The Good: Good acting, Nice character development, Decent story
The Bad: Some pacing issues, Underuse of Cillian Murphy
The Basics: When Bruce Wayne watches his parents get killed, he becomes introverted and vows revenge, becoming a vigilante superhero in Batman Begins.
One of the lowest days of my life was back in college; I did movie reviews for the school newspaper and for the summer issue, I was asked to review a number of movies and I was given a day to do it. I watched Con Air, Men In Black, and Batman And Robin all in one day. It was hellish; the movies got worse as the day went on. Batman And Robin remains one of the bottom five movies of all time in my estimation and it should have disqualified Arnold Schwarzenegger from running for governor of California.
So, when I first heard about Batman Begins, my thoughts were: It can't be worse than Batman And Robin and I hope it isn't as bad as Batman And Robin. Fortunately for fans of Batman, Batman Begins is not a continuation of the Joel Schumacher farce that the latter two Batman films were. Instead, director Christopher Nolan is given the opportunity to reboot the Batman franchise and thus we are treated to the story of how Batman began.
Having witnessed the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne - a child of privilege - becomes reclusive and isolated. After becoming frustrated with "the way things are," Wayne leaves Gotham City to find himself. He finds himself in the wilderness at a secret monastery of ninjas under the guidance of the mysterious Ra's Al Ghul. There he determines that the best way to fight evil is to vanquish fear and become powerful.
However, at the climax of his training, Wayne realizes that those that trained him do not share his same basic humanity and he leaves. Returning to Gotham City, Wayne discovers corruption and fear are widespread, leading him to use his resources to become a vigilante fighter.
Right off the bat, pun intended, one of the distinctive aspects of Batman Begins are the sets. The sets are phenomenal and Gotham City looks like a wonderful cross between the city of Dark City (reviewed here!) and the decay of The City of Lost Children. It is big, it is grimy, it looks sturdy and industrial and not at all plastic or unreal. Gotham City comes alive as a plagued place in Batman Begins.
The casting in Batman Begins is well done as well. Katie Holmes portrays love interest Rachel Dawes well, rather effectively being something other than simply arm candy for the hero. Holmes is charming and articulate as the D.A. Dawes. Gary Oldman does well as the incorruptible Gordon, realistically portraying a man of integrity caught in a bad place. And Michael Caine perfectly plays the slightly younger Alfred, lending dignity and stature to the role that is very appropriate for his level of involvement in this particular story.
Liam Neeson is excellent as Henri Ducard and it is somewhat disappointing the surprise that comes about involving his character. Neeson as Ducard is involved in training Wayne and Neeson does an excellent job with the role, playing him with an interesting mix of the mentor Qui-Gon Jinn and a thug. Certainly one who watched Love Actually would not guess that the reserved Neeson could handle all of the physical work he is forced to in this movie, but he does. Amazingly well.
Morgan Freeman's portrayal of disgruntled Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox is wonderful. Freeman steals each scene he is in. He has a presence and smooth attitude that fits the reserved engineer in the R&D department exceptionally well. He plays Fox with subtlety, making him more than simply an accessory to Batman. He becomes a vital character of his own.
The movie, of course, turns on the performance of Christian Bale who portrays Bruce Wayne/Batman. Bale seems to find the perfect balance for Wayne that the prior two actors (since Michael Keaton) did not quite manage. Bale portrays a man of strong moral conviction who is very much an apprentice yet. He pulls the role off with great facial expressions and genuine moments of emoting that carry much of the movie, especially during some of the slowest parts. Bale plays with the internal struggle, the agony of loss and makes story about fear and loss and he does it quite well.
In fact, the only serious acting problem comes in the form of Cillian Murphy. Murphy is an excellent actor and in Batman Begins he plays Dr. Jonathan Crane, who is the Scarecrow. Murphy does well, but he is severely under-represented in the movie. He has a great deal to give as an actor and instead he is relegated to almost no screen time and a disturbingly slight amount of character development or even character establishment.
Dr. Crane, in fact, is the unlucky card in the character deck. Every other character in the movie is well established and has a decent character arc. Obviously, the Bruce Wayne arc dominates, but Gordon, Dawes and Fox all have intriguing arcs that leave the characters transformed from their established characters to the characters that endure at the end of the movie.
The only other major problem with Batman Begins is in its pacing. This is a movie that takes a long time to develop and rightfully so. This is a story about developing, about getting the strength to banish fear and stand up. To be compelling and realistic, that cannot happen instantly. Unfortunately, there are points in Batman Begins where the pace slows to distracting levels and one wonders when the story is actually going to begin.
Conversely, more than any other superhero movie to date, Batman Begins concerns itself with the practical elements, neatly establishing how everything works and how Bruce Wayne obtained the materials he needed in order to make Batman a reality.
Batman Begins works much better as a film in context, as the prelude to the stories that come next. On its own, Batman Begins is fairly strong, but it just isn't as entertaining as some other movies.
For other films featuring Liam Neeson, please check out my reviews of:
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
The Next Three Days
Clash Of The Titans
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
Star Wars - Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.