Batman Begins was a massive breath of fresh air when it came out in 2005. Coming 8 years after Warner Brothers jumped the bat, as it were, with Joel Schumacher’s childish mess, “Batman and Robin”, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins brought a maturity and seriousness to The Caped Crusader that had been absent since Tim Burton left the world of Gotham. While Batman Begins might not boast the visual prowess or rich villains of Burton’s two Batman movies, it fleshed out the character of Bruce Wayne in a way no movie has since.
Batman Begins is an origin story straight through, detailing Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) emergence from tragically scarred child to a symbol of heroism and darkness. After training with Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham in perfect mental and physical shape. What Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer do perfectly here, is inject Bruce Wayne with an emotion never before seen in a Batman movie. You can feel the pain and grief Wayne is experiencing and you can see why he decides to become a living symbol of good.
The first full origin story for Batman on film, Batman Begins is very much told from Bruce’s point of view. Earlier Batman movies often focused more heavily on developing the villains, leaving Bruce Wayne in the shadows. The approach that keeps Batman a dark, mysterious figure is a valiant one, and it makes sense. However, context rarely hurts, and Batman Begins provides the character with heaps of context. You can clearly understand the emotions and motivations of the man behind the mask. The origin is also utterly believable. You can see why Bruce Wayne dresses like a bat, why he needs a cape, how he gets a super-car and super-gadgets, and why he hides in a cave. Does it strip Batman of his mythic status? Yes, a bit. Luckily, unlike Nolan’s two follow-ups, Begins doesn’t get too carried away with realism, retaining a comic book style that its successor would forget.
While it does take a while for Bruce Wayne to fully become the bat, it is worth it. Once Bruce Wayne finally dons the cape and cowl, there are a few jaw-dropping action scenes including a brilliant batmobile chase scene and a thrilling climax on Gotham’s elevated trains. The atmosphere and feeling of Gotham City is nearly perfect in it’s own way. It does not have the Gothic beauty of Tim Burton’s Batman universe, but it’s blend of comic book dinginess and contemporary sleekness makes Gotham a terrifically realized cityscape. The city feels like what a comic book world would be like if it actually existed. Batman himself is a dark, brooding, wonderfully realized character in his own right and he shares the screen with an ensemble of great actors. Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon are standouts in an ensemble cast that is playing the comic book material straight as an arrow. Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow is an excellent but criminally underused baddie, but on the whole, the supporting cast elevates the material.
Batman Begins is still as fresh today as it was more than a decade ago. The origin of Batman is engaging, engrossing, and emotional. The story provides a context to the Bruce Wayne character that elevates the movie beyond its fun comic book plot. The origin is a satisfying and believable one, and once Batman finally enters the scene, the action is unmatched. Batman Begins is a strong, confident summer superhero blockbuster with more maturity and emotional truth than most dramas. I hesitate to call it the definitive interpretation of Batman (Batman 1989 takes that title), but Batman Begins is the best of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, a film that balances gritty realism, human drama, and thrilling comic book fun.