As Bruce Wayne walks towards his private jet after a grueling training regime from the Bhutanese mountains, he is greeted by his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth after seven years. As he takes each step, Alfred notices this is a different Bruce – not the immature young man who made mistakes and left Gotham in his youth in a fit of rage but a man who walks with confidence. He has finally conquered his anger and he returns with a mission. As they sit down in the jet bound for Gotham City, Alfred asks Bruce what now? To which Bruce contemplates and says, “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.” Alfred looks a little puzzled, “What symbol?” he enquires. “Something elemental. Something… terrifying.” It was in these moments a legend was born.
Young Bruce is playing with his childhood friend Rachel Dawes back in the garden at Wayne Manor until he slips into a pit and falls to the bottom of a cave. There, he disturbs hundreds of bats and they instill a phobia that he’s unable to control for most of his childhood. After a night at the opera Bruce and his parents leave early because he’s unable to take the human figures slithering around in bat-like movements which reenact the bat cave incident in his mind. Upon taking the rear exit onto a dark alley, they are greeted by a gunman who demands their money and jewellery. Bruce’s father offers it to him except the gunman loses his nerves, shoots both of his parents and runs away. As young Bruce watches his father die, he feels partially responsible for had he not been scared in the Opera – they would still be alive today.
The story then cuts to an older Bruce (Christian Bale) where he returns to Gotham from College to attend a trial of the man who shot his parents. The gunman was eventually caught but is now up for parole and is released due to ‘good behaviour’ behind bars. Infuriated with the injustice, he seeks his own revenge by attempting to shoot the gunman himself except another gunman, sent by Mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), beats him to it. Bruce then goes to meet Falcone who calls him the “Prince of Gotham” due to his wealthy birthright, his inability to understand fear and what it is to be feared. Falcone boasts that he’s also able to buy fear as he shows off significant senior figures such as police officers and judges hanging around his bar allowing him to do whatever he pleases. Bruce cannot do the same and in order to experience that control of fear he would have to go to a place where nobody knows his name and be involved in crime just like a commoner.
Wanting to prove Falcone wrong, Bruce travels to the farthest, eastern part of the globe where he learns to be a part of the criminal underworld but ultimately, it leads him into prison. There, he meets a mysterious figure called Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who offers Bruce a path to join the League of Shadows and be trained as a ninja where together they will be able to fight injustice led by the charismatic figure Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). When Bruce returns to Gotham he sees many changes, mostly bad but some good in the shape of Gotham’s new Assistant District Attorney who also happens to be his childhood friend – Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), the head of the Applied Science division at Wayne Enterprises – Lucius fox (Morgan Freeman), the only cop who doesn’t take bribes – Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and his butler, as well as his voice of conscience – Alfred (Michael Caine).
Bruce remembers his conversation with Alfred in the plane about a symbol. Something elementary. Something terrifying. After another encounter with the bats in the cave he finally learns to control his fears due to the training with the League of Shadows. And now, he has a symbol – a Bat. Wanting to replicate the fear he suffered onto those who prey on the weak, Bruce uses the rejected military equipment devised by Fox for his own purposes and becomes Batman. His first mission is to capture and shut down all of Falcone’s operations and does so with success – except Falcone is pardoned almost immediately on the advice of Dr Crane (Cillian Murphy) who considers Falcone unfit for prison and be transferred to Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane. Crane however controls his inmates by intoxicating them with a dangerous hallucinogenic drug and has been instructed by his boss to expose it to the rest of the city – which Batman discovers is a man he thought was dead.
There are many reasons why the last few Batman films before Batman Begins came and failed miserably. The first of course was the tone which transformed from Tim Burton’s gothic masterpiece Batman to the camp wonderland of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Secondly, it was an example of studio bosses taking control of a franchise they failed to understand. While the last film starred a number of Hollywood heavyweights including Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Uma Thurman it never captured the audience’s imagination – nor were any of the stunts or dialogue worth remembering. Batman has a rich history of 73 years in the comic book world and Warner Bros. chose to ignore all of that.
The comic book series for Batman were also going through a similar period where the storyline was becoming a tad predictable and almost too comic. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s did comic writers like Frank Miller (who also did 300 and Sin City) brought a much darker take on the mythology and created incredible series like The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. A great inspiration for Batman Begins was Batman: The Long Halloween created by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale which explores Batman’s thinking during his early years. It wasn’t until a young director, who had just finished creating the breath taking Insomnia, was hired to take on the helm of resurrecting a beloved character that was sorely missing from the big screen. Christopher Nolan performed a miracle. Lazarus has returned.
Teaming up with comic book writer and fellow scribe David S. Goyer, Nolan was able to go into the heart of Batman and found another story. That story was Bruce Wayne which was never really explored in detail in the comics but was the true motivation of why Bruce chose to wear a costume to fight crime when he had all this wealth to live on. Batman Begins became a story of Bruce Wayne, not his alter ego. By doing so Nolan made the audience relate to the character even further and connected them to the story like never before.
Choosing to ignore the comic book setting, Nolan placed Bruce in the real world, or in this case Chicago, thus applying physical limitations however his superpowers has always been his wealth and used his influence over Fox in the Applied Science division to supply his ‘wonderful toys’. Gotham however is still a dark, mysterious city that has been savaged by crime. This is beautifully explained on the train Bruce’s father built which was shiny and new but as the years pass, the windows are dirty and the carriages are filled with graffiti. This Gotham has violence and is filled with tragedy everywhere – and again, we are able to relate because these are experiences we’re exposed to in the real world. Gotham, for this Bruce Wayne, has always represented his father who cared very much for the city. It became a legacy of his father which he wants to protect and in many ways would sacrifice like his father did for him. Bruce could not defend his father as himself and so becomes Batman to defend Gotham.
There are two main themes to Batman Begins – fear and duplicity. The first fear isn’t necessarily about Bats, but about conquering fear. The first half of the movie Bruce is afraid of bats while in the second half he uses them in a manner which has become the best ‘back up’ sequence that has ever been on the cinema screen. Genius doesn’t quite describe it. It has to be seen to be believed. The duplicity also reflects the dialogue and moments we see in the first half reply themselves in the second half where exposition takes place and the dialogue resonates a different meaning. “Why do we fall Bruce?” says his father upon carrying him back from the cave, “So that we can learn to pick ourselves up”. Sure its not as snappy as “With great power, comes great responsibility” but when Alfred, now a new father figure, recites the same dialogue when Bruce has just seen his home set of fire – he’s able to truly pick himself up and do something about it.
The action sequences have also been modified and the car chase sequence with the new Batmobile, now known as the Tumbler, is just amazing. “He’s not on a street, he’s flying through rooftops,” a puzzled police officer says when trying to stop the half Lamborghini-half tank inspired machine – which then goes into stealth mode. Nolan wanted to ensure everything had purpose and wasn’t just another action sequence. He wanted the Tumbler to imitate the actions Batman would take in real life but also added the risk factor to emphasise the danger Bruce puts himself through as the ferocious Batman.
Batman Begins isn’t perfect and has some draw backs mainly aimed at the chemistry between Bruce and Rachel where Katie Holmes really struggled to spark any tension on screen and Batman’s voice which was more like he had a sore throat rather than a growl. But the performances from all the actors were incredibly strong, memorable but most importantly – engaging. Especially Gary Oldman whom before him, Commissioner Gordon was just a figure in the background when in truth he was a central figure in the comic books and one of Batman’s trusted allies.
Commenting on the film after seeing it for the first time, Tim Burton said that “Nolan had captured the real spirit that these kind of movies are supposed to have nowadays. When I did Batman twenty years ago, it was a different time in comic book movies. You couldn’t go into that dark side of comics yet. The last couple of years that has become acceptable and Nolan certainly got more to the root of what the Batman comics are about.”
The end of the movie presents two key elements which leads very neatly into the next part of the trilogy. Escalation – due to the fact that with Batman around everything the criminals do will be elevated including their weapons and acts of violence. And a calling card – which holds no name, no pictures, no clues, except the joker card from a pack of playing card. Newly appointed Lieutenant Gordon says to Batman that this guy “has a taste for the theatrical – like you,” which Batman, nor Gordon know who that might be but the audience do.
The ending to Batman Begins also presents hope – not only for the citizens of Gotham but for the rest of us as well. Many call this franchise a reboot. In truth, this is more of a rebirth. A renaissance of a character of how he was, how he is, and how he should forever be. Falcone’s words ring true in that Bruce Wayne will forever be the “Prince of Gotham” because his heritage limit his interaction with his people however as a symbol, he’s able to fight crime and upon capturing villains in his hands they distressing ask “Who are you?” to which he can thrust them close to him with eyes of intimidation and say – “I’m Batman”.
Written by Vaskar S. Kayastha