In preparation/insane level of getting hyped up for “The Dark Knight Rises,” I’m re-watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Very taxing work I assure you to force myself to sit through two amazing, genre-defying films that forever change audiences’ perception of a “comic book movie.”
I’d like to convince myself that “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin” never existed. [2012 Flash Forward: It's crazy to think now that the Batman franchise was once considered so toxic after Joel Schumacher's 1997 ode to all things awful otherwise known as "Batman & Robin" that it took 8 years before Warner Bros. wanted to get into the Bat business again.]
Fortunately, that’s not the case with “Batman Begins,” which is only rivaled by “Superman II” as the finest comic book movie to date. [2012 Flash Forward: Now I'd have a few more films to add to that discussion thanks to the "Marvel's The Avengers" tie-ins and one more Bat film.]
And rarer still is the big budget summer movie with such a solid pedigree including “Memento” Director Christopher Nolan and actors Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman that makes good on every bit of its potential.
Instead of opening with young Bruce Wayne watching his parents getting killed, we see young Bruce falling into a cave filled with bat, resulting in a phobia Bruce struggles to overcome. This struggle forces the audience to look beyond the cowl and cape and learn more of the man behind the bat in a series of flashbacks.
Nolan then goes to an adult Bruce (now played by Christian Bale), in a prison fighting prisoners to hone his battle prowess. The mysterious Ducard (Neeson, “The Grey”) invites him to reach a new level of training under the eye of his master Ras Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, “Inception“) and his League of Shadows. [2012 Flash Forward: I remember being so annoyed with the casting of Al Ghul and then watching the movie unfold and LOVING how Nolan played that out. It reminded me that the best movies are the ones that don't have every scene spoiled months in advance.]
Though tortured by the death of his parents, Bruce refuses to become a killer, which places him in direct conflict with Ras and his assassins. Returning to Gotham City, Bruce resumes his old life in his parents’ mansion, still maintained by the butler, Alfred (Caine) with a plan to fight crime in a new guise of Batman.
One of the film’s best scenes when Bruce finally confronts his demons head-on amidst a swarm of bats encircling him. It feels like a major moment, not just due to the majestic score, but because we’ve seen him struggle and watching Bruce become the heroic Batman is all the more meaningful. [2012 Flash Forward: It remains one of the more iconic shots of a comic book film. Nolan doesn't get caught up trying to "make" the scene powerful, he just lets it unfold and trust the audience has invested enough in Bruce to fully grasp what this moment means going forward for our hero.]
Bruce finds an ally in his crime fighting efforts the one honest cop Jim Gordon (Oldman) and longtime Waynetech employee Lucius Fox (Freeman). [2012 Flash Forward: I love the James Bond/Q dynamic Nolan establishes between the two as Fox shows Bruce the latest Waynetech gadgets.]
Nolan’s Batman would be just as comfortable in a horror/thriller as he is in a comic book film. He zooms in and out of the camera plucking off his victims/criminals before anyone can notice creating a boogeyman type effect. Bale brings an intensity to Batman that has never been exhibited on screen and actually makes Batman someone worth being afraid of beyond the cape and cowl.
The Batsuit may not be the most aesthetically pleasing but Nolan doesn’t ever fully reveal the outfit, instead keeping Batman in the shadows for the most part. The less is more strategy clearly works in this instance. [2012 Flash Forward:The costume gets a marked improvement for the sequels.]
Batman’s efforts soon bring him into conflict with Jonathan Crane a.k.a The Scarecrow (Murphy). Through a combination of Murphy’s barely hinged performance and brilliant special effects, Scarecrow becomes the first Batman movie foe that’s a match for the Caped Crusader.
Katie Holmes as Bruce’s childhood friend and now District Attorney Rachel Dawes is the only real misstep in the casting, [2012 Flash Forward: Another problem resolved in the sequel...]but it’s hard to get bogged down with her when Batman’s running around rooftops on his tank/Batmobile – the Tumbler.
“Batman Begins” is one of those rare action films that I found myself eagerly anticipating the sequel [2012 Flash Forward: Oh and what an awesome "one of my favorite films!" did that sequel become...] …even before the first film had ended. Don’t miss it.
[2012 Film Flashback: This is the film that kicks off the Modern Age of awesome comic book movies. The former "Mrs. Tom Cruise" is the only thing holding it back from a perfect score. I almost feel that this is a little underrated because of the brilliance of "The Dark Knight." As is, this is required viewing for every comic book movie fan and the first step Nolan would take in showing how easily comic books could work in a real world setting.]
Rating: 9.5 out of 10