Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review #14

Paragon Pundit Hero Movie Review
#14: Batman Begins

After Joel Schumacher and executives at Warner Brothers pretty much destroyed the Burton-inspired “Batman” series in 1997, the studio struggled with a way to restore trust with disillusioned Bat-fans. There were several ideas toyed around, which mirrored the attempts to salvage Superman from the camp graveyard.

Eight years later, Batman made his triumphant return to the silver screen, and he did so by going back to square one.

“Batman Begins” was released by Warner Brothers in 2005, directed by Christopher Nolan and features an all-star cast consisting of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freman, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, and Ken Watanabe.

The film starts with a boy named Bruce and a girl named Rachel playing at the grounds of a huge mansion. Rachel finds an arrowhead, which Bruce steals and tries to hide, but he falls through an abandoned well. The noise disturbs the creatures living there, and the bats start flying out.

This turns out to be a nightmare for the adult Bruce (Bale), who is in a Bhutanese prison, where he is holding his own against local prisoners, which he considers to be “practice”. He defeats them, but then is sent to solitary for “their” protection. It is there that he meets Henri Ducard (Neeson), a man who represents a group and a benefactor seeking to bring real justice to the world. Ducard says that he knows that Bruce is really Bruce Wayne, millionaire orphan, and that his benefactor, Ra’s al Ghul, can show him how to become more than just a man, but a legend.

The next day, Bruce is let go by a dirt road, and he climbs a mountain to bring a single blue flower to a mountaintop compound, where he meets Ra’s (Watanabe) and Ducard and is quickly knocked unconscious.

While Bruce is unconscious, we see more of his flashbacks, how he was rescued from the well by his father, Thomas Wayne, and that the event caused him to deathly fear bats, even though his father told him they were more afraid of him. Later, Thomas and Martha take Bruce into Gotham City, and his father explains the impact his family had in the city’s recovery from economic depression, including the rail line that would play an important role in the movie. Going to a theater show, Bruce was scared of the bat-like actors on stage and asked that they leave early. Leaving out a side-door, they are confronted in an alley by a man with a gun… and what happens next is legend.

The only kind faces to the young traumatized boy are Officer Jim Gordon (Oldman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Caine). Years later, Bruce returns from Princeton to appear at the sentencing hearing of Joe Chill, the man that killed his parents. Chill has his sentence reduced for testifying against mobster Carmine Falcone (Wilkinson). Bruce joins a now grown-up Rachel Dawes (Holmes), who works with the District Attorney’s office. Bruce refuses to speak up at Chill’s hearing, even though doing so could keep him behind bars. Chill is released, but then is killed by one of Falcone’s men. Bruce feels cheated, because he was there to kill Chill, a turn of events that Rachel discovers and is disgusted at hearing. After meeting with Falcone, though, Bruce discovers that he can’t do anything for the city, and thus leaves.

This brings us to the present, and Bruce’s training by Ducard. Ducard trains Bruce to overcome his fear and to use the skills of the League of Shadows to be stronger and more cunning. But when Ra’s reveals to Bruce that his plan is to destroy Gotham, Bruce confronts his master and defeats him in combat, setting the compound on fire in the process. He drags an unconscious Ducard back down to a nearby village and returns to Gotham, wiser and with a plan on how to make a difference.

Bruce goes to Wayne Enterprises, run in trust by Bill Earle (Hauer), who just took the company public, and through that connection learns of an underused research arm run by Lucius Fox (Freeman), who has a warehouse full of workable unused prototypes, including a military-style all-terrain armored vehicle, protective body-armor, and a parachute cloth that could be used to create bat-like wings. Bruce also returns to the abandoned well to explore the cave where the bats live. Using foreign contractors to supply the crucial trademarked headgear, he creates a series of bat-shaped devices, explaining that he still fears bats, but now he wants criminals to share his fear. He also reaches out to Jim Gordon, now a sergeant, and gains his trust and tells him to trust Rachel.

Showing up at the docks, Gordon’s corrupt partner meets with Falcone to supervise the latest drug shipment, and points out that half of the drugs would go to him, and the other would go to the crime-controlled slum known as the Narrows. Falcone’s men are quickly picked off one-by-one by a masked man wearing a cape and using ninja-like skills. Falcone tries to escape, but is confronted by the masked man who quickly identifies himself as… BATMAN! Batman ties Falcone up on a nearby searchlight, with his shadow crudely resembling a large bat.

As Gordon and the others arrest Falcone and are awestruck at the symbolism, Batman saves Rachel from being attacked by Falcone’s men. He also gives her compromising photos of a judge for her to use to make sure that the charges against Falcone stick in court.

Falcone tries to use the insanity defense, only to discover that the Arkham Asylum psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Crane (Murphy), is the contact Falcone was working with, and he uses his special fear drug, along with a Scarecrow mask, to make Falcone really crazy.

While interrogating Gordon’s partner, Batman discovers where the second half of the drugs go, and soon he’s face-to-face with Scarecrow, who sprays the caped crusader with the drug before setting him on fire. Batman escapes, but he recognizes the effects of the drug as something he encountered before.

As Bruce recovers, Rachel investigates Crane’s activities and discovers that he’s pumping the water supply with the drug. Batman goes to rescue her, now immune from the drug’s effects through an antidote that Fox developed. He confronts Crane again and gives him a full dose of the drug to get him to talk. Crane reveals that he is only the point man for someone much more dangerous… Ra’s al Ghul, a man that Bruce Wayne believed was dead.

From here the movie becomes a roller-coaster of twists and turns where all secrets soon come out, where the true motives for Joe Chill’s crimes are revealed, and where Batman is transformed from a vigilante into an urban legend.

The movie is a welcomed departure from the earlier approaches of the Batman franchise. This is not a surreal look at Batman, nor is it the childish cartoonish camp that Warner Brothers execs previously turned it into. This is a REALISTIC Batman. Gotham City has the look and feel of a REAL city. Batman relies on more state-of-the-art REALISTIC devices instead of day-glow bat-utilities custom-designed for any specific threat. There are no bat-skates or bat-lasers or fake nipples on the costume. If Batman were to exist in the real world, THIS is how he would look.

Christian Bale’s approach to both Bruce Wayne and Batman is almost night-and-day when compared to the actors that wore the cowl before him. Bale gets the point that Bruce Wayne is the act, and that Batman is the real person. Coming from movies such as “American Psycho” and “Equilibrium” and “The Machinist”, Bale brings both a suave and dangerous look to the legend that is just a step beyond Michael Keaton’s portrayal in “Batman” and “Batman Returns”.

At first Michael Caine seemed out-of-place as loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth, but he does a good job taking ownership of the role. Sadly the same could not be said of Katie Holmes as Rachel. Quite simply she comes off as looking too young for the role.

Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Jim Gordon is a welcomed surprise. Oldman is normally known for playing the bad guy, so it’s good to see him for once playing one of the few honest cops in Gotham. Cillian Murphy’s role as the Scarecrow was also a welcomed surprise. He gives off that kind of “nice quiet guy” look that you know holds something really deadly under the surface.

Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman both own their respective roles as Henri Ducard and Lucius Fox from the moment you see them. The characters are a perfect match for the actors.

The realistic look and feel of the movie keeps the cheese factor down and it does what it needed to do… it revived the Batman legend, and it set the stage for an even better sequel. This should be on the list of any hero’s must-have movies.

Capes: All five capes. A realistic Batman along with some clearly-defined villains… or at least they BECOME clearly-defined by the time the movie ends.
Cheese: Nothing but American Cheese (0) here. The realism kept the cheese factor at bay.
Books: This movie earns all five books. It has a realistic story, based on two classic Batman tales that established the legend, and it doesn’t serve as either a music video or an overhyped toy commercial.

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