says it will send chills down your spine, make comic fans giddy, and make you realize why criminals fear him. In later scenes where people view Batman when hit with Scarecrow’s fear hallucinogen, he either has glowing eyes or looks like a demonic horror creature. It’s just really cool.

Another big reason Batman Begins works is the fact that it is reality-based. All of Batman’s gadgets come from the weapons division of Wayne Enterprises and they could, theoretically, work. The Batmobile is especially unique and looks like a stealth Hummer or something. This reality-based approach means that even Ra’s Al Ghul’s immortality is never mentioned, but that’s forgivable. There’s not a bit of neon, Bat-nipple, or any other cheese to be seen anywhere in the movie. (In fact, I’m wondering now how they’re going to pull off some of the more cartoony Batman villains like Joker and Penguin in future sequels.) “Batman & Robin” lowered the bar so far down that Batman Begins couldn’t help but be better, but they really surpassed my expectations. The story worked out better than I expected, too. I read David Goyer’s script when it leaked online last year. I thought it was a good script, but it needed work. I was also really discouraged after seeing his work in Blade: Trinity. However, the movie really sticks to that original script and it ends up working out great thanks to the great cast and the wonderful production design. I think Christopher Nolan deserves a lot of recognition for making this all work.

All in all, “Batman Begins” is just a great summer film. It really puts Warner Brothers back on track and it certainly bodes well for the upcoming Superman movie. I can almost forgive them for “Catwoman” now. (On a side note, look for the new DC Comics logo in the opening credits.) This movie is really going to please comic fans and general audiences are going to find it to be quite a treat as well.

What Didn’t Work:
I enjoyed “Batman Begins” so much that I have no real complaints about the movie. If anything, I have nitpicks. My first nitpick is that the musical score doesn’t really stand out. There’s no Batman theme like there was in Danny Elfman’s “Batman” score. In fact, the music is almost unnoticeable. But maybe that’s better since this movie isn’t as fantasy based as Burton’s movie was. Elfman’s score might seem over the top in a film like this.

My other nitpick involves the fight scenes. Whenever Batman gets in hand-to-hand combat, the camera pulls in really close and you end up seeing nothing but a bunch of dark blurs. You don’t really get a sense of the fight choreography and it’s ultimately confusing.

My final nitpick is that at times I cringed at Bale as Batman. The way he talked with a gravely voice was sometimes really cool, sometimes a bit weak. It alternated throughout the film. But he was cool enough that I easily forgot any gripes that I had. I was also disappointed that the movie didn’t emphasize the fact that Batman is the “world’s greatest detective”. The movie didn’t emphasize any of his detective skills, only his nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, and computer hacking skills. (Just kidding on that last part.)

The Bottom Line:
Simply put, Batman Begins is one of the best comic book movies ever made. With a great cast, a strong story, and plenty of action, it’s a perfect summer movie and one of the best entries for 2005.

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