How Batman Begins (2005) Truly Understands Batman
With Matt Reeves’ The Batman on the horizon, it’s time to take a look back at 2005’s Batman Begins. After the critical failure of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin in 1997, Warner Brothers decided to go with the reboot route. Several directors came forward with their ideas on a possible Batman film, including Joss Whedon, Darren Aronofsky, and Schumacher with a third film. However, it was Christopher Nolan’s pitch that really interested the studio. Drawing inspiration from popular Batman comics such as Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman Begins further delves into Bruce Wayne’s formative years becoming the Caped Crusader.
After his parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered, Bruce Wayne travels around the world to understand the nature of crime and the mindset of criminals. He trains with a mysterious group called the League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul, to fight corruption and purge his fear of bats. However, when the League wants him to kill a local criminal, he refuses. Finding out that the League will send him to destroy Gotham, he vows to return to Gotham and fight corruption without resorting to killing. Upon his return, Bruce constructs an alter ego for himself while he fights crime and corruption based on an elemental childhood fear.
Christopher Nolan did what no other director did at the time when it came to directing a comic book film: doing a completely grounded and realistic take on a classic character. The Batsuit is a tactical survival suit that the U.S. military couldn’t afford, while the Batmobile is a bridge jumping vehicle. Likewise, Ra’s Al Ghul is not immortal, unlike the comics. Principal photography took place in downtown Chicago, with CG elements added on in post-production. Nolan doesn’t like using CGI as much as other directors, and used it as sparingly as possible. For the League of Shadows headquarters exploding and the Narrows collapsing, he used a series of miniature models. Additionally, the suit was made much more flexible and comfortable for Christian Bale and his stuntmen.
Christian Bale does a wonderful job as Bruce Wayne, and can play both the charismatic playboy persona of Bruce and the dark brooding persona of Batman. Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul was a nuanced and layered villain, believing that what he is doing is for the greater good. Additionally, Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth is unlike any other interpretation of the butler on screen, bringing a form of compassion that acts as a surrogate father figure for Bruce.
A major theme of the movie is fatherhood. Throughout Bruce’s life, he’s been searching for a father figure after the death of Thomas Wayne. While Ra’s Al Ghul mentors him during his time with the League, Ra’s’ methods ultimately clash with Bruce’s. Alfred is the true father figure of Bruce, raising him after the death of his parents and never giving up on him. Despite not agreeing with Bruce’s crusade, he shows an unconditional form of love that only a parent can give.
Another theme that this film focuses on is vengeance. For most of his life, Bruce felt rage towards his parents’ killer, Joe Chill and dreamt of killing the man himself. When he heard of Joe being released from prison, he took this as his chance for justice. However, before Bruce could kill him, a crime boss hitman kills Chill first. Rather than feeling a sense of relief, Bruce still felt angry. When talking to Ra’s Al Ghul, Bruce and Ra’s fail to see eye-to-eye on the theme of revenge, with Ra’s believing it to help ease the suffering of loss, whereas Bruce refusing to believe it helps.
What sets this film apart from many other Batman films is how much it focuses on Bruce Wayne as a character, rather than Batman or his rogues. Nolan emphasizes Bruce’s compassion and his love for the people of Gotham, despite knowing how corrupt the city is. His refusal to kill is due to his belief that his compassion is what separates himself from the criminals he fights. On the other end of the spectrum is Ra’s Al Ghul, who believes that Gotham is beyond saving. While both want the same goal, their means to achieve that goal is what ultimately drives the two apart.
Batman Begins tells a spectacular origin story grounded in reality while still looking fantastical and epic with a versatile and likable cast. However, what makes this film truly remarkable is how much it focuses on Bruce’s humanity and his dream to make Gotham a safer place so that no one would have to endure what he went through, rather than focusing on making cool action sequences. In a time where most DC films, including Matt Reeves’ upcoming film, focus on making Batman a terrifying and unstoppable force to be reckoned with, Batman Begins is a breath of fresh air that takes a look at what truly separates a hero from their rogues.