Batman Begins

“Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot.” Those iconic words are never heard in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, but they express a good part of what this film is about: fear and the mastery of it. As a boy, Bruce Wayne falls into an abandoned well, stirring up a colony of bats that swirl around him like a leather winged river. Of such experiences are lifelong phobias made. Young Bruce’s psyche is scarred even more seriously and permanently when he sees his parents gunned down during a mugging gone wrong. From that point on, he becomes obsessed with crime, wanting to understand why it happens. He also has a hazy idea of what he wants to do about it. He heads east and studies martial arts, as well as living among the criminal classes, trying to think like they do. He’s so successful in this, he winds up in a Chinese prison. 

He’s released by a clandestine organization called the League of Shadows. These guys are so bad, ninjitsu is only a part of their training. Their leader Ras Al Ghul wants to fight crime so Bruce stays and learns all secrets of the League. But they part ways after awhile when Bruce becomes dismayed at some of Ras’s medieval concepts of justice.

That’s more or less the Batman origin and it’s particularly well told in Batman Begins. Christian Bale is believable as an obsessed rich kid, torn between anger at the death of his parents and fear at not living up to his father’s example. There are several points in the movie where people make the comparison, not to Bruce’s advantage, and it always stings.

But the best thing about Batman Begins is the rock hard realism. I liked Tim Burton’s gothic take on Batman, but I didn’t believe it. Nolan’s film is overflowing with verisimilitude. It’s almost plausible. I read that all the gadgets in this are real or at least realistic extrapolations of existing hardware. And Bruce’s reasons for donning the cape are compelling. He needs to become more than a man; he needs to be a symbol and one that will strike fear into the hearts of criminals.

Another good thing is that instead of stubbornly going it alone, we see Batman beginning to build his team. Starting with Alfred, of course, played by the great Michael Caine who offers up business advice and tips on maintaining a secret identity. Next, he draws in Lucious Fox, played by Morgan Freeman, who archives failed projects for Wayne Tech. Stuff like light but strong body armor, fabric that assumes a rigid shape when an electric charge is applied to it, and really fast armored vehicles. He’s a perfect gadget guy. And finally there’s Sgt. Jim Gordon, played by Gary Oldman, the last honest cop in Gotham.

What criticisms I have are cavils, really. Little things like the fact that they consistently mispronounce Ras Al Ghul’s first name. And the suit, as depicted, doesn’t really look like a good compromise between protection and mobility. He can barely move his head from side to side. Filmmakers don’t seem to trust the idea that Batman relies on speed and the distraction of the cape to evade getting shot.

But, as I said, these are minor. All in all, I am one happy geek.


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June 2005
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