Batman Begins

Batman Begins photoRated: PG-13
Running Time: 144 minutes
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on characters created by Bob Kane


This film is the best film adaptation of the Batman story…by far!

We’ve seen a Renaissance in comic book adaptations in recent years, particularly with the Spiderman and X-Men franchises. Comics are no longer just for kids anymore.

Frank Miller’s Batman series had a profound effect and we’re now reaping the cinematic rewards of a comics trend that began in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The original “dark avenger” style has finally stamped out the overly cartoony campiness of the Adam West television series that echoed hollowly throughout prior adaptations despite Tim Burton’s gothic sensibility or Schumacher’s pyrotechnics. Nolan’s story universe feels realistic and his slower pace in the beginning of the film pays off in the long run. Also, casting is excellent…

I’ve been a fan of Christian Bale’s ever since he was a child actor in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. I knew, after his performance in American Psycho, that he would be perfect for this role. Hopefully, this will be a prelude to 2-3 more Batman films for Bale and will catapult his career onward to bigger and better things.

Michael Caine is almost always good, and here, he offers a solid reprise of his father figure role (from films like Cider House Rules) with his rendition of Alfred the butler. Likewise, casting of Liam Neeson as Ducard (Bruce Wayne’s mentor) is reminiscent of Qui-Gon from Star Wars, but with a darker edge and better dialogue. Gary Oldman does a good job with James Gordon (not playing a villain for once). Morgan Freeman has a small part, but a crucial one, as Lucius Fox, the head of the Applied Sciences Division for Wayne Enterprises (much like Q in the James Bond series) who supplies most of Batman’s gadgets. As many reviewers have complained, Katie Holmes was not the perfect choice for Rachel (a bit young to be a prosecutor), but she still does a serviceable job, and this is a minor nitpick. I’m sure future installments will allow her romantic relationship with Bruce Wayne more room to develop.

The theme of the film is FEAR. Bruce Wayne must confront it. Batman must use it for justice. The villains try to destroy civilization through manipulation of it.

To give this film credit, it also works as an allegory for the times. The League of Shadows is a terrorist organization with a solid ideology that transcends mere greed but lacks compassion. Gotham has always been slang for New York City. Class struggle and the responsibilities of the rich are critiqued. Police corruption and media manipulation are depicted. All of this is relevant today. Although Batman’s world is not meant to be our world, it is a realistic one that parallels our own.


Gotham is going through an economic depression. The young ten-year-old Bruce Wayne is the only heir of billionaire parents. His father, a doctor, has entrusted their vast holdings to a panel of men, including Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer). However, the Waynes have made vast philanthropic improvements for the city, including an elevated train that spans the city and leads right to the newly constructed Wayne Tower at Gotham’s heart.

One day while playing with his friend, Rachel (childhood friend and future love interest), Wayne falls down an old well on his family’s estate and has his first frightening encounter with bats. The bats swarm up from an underground cavern that will later become the “Bat Cave.” Wayne’s father rescues him and says, “Why do we fall?…So we can get back up.” This becomes a repetitive tagline throughout the film as life offers setbacks both literal and figurative.

However, the bat encounter soon turns into a childhood phobia. One night while at an opera (maybe Faust?) the players remind young Bruce of the bats and he asks his father if they can leave. When they exit the opera house behind the alley, a robber ends up shooting and killing both Bruce’s parents. Police assure Bruce soon afterward that the criminal was caught, but it does little to assuage the young boy’s pain and hatred.

We flash forward fourteen years or so. Bruce is now a college student and the loss of his parents has plagued him as an unresolved issue. The robber that killed his parents is about to be released because he’s cut a deal to help indict Carmine Falcone, Gotham’s worst crime boss. Bruce resolves to take a pistol and shoot the man after he’s released from the courthouse. However, one of Falcone’s men guns down the released robber before Bruce can pull the trigger.

Bruce is ashamed of his own hate and feels powerless — without any purpose in life. He confronts Falcone.

Falcone says:

“You think just because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate. You’re Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham, you’d have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn’t know your name, so don’t come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.”

This prompts Bruce to hop a ship and travel the world to learn about criminals by living as one. Years pass. Ironically, Bruce steals from himself (Wayne Enterprises), gets caught, and is sent to a Butan prison. We are then shown a very different Bruce. He’s learned several languages. He’s become a tough street fighter who can beat several men at a time. But he’s still adrift…and in prison.

Then Henri Ducard enters the picture. Ducard knows Bruce’s identity and arranges for his release. Ducard works for The League of Shadows. Ducard promises that he will train Bruce in ways to fight injustice and to overcome his fears.

The League of Shadows is similar in tone to a Buddhist monastery, but with men from all around the world who’ve come to perfect their martial arts skills – skills which resemble Ninjitsu. This section is well done, but reminiscent of The Shadow origin story (most recently adapted to film starring Alec Baldwin) or, better yet, the Jim Grim series by Talbot Mundy (most of which are now out of print but have inspired pulp stories like Indiana Jones). Also, some echoes of Kung Fu: The Series.

At one point, a small blue flower that Bruce has carried around as a token of his desire to join the order is ground up into an inhalable hallucinogenic that allows Bruce to face his biggest fear…and overcome it.

At the end of his training, Bruce is told that he was selected not only for his talent, but because the League wants to destroy Gotham before its sickness corrupts the world any more. Apparently the order’s secret task is to destroy any civilization that grows too parasitic. They helped to sack ancient Rome and countless other civilizations before that. In the comics, the head of the order, Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe in the film) is an immortal who’s overseen the order for centuries.

Bruce doesn’t want to destroy Gotham. He rebels before Al Ghul can brand him with the ceremonial seal of the order. Bruce flips the brand into a convenient cache of explosive and destroys the temple after having a thrilling fight with Ra’s Al Ghul and half a dozen others. The explosion kills Al Ghul and knocks Ducard unconscious, but Bruce saves his mentor’s life before heading back down the mountain and re-joining the civilization that he’d left behind. Bruce’s new intention is to go back to Gotham and prove that society is not too corrupt to be saved. He’s got a big job on his hands.

After arriving home, Bruce reveals his plan to Alfred. With Alfred’s advice and the help of Lucius Fox to help outfit his superhero persona, Bruce begins fixing up the bat cave and creates the bat suit. He also acquires “The Tumbler” or “Bat car” which has the unique jet-like ability to jump several hundred feet if necessary.

Not only does Bruce have the mob to contend with, however. It turns out that The League of Shadows has already set their plans in motion, that Ducard plans on fulfilling the mission Al Ghul had designed, and they will be using a massive deployment of weaponized gas to spread concentrated blue flower hallucinogen over all of Gotham. Their plan is to divert the police force, release all the insane criminals from Arkham Asylum, and use this attack as the rallying point to destroy Western Civilization as we know it.

Along the way, Bruce must field test his new equipment, deal with his double life and his inability to reveal to Rachel his new identity, and take control of his father’s company before it is parceled out from under him.

All in a week’s work when you’re the Bat Man.

I won’t reveal all the twists or the ending. Go see the film and see why it’s getting such rave reviews.