Believe it or not, Christopher Nolan’s Batman origin story was released ten years ago today. I remeber going to see it at the theater and as a new member of the “teenager” club I instantly fell in love with the new dark and gritty version of the character. Was it a perfect representation of the caped crusader? No. But it still had aspects of the character and mythos that we love to see in a Batman movie and welcomed by fans who were still trying to shake off the aftereffects of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Often overshadowed by its predecessor, Batman Begins was a truly great movie and, while most agree that The Dark Knight is the best of the trilogy, a lot of fans consider Begins their favorite.
5 Things We’re Thankful For:
1. Reinvigorated the franchise. There’s no question that Batman and Robin officially killed the franchise for almost a decade. The character was in need of a resurrection the likes of what The Dark Knight Returns did for the character in the late ’80’s. Christopher Nolan delivered and now we’re back to getting well made, entertaining movies that understand the character and can hold up against any movie in any genre.
2. Exciting and unique take on the character’s origin. While Nolan did take some liberties with the character, his story was also influenced by the comics, including a few scenes taken directly from Frank Miller’s Batman Year One. Overall the story of Ra’s al Ghul looking to purge Gotham with his League of Shadows was a very interesting one, especially the monologue he gives while Wayne Manor is burning claiming they were behind some of history’s most devastating events, including the black plague and the burning of London. The shaky cam used in the action scenes was a bit over the top, but there was no question that Batman was leaving the criminals in bad shape, and Batman’s introductory scene shows just how badass the character is and ranks up there with that of Tim Burton’s Batman.
3. Put DC back on the cinematic map! (for the time being…). When this movie came out Marvel had already been enjoying the successes of FOX’s X-Men franchise fueled by Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Sony’s original Spider-Man trilogy. When this movie was released it put DC back on the cinematic map in a big way, something that Superman Returns and Green Lantern would tag team into submission later on.
4. Inclusion of great villains who had been underutilized in the cinematic theatre. While we’ve seen the Riddler, Joker, Catwoman, and Penguin plenty of times on the big screen, we had yet to see two of Batman’s more formidable foes in Scarecrow and especially Ra’s al Ghul. Nolan should be applauded for using a character such as Ra’s in an origin story in a major motion picture, as he is not a villain that is going to reel in the casual fan. And while there were changes made to the character in order to fit him into the realistic universe, his motivations and ideals remained the same. I believe that Liam Neeson’s performance as Ra’s is extremely underrated, as it is, again, overshadowed by the more memorable (and quotable) performances of the Joker and Bane. Honestly though, this should be considered one of Neeson’s best performances; again, I harken back to the monologue in Wayne Manor as one of his best scenes. Scarecrow also added an aspect to the movie that distanced it from previous iterations. Fear toxin is something that would have looked very different in Schumaker’s films, but Nolan really inserted into the story very well and kept it scary without going over the top coming to a head in the scene where Batman gives scarecrow “a taste of his own medicine”.
5. Set up what many claim is the greatest comic book movie in The Dark Knight. The final scene between Batman and Gordon on the GCPD precinct rooftop got everyone’s attention when Gordon handed Batman a playing card that, when flipped over to reveal the face, featured a joker card and teased Batman’s most iconic rogue for the 2008 sequel.
5 Things It Got Right:
1. Realistic. While some didn’t appreciate the dark and gritty feel of Man of Steel, Batman is a character that pretty much requires such a setting. Christopher Nolan made sure to completely distance himself from the most recent iterations of Batman by creating a gritty Gotham. Tim Burton’s Batman can also be considered dark, but Nolan gives the audience a look into the underbelly and corruption of Gotham that Burton never did and the story really thrives off of this, as it explains how gangsters like Carmine Falcone are so powerful and is one for our hero’s main motivations.
2. The three personas of Bruce Wayne. One of the best things about Nolan’s Batman is that he grasps the idea of the three personas of Bruce Wayne. There’s Bruce when he’s playing the billionaire playboy, Bruce when he’s alone in the cave or with Alfred, and Bruce when he’s wearing the cowl. This movie truly delved into this in a way that no Batman movie had before it and was performed flawlessly by Christian Bale — whether you like the voice or hate it, Bale did a great job at playing three distinct personas. Michael Keaton was a great Batman, but he only had two of the three personas down in Bruce Wayne as Batman and brooding Bruce Wayne (not including “Let’s get nuts”), Val Kilmer falls into a similar category, and George Clooney just played the one persona throughout the movie. Begins even goes a step further as it adds the Bruce Wayne as a child before and after his parents’ murder, early-twenties, angsty Bruce Wayne, and pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, something the other movies didn’t really have a chance to explore because they weren’t origin stories.
3. The tumbler scene. Hollywood is ripe with car chase scenes nowadays, but not all of them include the military-grade Batmobile. Nolan introduced the Tumbler, a bridging vehicle used by the military that comes in black. It was put to full use later in the movie when Batman was running from the Gotham police. In a very exciting scene we saw it’s weapons systems, stealth mode, jumping capabilities, and sheer brute force all on display. This, accompanied by the stakes of the situation and Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score, made for a great scene that never really loses its excitement.
4. Batman’s allies. While Batman is known for being very isolated and preferring to work alone, the reality is that he has a great support team that is always around to help him. Nolan decided not to introduce a new Robin or sidekick for Batman, instead opting to use Jim Gordon, Alfred, and Lucius Fox to the absolute best of their abilities. You will not find a better version of any of these characters in the previous Batman movies. Gordon served as Batman’s eyes and ears in the police station and ally in the field, Alfred his moral compass and doer of his dirty work, and Lucius was in charge of the design and production of his weapons and gadgets. Each character was wonderfully casted and were major players throughout the trilogy.
5. The score. Speaking of Hans Zimmer, he and James Newton Howard worked on the film’s score and absolutely nailed it. This soundtrack supplements the film beautifully and truly details the dark and gritty universe the story is set in. It’s my personal favorite of the trilogy and I can’t wait to see what Zimmer has in store for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The Nolanverse has seen its fair share of criticisms from fans who claim that there wasn’t enough Batman in the trilogy and that the director didn’t capture the essence of the character, and those are fair criticisms and we’ll probably see a more faithful interpretation of the character in Dawn of Justice. That said, this criticism is truer for the later two films in the trilogy as Begins did feature a Batman that lingered in the shadows, Arkham Asylum style, and truly struck fear into his victims before very convincingly breaking their bones. But, whether you are of this mindset or not, there is no denying that they are great movies and deserve to be mentioned among the best in the genre and Batman Begins started it all ten short years ago.