It’s been nearly two years since I created the Watchlist, a list designed to inspire me to watch huge movies that I’ve never seen, then write about them. And nearly two years on, I’m nowhere near done. Not even close. But today I am one step closer, because I finally saw the predecessor to one of the greatest movies of all time, a fantastic movie in its own right: Batman Begins. And of course I thoroughly enjoyed it, so here is my review of Batman Begins.
Batman has had a tough life. Apart from his parents dying, he’s had to suffer through many incarnations, some good, some bad, some God-awful – but the Caped Crusader has never been in better hands than Christopher Nolan, whose late-2000s trilogy is widely regarded as one of the best movie trilogies in history. And even though the second instalment is easily the best, that takes nothing away from the movie that started it all, Batman Begins.
After the tragic death of his parents as a child, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) feels to Asia in his twenties after the murder of their killer, spending years training with his mentor Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). When he returns to his crime-ridden home of Gotham City, he devotes himself to fighting crime, and becomes the Batman.
Easily one of the best origin stories ever made, Batman Begins takes all the elements of an origin story and makes them worth watching. From the thrilling action as Bruce learns martial arts (THAT League of Shadows scene, my God) to the trial and error fun he has building his suit and making new gadgets, the origin stuff barely gets boring, even though Batman doesn’t show up until halfway through the movie.
That’s because Nolan couples a great origin with an even greater story: Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) is the king of corruption in Gotham, with men in every office across the city, and the help of twisted psychologist Dr Jonathan Crane to ensure none of his men go to prison. But there’s a mysterious figure even higher up in the chain of command who’s responsible for it all, and Batman must work with Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the police to break the crime ring. Nolan’s efforts to ground the story in dark reality as much as possible lend enormous credibility to a man dressed up as a giant bat, and the movie walks the line brilliantly between fantastical superhero movie and crime film. Even the final act, which is much more superhero-esque in its scale and stakes as Crane’s plot to destroy the city takes full effect, but by then the audience is totally on board, caught up in the great script, twisting story and the excitement of seeing Batman battle the Scarecrow.
But even though Batman Begins is much more gritty and realistic, it’s still a ton of fun to watch: there’s something inherently exciting about a well-told origin story, a superhero finding their feet for the first time, and seeing Batman’s gadgets properly get their due (remember, before this I had only seen BvS – the gadgets didn’t grab me in that) makes you feel like a little kid again. I’ve also never seen a group of actors more excited to be there than this prestigious cast; everyone is giving 100%, whether it’s Liam Neeson as the mysterious Ducard, (perfect) Gary Oldman’s compassionate Jim Gordon, the terrifying Cillian Murphy as Crane, or the little glint in Morgan Freeman’s eye as he plays tech wiz Lucius Fox. And despite all the criticism that Christian Bale gets for being overshadowed in these films, I thought he was fantastic as both Bruce Wayne and Batman – he ties the film together nicely, and plays well with others, knowing when to let them take the spotlight. But he is Batman, after all, and steps up to the challenge of playing one of cinema’s most iconic characters.
Batman has never grabbed my attention like other superheroes have. Tony Stark has always been my favourite billionaire playboy, and Spider-Man will always be my favourite superhero. But this Batman movie is brilliant on both a film level and a superhero movie level: in attempting to make a great film, not just a great superhero movie, Nolan has allowed Batman to become more than just a great superhero. He’s a great character, surrounded by other interesting characters in this fascinating world, and he’s the kind of character you always want to learn more about. I’m officially become a Batman fan. And all I can say is, if the Dark Knight is even better than Batman Begins, it must be pretty spectacular.
This is probably the most impressive cast I’ve ever had to do one of these lists for, so here’s my top five favourite films starring the Batman Begins cast:
- Taken – Liam Neeson
- The Fighter – Christian Bale
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Gary Oldman
- Bruce Almighty – Morgan Freeman
- Kingsman: the Secret Service – Michael Caine
Photos taken from IMDb.com: