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Batman Begins Review

By Shawn McKenzie 06/15/2005

Have you ever wanted to see the origins of Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman?  Sure…the story has been told many times and in many versions before, but Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins may be the most detailed version of the story yet (at least on screen.)

I want to give you this story synopsis in a linear version, because when you see the movie, the first half of it will be all out of order (that’s probably a slight filmmaking trait from the man who made Memento.)  Eight-year-old Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis), son of billionaire philanthropist Dr. Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache) and his wife Martha (Sara Stewart), didn’t have a care in the world.  One day though, while playing with his friend Rachel Dawes (Emma Lockhart), the eight-year-old daughter of the Waynes’ maid (Sarah Wateridge), she finds an arrowhead.  Bruce grabs it from her and runs, but then he accidentally falls into a well, injuring himself.  He manages to stand up, but then he is surrounded by a swarm of bats (the bottom of the well is a bat cave that eventually becomes the “Batcave.”)  When Bruce was rescued, he developed a fear of bats.  Later, he and his parents take the monorail (developed by Thomas) in Gotham to the opera to see Die Fliedermaus, which freaks him out because some of the characters look like bats.  Bruce asks to leave the opera early, and they leave via a back ally behind the opera house.  Suddenly, a mugger named Joe Chill (Richard Brake) approaches the three, points a gun at them, and demands their money.  Thomas easily handles over his wallet, but when Chill goes for Martha’s pearls from around her neck, Thomas defends her from Chill.  The mugger overreacts and shoots them, killing them both in front of Bruce.  He bolts, and Bruce is taken to the police station by a friendly beat cop named Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who questions him about the mugger.  He goes to live with the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), who raises him until he goes to Princeton for college.  Years later, a grown up Bruce (Christian Bale) comes back from college briefly to be there for Chill’s parole hearing.  Chill had shared a cell with mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), and he ratted on Falcone to get the hearing.  Representing the prosecution was an all-grown-up Rachel (Katie Holmes), who is now an assistant district attorney working for D.A. Carl Finch (Larry Holden.)  Full of rage, Bruce packed a gun to the courthouse, just in case Chill got off.  The corrupt Judge Faden (Gerard Murphy) did indeed get Chill off, but before Bruce got a chance to do anything, a blonde assassin (Catherine Porter) sent by Falcone, posing as a reporter, kills Chill.  Bruce confronts Falcone, who has the young billionaire beaten up outside his club.  Bruce picks himself up, gives his expensive jacket and his cash to a homeless man (Rade Serbedzija), and boards a boat to the Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalaya Mountains.  The reason he does this is that Falcone told him that he would need to go a thousand miles away to meet someone who didn’t know him.  He decides to do just that so he can study and understand the criminal mind.  After hooking up with some criminals, he lands in a Bhutanese jail, where he fights six other prisoners out in the yard.  Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a representative of Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the leader of a mysterious vigilante group of ninjas called The League of Shadows, springs Bruce from the jail.  They are an organization devoted to “restoring the balance” of some of the most corrupt cities in history, and now they have set their sights on Gotham.  Bruce trains in the Keysi Fighting Method with Ducard, but he fails his last test when he refuses to execute a murderer.  He prefers justice to vengeance, so he fights Ra’s and Ducard, accidentally killing Ra’s but saving Ducard.  He goes back to Gotham (he had been gone for seven years) and finds that Gotham is indeed heavily corrupted everywhere.  Aside from Falcone and Faden, Commissioner Loeb (Colin McFarlane) and Gordon’s partner, Flass (Mark Boone Junior), are corrupt as well (Gordon himself is still good and has been moved up to sergeant by this time; he is eventually promoted to lieutenant by the end of the movie and will go on to be commissioner.)  Bruce has been declared dead by Mr. Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer), who now runs Wayne Enterprises.  Fortunately, he had the foresight to leave everything to Alfred, so he is still a billionaire.  He goes to Earle, who is planning to takes Wayne Enterprises public, and asks for a job.  In order to keep him out of the way, he agrees to have Bruce work for the Applied Sciences division of the company, a place he wanted to work anyway.  Bruce meets a scientist named Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who works in the Applied Sciences department, located in the basement.  Fox explains that he has been working for years on cool gadgets for the US Armed Forces, but since the military decided that the gadgets were too expensive, they sat dormant for someone to use them (according to Fox, Bruce owns all of the gadgets anyway as far as he is concerned.)  The gadgets include:  full body armor (a.k.a. the Batsuit), grappling hook with gun, a cape with expansion capabilities, and the Tumbler (a.k.a. the Batmobile; it is a Humvee with camouflage armor on it that Bruce asks if it could come in black.)  Bruce takes all of this stuff to the Batcave and starts making his suit (minus the cowl; on his first mission, he dons a ski mask.)  After sort of introducing himself to Gordon and finishing the Batsuit, Batman beats up Falcone and his cronies, and ties Falcone to a spotlight, where it looks like the Bat Signal.  Falcone is arrested, but his court psychologist colleague Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who gets criminals off on insanity pleas regularly, visits him in jail.  Crane pulls out a burlap scarecrow mask and blows a powder in his face, which happens to be a fear toxin that makes victims hallucinate and see their own worst fears.  Falcone begins to see maggots crawling all over the mask.  After Falcone goes nuts, Crane has the mob boss transferred to Arkham Asylum for further study.  We find out that Crane has bigger and more sinister plans for Gotham.  He wants to put the fear toxin in the water supply and use a stolen vaporizing device to make the toxin airborne, making all of the citizens of Gotham as nuts as Falcone has now become.  In order to save the city, Bruce must not reveal his true identity to anyone, so he poses as a playboy billionaire, hanging out with models and buying up hotels, to throw others off his track.  This angers Rachel, who doesn’t believe this rich, arrogant jerk is the same Bruce that she was friends with as a kid.  While trying to fight the Scarecrow (a.k.a. Crane), Bruce learns that the bad guy is getting his orders from someone else even more dangerous.

Before this movie, the only theatrical telling of Batman’s origins was Tim Burton’s 1989 original Batman.  In that version, Jack Napier, a.k.a. The Joker (Jack Nicholson) shot and killed Bruce’s parents.  From my research, I found out that Chill has always been associated with Batman in the comics in terms of the Wayne murders more than The Joker, so this is actually more accurate (in fact, the Burton movie is the only version of the story, theatrical or comic book-wise, that links The Joker to the murders.)

Nolan is starting to become one of my favorites (I think he needs at least one more movie to qualify as one of my “favorites.”)  Memento was the best movie of 2001 in my opinion, and Insomnia was on my top 10 list of 2002 (I’ve never seen his directorial debut, 1999’s Following.)  After Insomnia, he was developing a project based around the life of Howard Hughes, but when Martin Scorsese made his own Hughes biopic The Aviator, he scrapped it and went with this movie.  It was a long process, but I guess he wanted to get it just right, because the results are fantastic.

The movie itself is darker than any other Batman movie before it, including Burton’s original Batman.  As intimidating as Nicholson’s character was, The Scarecrow was straight out of a horror movie practically, and Batman picked off bad guys one by one like a non-lethal psycho killer (I’ll get to the individual performances in a second.)  I know that Nolan has stated that he doesn’t like using CGI as a crutch and tries to avoid it as much as possible.  It shows here, because the movie doesn’t look fake, unlike the CGI effects in last year’s awful Catwoman.  Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer took great strides to research the mythos of Batman, and I believe this movie will satisfy even the most hardcore Batman geek.  The only variation I noticed was the Batmobile.  The Batmobile has long been a Lincoln Futura (or a variation of it), from the 1966 live action ABC TV show to Batman & Robin.  Now matter what model it was, they all had wings and were black.  This model is an actual working vehicle that can travel up to 110 miles an hour, and can do 0 to 60 in six seconds.  While this Tumbler version is cool looking, I miss the old wings.

The cast was first-rate all around…with the exception of Holmes (I’ll get to her later.)  Bale made a great Bruce Wayne, and he was decent as Batman, though I miss the stubble of Michael Keaton and George Clooney (I’ve long said that Clooney made a great Batman, but he was just in a bad movie.)  Also, I was hoping that he would actually talk sometimes when he was Batman, but he seemed to just growl the whole time.  The two men who knew Bruce’s secret, Caine as Alfred and Freeman as Fox, provided the movie’s only levity (the movie itself was so bleak that it had almost no humor.)  Neeson and Watanabe, the two prominent League of Shadows members, were great, though Watanabe was barely in it.  Neeson did a variation of his Qui-Gon Jinn character from 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but as you can somewhat tell from the synopsis, Ducard isn’t quite the wise and faithful mentor to Bruce that Jinn was to Obi-Wan Kenobi.  The Gotham bad guys, Falcone and The Scarecrow, were both effectively intimidating as portrayed by Wilkinson and Murphy respectively.  Wilkinson is English (along with Nolan, Caine, Oldman, and Bale) and Murphy is Irish (along with Neeson), but they played American perfectly.  Murphy specifically was chilling, mainly I think because of those creepy eyes.  Oldman as Gordon was the big shocker.  Known generally as a bad guy in most of his movies, he played against type and it worked.  The character didn’t really stand out, but Gordon has never stood out.  Then we get to Holmes.  While she was effective for the part she was cast in, it was a bad choice to have her play the character.  Bruce and Rachel were supposed to be the same age, but the 26-year-old Holmes and the 31-year-old Bale look way too different-looking age wise.  Also, despite her decent performances in The Gift and Abandon, she will always be Joey Potter from the WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” to me.  At least as it isn’t as odd as her real-life pairing with Tom Cruise.

Batman Begins is the best Batman movie since the Burton version (I like the Burton version slightly better, if only for nostalgic reasons.)  It is certainly the darkest and most faithful version, and if it wasn’t for a certain Scientology-lovin’ girl from the “Creek,” it would be perfect.  It is a must see for all moviegoers, Batman geek or not.


Check out the original score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard:

Get the first Batman on DVD:

Get Batman Returns on DVD:

Get Batman Forever on DVD:

Get Batman & Robin on DVD:

Get the Electronic Arts video game in three formats:

Game Boy Advance:




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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

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Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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