The cast & crew bit: written & directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy
The ten-word synopsis: Batman as put through the mind of genius director Christopher Nolan.
I’m going to start by saying it: The bit where he summons all the bats as ‘back-up’ is naff. Naffer, in fact, than the word ‘naff’, which is a word I thankfully haven’t used in a very long time. It’s a cringe-worthy moment, especially as it comes at a point in which the mask and voice still look a bit daft to the audience. Whilst the bat-face undoubtedly fades into commonplace after a scene or two, the voice is, annoyingly, going to force me to use that word again. It’s naff.But don’t go thinking this is going to be the tone of the review, for Batman Begins is a fantastic film, and one that I didn’t quite appreciate first time around. First and foremost a reboot designed to set up Christopher Nolans’ vision of Gotham City, it does a sterling job. It establishes all the key characters and introduces new elements and new takes of classic concepts. Nolan creates a city that feels beyond redemption. It has a reality to it, grounding it. The Batman as a symbol of hope is a novel idea, and one that isn’t too far removed from the real world. The Scarecrow is the kind of disturbed mind we could find wandering our streets. Whilst Nolan hasn’t picked the most interesting or iconic of villians (Aside from the Joker in the sequel), he has made each of them work. The Riddler is a wonderful character, but he wouldn’t slot into Nolans’ Gotham as well as Cillian Murphys’ Scarecrow does. Presented primerialy as Jonathan Crane, a psychiatrist, and secondarily as a masked supervilliain, the stems of reality run throughout the piece, and to be honest, it’s a shame that he gets pushed aside to be the B-villian of the piece.
Ra’s Al Ghul is an interesting character, that’s for sure, and certainly works as a Kingpin-type villain, running everything behind the scenes. Liam Neeson is also undoubtedly a great screen presence, but for some reason I felt that the two didn’t quite gel. While he seemed to put in a good shift as Al Ghul, I did find myself, as I’ve already mentioned, wishing to see more of Murphys’ somewhat more engaging Scarecrow. That said, something quite interesting is done with the League of Shadows, and they certainly fitted the gritty world set up. Henchman extraordinare Victor Zsasz also appears briefly, just to tick him off the villain checklist, but is virtually unnoticeable unless you’re looking. His cameo is only worth noting because he’s played by the vocalist from Britpop band James. Sit down indeed.
Crime boss Falcone is an ideal fit with the world, but does make the film feel as though it’s reached scoundrel saturation point. Thankfully, he’s counteracted by Gary Oldmans’ police lieutenant Jim Gordon. At this stage not up to his iconic ‘Commissioner’ level, I know I court controversy when I say that Oldman is the best thing in both films. His performance is the heart of a film that’s often only focused on the head and the fists. He brings a soul to the story. Gordon doesn’t appear much in this first film, but that doesn’t matter. The scenes where he’s on screen are almost uniformly the best in the film. It’s also fitting, as so much of his performance is about what he doesn’t do, rather than what he does. It’s in the little details. The face. The body language. The way he transforms himself is remarkable. You’d never guess this is Harry Potters’ Sirius Black, a role he also plays with a compassion so rarely found amongst gritty displays.
It’s undoubtedly not up to the level of its successor, the best superhero movie of all time, the Dark Knight, and we’ll have to wait a few more days to see how it stacks up against the trilogy’s conclusion. However, without Batman Begins to set the saga up, you wouldn’t be able to reach the Dark Knight. Yes, it may have its’ flaws, but in terms of establishing an effective world and creating believable characters, it’s verging on a masterpiece of sorts. I can think of few words less fitting to use in the opening of this article than ‘naff’.
7 home-made Batarangs out of 10