DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Batman Begins

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Batman Begins

Batman Begins (2005) dir. Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson


By Alan Bacchus

It's remarkable the feeling we get from watching this picture and the sequel The Dark Knight. Despite the fact that these films were made only a few years apart, Batman Begins feels like a completely different picture, and IMHO a better one. According to the special featurettes, Nolan's cited influence was Richard Donner’s original comic book film Superman the Movie. Donner's tone of adult-oriented dramatic realism and mythic literary grandeur is plugged directly into Nolan's film.

Nolan magnificently connects the events of Bruce Wayne's entire life into the emotions and motivations of the present using three time periods. Firstly, there is Wayne as a child and the trauma he experienced from seeing his parents killed, specifically his idolized and righteous philanthropic father. There's also his university-age youth where, fearing failure and feeling the pressure of living up to the standard set by his father, Wayne goes on a walkabout of sorts to discover the criminal mind. An attempt to be recruited into the 'League of Shadows' pits Wayne against his first mentor, the charming yet devious Henry Ducard (Neeson) and his leader Ras Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) - I mean, how awesome are those character names to start! And then comes the main through line, the present day, where Bruce Wayne assumes the form of his greatest fear, the bat, and becomes a symbol of justice that the regular police can't uphold.

Each character rings true with an arguably deeper sane of realism than The Dark Knight. Despite Heath Ledger's fine performance as the Joker in that film, the fact that he was insane and that his motivations weren't explained meant we ceased to identify him as a character. Although highly entertaining, he was simply a robotic antagonist no more complex than say The Terminator. Ducard, on the other hand, is wholly fascinating. Introduced first as a saviour and mentor to Bruce, Nolan and his writer David Goyer elegantly morph him into an antagonist closely tied to Wayne's goals.

To convey this sense of pathos, Nolan employs a complementary cinematic eye. Look at the colour palette for instance. While The Dark Knight utilized colder colours more in line with police procedurals, Batman Begins is distinctly golden brown, like a faded old photograph or newspaper. The look adds a level of aged texture and a resonance of the past.

The opening sequences in Tibet also add to the feeling of spirituality and existential enlightenment. The glaciers of Iceland, which double for the Himalayas, look fantastic. But the mere fact that we're in the middle of devout Buddhism adds a subtext of Zen-intellectualism.

Admittedly, Christopher Nolan still has some learning to do in terms of filming action scenes. His hand-to-hand combat scenes never seem to be cut right. Perhaps it's that darned Batsuit that makes it impossible for an actor or stuntman to be flexible. That said, he shoots a decent car chase and his roller tank sequence is pretty darn awesome and certifiably trumped in The Dark Knight. But the primo sequence that represents the 'epic' tone is Batman's rescue of Rachel Dawes. With Batman at the top of a staircase, his army of bats storm the building and provide the definitive image in the film. The bats that represent true fear, which Wayne has controlled and channelled, become his greatest asset – a physical manifestation of the overall theme of the film.

Batman Begins is available in a lovely SteelBook packaging on Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment.

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