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Batman Begins (2005)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

I read many comic books when a pre-teen and teen-ager. At that time, in the very late fifties and sixties, I favored mostly Marvel comics: Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, X-men and a few others. My family's other members seemed to prefer DC comics, mainly Superman. I didn't read many Batman comics. When comic book based movies lately became popular, with both the Superman and Batman full-length feature films of the 80's and 90's, I liked Tim Burton's Batman films most. I still like them. However, they don't come up to the level of this film. This movie combines the stylistic trends started in graphic novels with one of the most human heroes of the classic comic book era. Although I enjoy and recommend other comic book genre movies, I believe Batman Begins achieves a quality, both with its story and presentation, that other similar films have not. Director Christopher Nolan and screen writer (with Nolan) David S. Goyer have created a modern masterpiece.

The movie begins with some childhood events of young Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis). He chases young Rachel Dawes (Emma Lockhart) from a garden where she has found something into a greenhouse. She shows him an arrowhead. Young Master Wayne grabs the arrowhead, runs away and while hiding falls down an abandoned well. In the pit of the well, he has his first frightening experience with bats.

An older Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, outstanding in this role - winning the Saturn award of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Actor) wakes from the nightmare of his early bat experience. In an Eastern prison he faces dire physical harm from many other prisoners, but beats them all at once. When thrown into solitary confinement for the protection of the other prisoners, Bruce finds a stranger waiting in the cell. The stranger introduces himself as Ducard (Liam Neeson), who speaks for Ra's Al Ghul. Ducard tells Wayne he will soon be released and gives instructions for how to find Ra's and the League of Shadows.

When released, Wayne follows Ducard's steps. Arriving at a mountain stronghold, he enters to find Ducard and others. Ducard challenges the exhausted Bruce Wayne, asking him what he fears. After losing a short fight Bruce Wayne loses consciousness. He returns to his dream of the bats in the well, but later in the experience. His father, Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache), comes to his rescue, carrying him into Wayne Manor, accompanied by butler Alfred (Michael Caine).

Later, his father talks to him about his fear of the bats. They ride the new train his father financed into Gotham city to the opera. During the opera, young Bruce is uncomfortable and asks his father if they can leave. Father, Mother and Bruce leave the opera house and enter a dark alley, where an armed robber kills both his parents. Later at the police precinct, Officer Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) befriends the young orphan. Alfred stands with Bruce at the funeral, where Mr. Earle (Rutger Hauer), a manager who runs Wayne Enterprises, tells Bruce that when he's grown the “empire” will “be waiting for him.”

Back in the present at the League of Shadows stronghold, Ducard trains Bruce Wayne in the lore of the League of Shadows. They discuss their lives and the roots of their desire for justice. Ducard asks Wayne why he did not avenge his parents. This prompting brings Bruce a memory from years earlier, when his parents' killer had a judicial hearing. The killer, Joe Chill (Richard Brake), has shared a cell with Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson): a crime kingpin from Gotham's underworld. In exchange for his release from prison the killer has agreed to become state's evidence against Falcone. Bruce brings a loaded revolver to avenge his parents outside the courthouse, but Falcone's assassin kills Chill first.

A grown Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), now an assistant District Attorney, takes Bruce from the courthouse scene to a saloon where he meets with Falcone. After the unpleasant encounter Wayne decides to learn more about the criminal underworld. That learning experience takes him to the prison where Ducard found him. The story returns to the present and the stronghold, where Bruce Wayne has completed the steps of Ducard's training. However, when the final test would make him go against the seeds of belief which his father planted in him, Wayne and the League of Shadows part company. Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham where as Batman he takes up the battle against Falcone and other criminals such as The Scarecrow / Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy).

All the major characters have been introduced with the exception of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), whose part in this film seems a bit reminiscent of Q's in the James Bond films. The major elements of the Batman mythos have their parts in this excellent film. I hope I've given you enough of a taste of the movie to pique your interest — I summarized the first third of the film — but not too much. Although flashbacks within flashbacks may sound confusing, they work well in this film as Christopher Nolan neatly weaves the story of Batman's origin.

The movie's visual style combines extremely dark settings with other urban elements which at times recall Tim Burton's Batman movies, but also Blade Runner, the Indiana Jones films and other action/adventure movies. Hans Zimmer's and James Newton Howard's dark musical score perfectly complements the visual elements of the movie. The film's Cinematographer, Wally Pfister, received an Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Cinematography. The Saturn award of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Writing was awarded to Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. The movie also won the Saturn for Best Fantasy Film. Many of the cast and crew were nominated for other Saturn awards.

I suspect that a story line based on a comic book hero kept this masterfully made movie from receiving more Oscar nominations. The number of awards really don't effectively gauge the quality of this excellent film. If you already qualify as a Batman fan, I predict you will love this movie. You've probably already seen it. However, if you don't already count yourself as a fan of the Batman stories in comic books or graphic novels, Batman Begins may change that.

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