Sunday, July 15, 2012

Movie Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins (2005)

As one of the millions of audience all over the world awaiting the release of The Dark Knight Rises, I decided to take a trip down the memory lane  ...

Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is bound to go down in Hollywood as the definitive depiction of Bruce Wayne’s story and possibly the finest movie trilogy ever. The cinematic journey of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) begins with Bruce imprisoned in an Asian prison. After witnessing his parents getting murdered by a stranger, Bruce is consumed with vengeance towards the man responsible. Due to unforeseen turn of events, Bruce is disillusioned with the legal system and leaves Gotham quietly to begin his study of the criminal classes.

A young Bruce after witnessing his parents' death in Batman Begins (2005)
Bruce after witnessing his parents' death
Bruce is contacted by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who offers to train him. Ducard works for The League of Shadows, a shadowy organization based in the Tibetan mountains. Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) is the mastermind behind this organization.  Ducard teaches Bruce not only the necessary martial arts, but also the need for theatricality and deception. As the final test, Bruce needs to decapitate a petty criminal. Being a man of strong morals, Bruce objects and is forced to fight his way out. The League of Shadows’ headquarters is destroyed. Ra’s Al Ghul and his followers are presumed dead, though Bruce does save Ducard’s life.

Bruce returns to Gotham and becomes the masked vigilante known as ‘Batman’. He is helped in his mission by Alfred Pennyworth (Sir Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

Christian Bale as Batman makes his first appearance in Batman Begins
Batman makes his first appearance in Gotham
With the reluctant assistance of Sergeant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), Batman successfully apprehends the local mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who are working together to poison the water supply system in Gotham. However, more powerful forces are at play and Bruce has to face them as the movie reaches an action-packed climax.

Prior to this movie, Christian Bale was famous for his work in ‘American Psycho’. No doubt, his work in that movie helped him in getting the much coveted role of Bruce Wayne. Bale captures the pain and the anger that are the defining characteristics of Bruce Wayne. Bale essentially plays 3 characters – Batman, the public image of Bruce Wayne as a drunken millionaire playboy and the real Bruce Wayne. The casting of Bale as Wayne is to me, as superb a choice as that of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Christopher Reeve as Superman/Tobey Maguire as Spiderman.

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Sir Michael Caine is a veteran in the industry and brings a lot of wisdom and warmth to the role of Alfred Pennyworth, the man who has been with the Wayne family for a long time. He is the closest thing to a family Bruce has and provides the much needed moral support.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth in Batman Begins
Alfred and Lucius, the closest allies of Bruce Wayne 
Morgan Freeman plays Lucius Fox, the equivalent of James Bond’s Q. Morgan Freeman‘s voice and authoritative deportment have remained the hallmarks of his career. That Freeman’s performance as the cool and classy Lucius Fox is a standout in a movie that boasts of other powerhouse actors like Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson and Caine, speaks volumes of his acting talent. Christopher Nolan is a fan of the James Bond series and quite possibly, he based Freeman’s performance on Desmond Llewelyn’s venerable portrayal.

Gary Oldman has been cast against type as Sergeant James Gordon, one of the few honest cops left in Gotham. Oldman brings out well the world weariness we expect from Gordon’s character. Gordon is the official counterpart of Batman and both these men work together to rid Gotham of the corruption that has reduced it to a shadow of its original greatness.

Gary Oldman as Sergeant James Gordon in Batman Begins
Gary Oldman as Sergeant James Gordon

Cillian Murphy plays Dr Jonathan Crane better known as Scarecrow, the villain who uses fear-inducing gas on his unsuspecting victims. Murphy is suitably chilling in the role. Trivia: he originally auditioned for the role of Bruce Wayne.

Liam Neeson has had a lot of success playing the role of a mentor in his recent movies and this is no exception. His towering height and rich voice help us in accepting him in these roles. To the best of my knowledge, no other actor has the distinction of training not only Batman but also Obi Wan Kenobi (Star Wars) and the much lesser known Balian de Ibelin (The Kingdom of Heaven).

Liam Neeson and Christian Bale as Henri Ducard and Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins
Henri Ducard puts Bruce Wayne to the final test
Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer and Linus Roache are competent even when they make very brief appearances.

If there was one bad casting decision made in this movie (as well as in the trilogy), that would be the choice of Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. I at least never bought her as the Assistant District Attorney that Rachel Dawes is supposed to be. I only saw an untalented but well-connected actress bringing down the quality of the movie whenever she was on-screen. I wonder what factor(s) forced Nolan to cast her. Of course to Nolan’s credit, he recast the character in the sequel. 

There are some fine dialogues in the movie. I present here my favorite one:

“Why do we fall, Bruce – So we can learn to pick ourselves up”

This is a gem of a movie and a must watch for fans of the caped crusader. 

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Image Source: Warner Bros. Pictures
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  1. I've been rewatching the first two in preparation for this weekend too! I didn't like BB much at the time but really enjoyed it this time out. The Dark Knight is a whole class above though. I agree that Holmes was poor but the character was underwritten - Nolan doesn't do girls very well. Watch out for my reviews of the trilogy over this weekend on the blog of delights! best wishes B2B!

    1. Thanks Gypsy King for stopping by. I like BB and The Dark Knight. Nolan has crafted 2 superb movies and I look forward to the third one. I will look out for your reviews as well :)

  2. A great recap of the movie, as well as a great review.

    Though I have to admit, while you recapped it well and offered a wonderful review... it only made me want to watch it again, before the third comes out this weekend!

    You should also check out Dude Write if you get a chance. I think there is a definite place for you in that community.

    1. I will stop by "Dude Write" sometime soon. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. GREAT REVIEW!!! Batman Begins is my favourite of the two. I am sure TDKR will get rave reviews as it may surpass the Dark Knight but I'll always prefer BB. It is more focused on Wayne, what he was and what he has become.

    Shame that TDKR will come out here (France) on Wednesday 25th so you guys will see it first, uurghhh :-)

    1. Thanks Zoe. I too love BB for the same reason :)

      From what I hear, TDKR will bring the focus back to Bruce.

  4. Great review. I had a great time with this flick and the dark and moody style that Nolan brought to this origin tale is very inventive. Can't wait for this last installment!

  5. Batman Begins may not be the best film out the series but it was so fun to watch for the first time. Mark Kermode called it an art film disguised as an action blockbuster and I think that is the perfect description. It was so good to see an intelligent no a really intelligent action movie making millions.

    1. I prefer Batman Begins to The Dark Knight. BB focused on Wayne, just as TDKR did!

  6. I felt pretty much the same, especially regarding the casting of Katie Holmes, who was the weak link in the film, although to her credit she tried. Still, it wasn't enough to affect a very well made film..

    1. Well said. She did do her best, but when you are surrounded by a cast that includes Sir Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Bale and Cillian Murphy, I guess.....