When it was announced that Christopher Nolan would reboot the Batman franchise with Batman Begins back in 2005, many were fearful. This trepidation was not unwarranted after the gaudy mess that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997), yet Nolan abandoned the camp style of previous endeavours, opting instead for a darker story drawing on the 1980s comic reboot by writer Frank Miller. This gave his debut Dark Knight film a deeper edge, reinventing one of the world’s best-loved superheroes.
Opening with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) imprisoned half-way through the story – only to be rescued by the mysterious Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) – our protagonist joins the mysterious League of Shadows where he is trained in various martial arts, accompanied by an appropriate amount of existential pondering about the implications of both justice and vengeance. At this point, Nolan picks up on more familiar territory with a flashback to the murder of Wayne’s affluent, free-thinking parents.
Gradually, Wayne rejects the amoral League and returns to Gotham to take on the persona of Batman, ready to free Gotham from the grip of poverty and criminality. Nolan’s inaugural approach to the franchise in Batman Begins focused less on glossy action sequences, opting instead for a firmer emphasis on characterisation. The British director clearly respects his material and gives as much weight and gravitas to the film as he can – for a story about a billionaire who dresses up as bat by-night.
Also commendable is the impressive supporting cast assembled, which includes Michael Caine as loyal butler Alfred, Gary Oldman as honest cop James Gordon, Tom Wilkinson as Mafia don Carmine Falcone and Cillian Murphy as the deranged psychiatrist Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow. By filming most of Batman Begins in the run-down areas of Chicago, the film also possesses a suitably unpolished texture adorned with high rises draped in gloom and shadow.
Batman Begins is certainly not without fault. Whilst the narrative structure is relatively fresh, the screenplay is overly long and could have done a tighter re-edit. Yet Nolan still manages to breathe fresh life into what had become a stale and bloated movie franchise, showing that comic book films could be a serious affair, favouring story and characters over tiresome, repetitive action sequences and clunky dialogue.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is due to hit UK cinemas on 20 July. For more info on the film and the Christopher Nolan Season, follow this link.