June 15, 2015 A Look at Batman Begins 10 Years Later
On June 15th, the epic first chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s (Interstellar 2014, Inception 2010) brilliant Dark Knight Trilogy celebrates the 10th anniversary of its theatrical release. It is a film which has left an impact and legacy for a number of reasons. It got Batman back on track and returned the character to his dark roots after an eight-year hiatus which was directly caused by the critical and commercial failure of 1997’s Batman & Robin. Batman Begins is also noted for beginning the trend of darker and more realistic superhero films and reboots in other franchises. For example, in 2006, Casino Royale was released, and received praise similar to Batman Begins for its more grounded take on James Bond. The success of the Caped Crusader’s first adventure in the rebooted franchise was unprecedented, and led to two sequels- 2008’s The Dark Knight, which is regarded by many as the film which transcended the Comic Book film medium and became a spectacular crime drama in and of itself, as well as 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Batman Begins is the first time the Dark Knight’s origins have been fully explored on film. Christian Bale (The Prestige 2006, American Psycho 2000) takes on the role of Bruce Wayne, an orphaned billionaire who is traveling the world seeking the means to fight injustice, and to turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. After a nightmare/flashback of falling into a well and being attacked by bats as a child, Bruce wakes up in a prison in East Asia, where he is attacked by a group of criminals. After defeating them in a fight, he is thrown into solitary confinement, where Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson- Taken 2009, Schindler’s List 1993) is waiting for him. Ducard is a member of The League of Shadows, which is led by the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe- Godzilla 2014, Inception 2010). He tells Bruce that if he wants to achieve something other than brawling with petty thieves, he must collect a rare blue flower when he is released the following day and carry it to the top of the mountain. After making it to the top of the mountain, it is revealed through a flashback how Bruce blames himself for his parents’ death in an alleyway at the hands of a mugger named Joe Chill, since he asked his parents to leave a play which reminded him of his incident with the bats.
Years later, Bruce returns home to Gotham from Princeton University, where he is greeted by the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine- Interstellar 2014, Children of Men 2006). Bruce is back to go to a hearing for Chill, who has agreed to testify against mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson- RocknRolla 2008, The Patriot 2000) in exchange for early parole. Bruce is driven there by his childhood friend, District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes- Thank You For Smoking 2005, Wonder Boys 2000). Bruce brings a gun with him in the hopes of killing Chill. After Chill is set free, Bruce approaches him with the gun, but Chill is shot by one of Falcone’s thugs. Bruce then leaves Gotham for seven years.
Bruce is about to be initiated into The League of Shadows when Ducard informs him of the League’s plot to destroy Gotham in an attempt to restore the world back to harmony. A fight ensues, the League’s fortress is destroyed and Ra’s al Ghul is killed. Bruce saves Ducard and leaves him in a nearby village. He returns to Gotham on a mission to show its people that their city does not belong to the criminals and the corrupt. He constructs a base beneath Wayne Manor, and takes an interest in his company, which is now run by William Earle (Rutger Hauer- Blade Runner 1982, Sin City 2005).
Bruce is introduced to Wayne Enterprises’ top scientist, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman- Se7en 1995, The Shawshank Redemption 1994), who gives him a protective bodysuit and a weaponized, armored vehicle called the “Tumbler.” Bruce becomes Batman, and takes down a shipment of Falcone’s drugs, leaving enough evidence for Rachel to prosecute, and for Sergeant James Gordon (Gary Oldman- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2014, The Professional 1994) to arrest Falcone. Falcone is visited by Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy- Inception 2010, 28 Days Later 2003), who sprays him with a dosage of a fear-inducing hallucinogenic gas which causes Falcone to become permanently insane. Crane has Falcone moved to Arkham Asylum. Batman tracks Dr. Crane down to the part of Gotham called “the Narrows” and discovers that his hallucinogen is hidden inside Falcone’s drugs. Scarecrow gases Batman, who is then saved by Alfred and remains out for two days. He is given an antidote crafted by Fox. Rachel goes to Arkham Asylum to investigate Crane, and finds out that he has been dumping his drug into Gotham’s water supply. Rachel is gased by Crane and saved by Batman, who exposes Crane to his own drug. A chase with the police ensues, and Batman manages to get Rachel back to his cave to inoculate her.
At Bruce’s birthday party, he is re-introduced to Ducard, who it turns out is the real Ra’s al Ghul. Bruce fakes being drunk and gets the rest of the party to leave. Ra’s plans to expose all of Gotham to Crane’s poison and watch the city destroy itself through fear. His men burn down Wayne Manor. Bruce is saved by Alfred, and then leaps into action as Batman in order to save Gotham from destruction. He fights Ra’s on a train, while Gordon drives the Tumbler and destroys the bridge, derailing the train before the weapon can be fully unleashed on all of Gotham. Ra’s is killed in the train crash. After Gotham is saved, Gordon is promoted to the position of Lieutenant, and shows Batman the newly constructed Bat signal, which can be used to summon him, before handing him a piece of evidence – a Joker playing card.
Batman Begins was revolutionary in what it accomplished for Batman, as well as how it elevated the medium. Comic Book movies could now be taken as seriously as films in other genres. Gone was the flamboyant, neon-lit cinematic Batman universe of the ’90s. It was now appropriately replaced with a brooding look into our own world- namely our fears in a post-9/11 society. Batman Begins was also the first Batman film in which the title character is the main focus of the film, and he is not overshadowed by the colorful villains who steal the show. Ten years after its initial release, Batman Begins still holds up well and is not dated in any way. The practical stunt work, effects, and minimal use of CGI are still a wonder to behold. It is still considered by many to be one of the finest superhero films ever made, and rightfully so. It is a dark and mature epic with a terrific ensemble cast; a cast comprised of a number of legendary actors whose presence adds a layer of respectability to the film. It looks real, and it feels real. Very few filmmakers have accomplished with superhero films what Christopher Nolan has with his trilogy.
The very idea of Batman striking fear into the hearts of criminals is a concept which had never been fully explored on film until Batman Begins. There were some scenes early on in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman which flirted with the concept, but Nolan is the filmmaker who took the Dark Knight back to his roots. Fear is the main theme of the film. Bruce Wayne learns to conquer, embrace, and ultimately become his fear. Ra’s al Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham City revolves entirely around fear, and the side villain, Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow, uses fear as his weapon to terrorize his prey. It is a theme which is brilliantly explored in the film. Christian Bale perfectly embodies all sides of Bruce Wayne- the playboy-ish charm, where he exercises wit and humor, as well as the tortured, angst-ridden side who ultimately makes himself more than just a man and becomes a legend. He is ideally cast, as is Gary Oldman, whose Jim Gordon is straight out of the pages of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, which the film itself also borrowed certain plot devices from. Ten years later, Batman Begins still remains a landmark blockbuster in 21st Century cinema for the legacy and impact it made on the Comic Book film genre.