Batman Begins (2005) Director: Christopher Nolan
Batman Begins is the first part of Christopher Nolan’s celebrated Batman trilogy, surely the best of any contemporary superhero film series. The story is based on the DC Comics hero, Batman. It boasts an all-star cast of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Ken Watanabe, Morgan Freeman and many others. The film was shot in the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Chicago. It was the first Batman movie since the terrible Batman & Robin movie released in 1997. Batman Begins takes a decidedly darker tone.
It tells the story of the rise of Bruce Wayne from his wealthy upbringing under his family’s company Wayne Enterprises -the leading business in Gotham City. One night while out at the opera, Bruce’s parents are both robbed and killed at gunpoint, leaving Bruce orphaned. He travels widely, eventually arriving at the mountain sanctuary of the League of Shadows, the dwelling of Ra’s al Ghul. He trains to fight with ninjas, even under the influence of a powerful drug that grows on the mountainsides. However, he does not fulfill his training because he refuses to kill a man who committed a crime. Instead he fights the league, and burns down their mountain home, only saving Liam Neeson’s character (his teacher), who we later learn to be the true Ra’s al Ghul. He returns to Gotham to fight crime, assuming the appearance of a bat, his childhood fear. He poses publicly as a shallow playboy. He tracks down a criminal ring led by corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane -perhaps loosely based on the scarecrow and pumpkin characters in the Batman comics. He is caught poisoning the water with hallucinogens, and he claims to work for Ra’s al Ghul when cornered by Batman. Suddenly the true Ra’s al Ghul appears at Bruce’s birthday celebration and attacks the city and burns down Wayne manor. In a dramatic conclusion, Batman stops Ra’s from infecting the entire city with his hallucinogen by derailing his train.
Despite the film being riddled with some unfortunate cliches, it is nevertheless an excellent start to the best superhero trilogy in modern memory. The central theme worth exploring is the psychological state of fear –Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats which he overcomes by donning a Batman suit, or the poisonous drug which unleashes fear throughout the city. The veneer of safety is preserved by a certain common human lack of fear. It returns a darker, more serious element to the Batman story. One theme that is continued into the next film is the idea that Bruce Wayne must embody an idea –a symbol of fear for criminals. Unjust acts are best regulated not by bureaucracy nor by a greater police presence but rather by a symbolic example of fear.