“It’s not who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you.” – Batman
Ultimate origin story reboot that began the trend of reboots. Batman Begins (2005) starts with Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) martial arts tutelage in the Far East under shadowy figure Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). These early scenes have an exotic samurai mystique, albeit, there is too much over-cutting. But the prologue depth has us captivated: Wayne, who lost his parents as a little boy, returns to a disillusioned Gotham City seven years later.
Michael Caine (as Alfred), Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox), and Gary Oldman (as Detective Jim Gordon) are Batman’s allies, although, they become better developed characters by the second movie. Gotham City became an organic world, too, by “The Dark Knight.” From ground level, the root city appears to be a very expensive set, with elements that reflect a comic book world more than film noir.
Leave it to Katie Holmes to bring her contagious presence to the franchise as childhood friend Rachel Dawes. Co-stars might have been better acting up against a stack of bricks. Her performance is dramatic destruction, a prissy darling whom unconvincingly has been raised in the tough city of Gotham. Director Christopher Nolan can’t orchestrate an interesting relationship between her and Wayne in this first outing when he’s dealing with an actress who just doesn’t get it. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced her in “The Dark Knight” sequel.
Tom Wilkinson’s performance as Carmine Falcone has an underground wrath that seems suited for a Hell’s Kitchen crime movie. Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) becomes the Scarecrow – the combination of his powers and polluted hallucinogens in the water supply makes for a rather epic climax of the city breaking out in panic. But he’s still kind of a weasel villain idea to me, or Murphy himself is too much a weasel.
They call it the Tumbler, that turbo-speed tank that Batman drives. That’s probably the coolest weapon in his arsenal, but his cape actually has aerodynamic wonders – wearing it he can handle a base jump. Gotham’s finest has a problem with the Caped Crusader, and although it wasn’t overdone at the time, the idea of a superhero who is disgraced and wanted by the law has become a cliché since then. What gives it weight is the element of corporate and government corruption colliding, well integrated by Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer.
The battle at the end is bizarre, a sort of mixture of “Dawn of the Dead” meets “Brazil” (withhold a shot of a bloody man on a horse). But Nolan stages these scenes with at least some kind of artful assembly. Nolan’s elevated subway train is a terrific kinetic device for an action set-piece.
“My anger outweighs my guilt.” Even with that said, Bale’s performance is powerfully restrained and drenched in shame. Neeson’s performance is powerfully menacing, Stalin-esque in a way. If I had to pick two more strong performances, I would choose Freeman and Wilkinson. Stretching a little further, Rutger Hauer as the braggart CEO of Wayne Enterprises. Oldman showed promise, and delivered further depth as commissioner in the sequel.
In retrospect, respect is acknowledged for an origin story that paved the way for “The Dark Knight” (2008), the ultimate masterpiece in the mash-up genre of superhero/film noir. It’s not that Nolan’s imagination broadened, or anything, it’s that his creative freedom widened by a studio, Warner Bros., unleashing him with any resources he needed because they trusted him to push the limits after his first Batman outing.
140 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
Film Cousins: “Batman” (1989); “Batman Returns” (1992); “The Dark Knight” (2008); “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012).