Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has spent most of his adult life consumed with the guilt of his parents’ death. While studying martial arts in an isolated monastery, he is recruited by the League of Shadows; a group that believes Gotham is beyond saving and must be destroyed. Wayne rejects the League and returns to his hometown with the hopes of cleaning up the streets once and for all.
Batman Begins takes the Batman story back to its origins… Funnily enough, given the title. We meet a Bruce Wayne who is destroyed by guilt and seeking a way to make his life bearable. It is his meeting with the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) that helps him overcome his guilt and develop the skills that ultimately make him Batman.
Christopher Nolan and fellow scriptwriter David S. Goyer created a rounded and ultimately human character in Bruce Wayne; he is a man who throws off his trappings of wealth and connections to his hometown, until someone threatens it. The writers made Gotham a city that could be any in the world, while these cities may not have fallen into the state of chaos that Gotham has, audiences could relate their own cities to the one on screen.
The casting of the film was inspired; at the time, Christian Bale was perhaps best known for his role as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, but had shown that he had the talent to play Bruce Wayne as a man plagued by his demons. Bale even made his playboy alter ego work as he sets about playing the drunken fool to throw his enemies off the scent. Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon rounded out the supporting cast of good guys, and the men that would form Batman’s infantry in his war against crime. Casting these great actors in smaller roles made the film incredibly strong, and each brought a little drama, and a little humour to their roles.
Cillian Murphy channelled creepy in his role as Dr. Johnathan Crane. Once he revealed himself as The Scarecrow, the audience may not have been surprised – there was always something about this character that was unsettling – but he made for a great foe for the The Dark Knight. Liam Neeson’s logical character may be less instantly frightening than The Scarecrow, but it is this logic that terrifies; the world of Gotham is broken and needs to be destroyed and, like a Phoenix from the ashes, Gotham is sure to rise again. Sure, it makes sense, but this logic is also that of a madman.
Christopher Nolan brought the Batman story closer to our own in terms of the world it is set in, but also created a character that audiences could relate to; after all, he could be any of us. There was no luck or science involved in Wayne’s transformation; no spider bites, no radioactive waste, instead Wayne is a man who believes that he can make a difference, and sets out to do so.
Christopher Nolan, known at this point in his career for making psychological thrillers, brings the action to a film that could easily have turned into a study of paranoia. The set pieces are fast and gritty; brutal fights leave Wayne bruised, car chases send the streets into chaos and the mass escape from Arkham Asylum – combined with The Scarecrow’s hallucinogen – turns the city into a madhouse.
In all, Batman Begins brings the story of Bruce Wayne back to the start and creates a world and characters that the audience can readily identify with. The film is significantly grittier than any other Batman movie we had seen to date – there is no Prince on the soundtrack and the villians are the opposite of camp. Nolan brought a new voice to a character that audiences have been familiar with since 1938, and set up a dark franchise with endless scope for villainy and redemption.