At the age of 8, Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis) who fears the bats in the caves under his family’s mansion, witnesses the pointless murder of his loving, wealthy parents in a dark lane in gritty Gotham. Driven for years by a sense of guilt and need for revenge, the young adult Bruce (Christian Bale) intends to shoot his parents’ killer but his attempt is foiled. Keen to experience the life and mindset of criminals, he sets out for the world beyond Gotham and ends up in the East – duly imprisoned as a criminal. He is released on the intervention of the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson) who takes him to the mountain HQ of the mystic master, Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) to be trained and indoctrinated into their secret league. But once trained, Wayne rejects their methods and escapes with the help of the family’s long serving loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), returning to Gotham where he combines his training with experimental defensive technology developed for his late father’s empire by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). His childhood sweetheart (Katie Holmes) is ready for him, but Wayne himself is more ready to fight crime; he assumes the symbol of his fears, the bat, and sets about cleaning up Gotham City. It ain’t easy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Deconstructing a superhero has a risky downside: will it demystify the hero and so rob him of his magical (and maybe even commercial) powers to a large extent? Chris Nolan rushes in where angels fear to tread in Batman Begins, with a meticulous, almost obsessive attention to the detail of Bruce Wayne’s assumption of the guise of a masked crusader for justice - as opposed to revenge, a lesson Bruce Wayne has to learn. Christian Bale, having skinnied down for The Machinist, beefs up for Batman and lends the character a harder, more anguished edge, a kind of noir sensibility.
Full marks for the innovative approach that reconstructs the Batman paraphernalia within a paramilitary framework that makes Batman’s abilities and defences totally logical, pragmatic and reasonable. But is this what we want from our comic book hero?
Designed to its buck teeth and shot with the gravitas of a noir morality tale, the Batman Begins screenplay touches on existentialism and grapples with a heap of psychological issues in its quest to make Batman a credible and intelligent extension of a young heir to an industrial empire. Would it have been better to leave some of that to our own imagination? Am I asking too many questions?
Well, here are some more: is this part of a universal quest to discover what makes superheros tick as a way of searching for the human decency that is so rare in many of today’s real heroes? Spiderman’s beginnings, Superman’s beginnings … More to the point, what makes Liam Neeson’s character tick and does it work as the flip side of Batman? Of course, The Scarecrow works because the simple symbolism of his ugly, shapeless, sackcloth mask versus Batman’s sleek, cool, shaped, hard edge mask offers a take-away image. But does the Batman fan want this spelt out, or should we be less analytical?
If so, let’s just enjoy the high concept scenario, the gadgets and the action; trouble is, the action (as in violence) is either shot in extreme close up or in dark, invisible wide shot. The face to face confrontations are too blurry to get any sense of what’s happening and the sound effects are no help. The big set pieces, like the climactic train sequence at the end, give us no sense of context at all, despite the hyperventilating sound scape.
But sweeping all questions aside, Batman Begins does rekindle the franchise: it will be commercially possible to remake Batman stories with this persona and this set of psychological principles underpinning a new series of films. And that’s because he has been rescued from the shallow end of the pool and given the same kind of mature emotional conflicts as the Toby Maguire-created Spider-man figure. Hell, if we can’t have real heroes in this world, let’s at least have some on screen, holding up the light of human decency, courage, loyalty and justice (as opposed to revenge).
Review by Louise Keller:
Adding lustre to the shiny black of the Batman franchise, Batman Begins is a seriously splendid action adventure fantasy that is black enough, wry enough and spectacular enough to satisfy every bat-appetite. But it's not all action. It's all about context, and the context is established through the fleshed out detail of the backstory. Director Christopher Nolan takes the central premise that people fear what they cannot see and uses it. He shows us only what we need to see, and stimulates our imagination to do the rest.
Christian Bale is charismatic and credible in the dual role of chisel-featured caped crusader and alter ego Bruce Wayne, who finally learns the difference between justice and revenge. He’s got the muscle, the sex appeal as well and the vulnerability. What more could we ask for? This Batman soars above the others that have worn the cape and makes way for a whole new franchise.
Who says a Marvel comic action hero can't have a good script and plausible story? And with actors in the class of Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine to deliver the lines, there is nothing wanting in this story about confronting one's fears. Adding to the film’s weight is the diversity and strength of the villains. Using his 6’4” frame to effect, Neeson is in a class of his own, while Tom Wilkinson makes a juicy gangster and Cillian Murphy’s evil psychiatrist chills. Katie Holmes is what Kirsten Dunst is to Spiderman - Holmes is fresh and lovely.
There are scorching stunts, touches of humour and a good emotional frame on which the story hangs. And of course, there’s the Batmobile (‘does it come in black?’) which impresses as it skids over skyscrapers and screeches hyperactively along the tarmac. Bruce Wayne’s relationships are all well developed. There’s the loyal butler who does give a damn, his gadget-making ally in the Applied Science Division (Morgan Freeman) and the romance with his childhood sweetheart (now the assistant DA), who is everything a man could ever want. She is patient (he disappeared for 7 years without a word), idealistic, smart and more understanding than any gal should be (doesn’t everyone jump into a swish hotel’s pond fully clothed with a couple of naked women?).
Of course ultimately, Batman Begins works because we believe in the character. It’s thorough and sophisticated escapist entertainment with no speed limit.
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BATMAN BEGINS (M)
CAST: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson
PRODUCER: Larry J. Franco, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
SCRIPT: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan (Characters by Bob Krane)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wally Pfister
EDITOR: Lee Smith
MUSIC: James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nathan Crowley
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 16, 2005
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.