by Niall McArdle
I watched Batman Begins for the first time as part of the Blind Spot series – looking at a film you’ve never seen before – hosted by The Matinee
I’ve chosen Batman Begins. I’ve seen The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, which I suppose is like having a main course and dessert before deciding it might be an idea to have the soup.
In any event, I should tell you that I am not a fan of The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises. I thought them both overwritten, self-important and rather silly (not in a good way). So I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Batman Begins, but it’s actually not half-bad, and it has something the two sequels lacked: a sense of humour.
As the title indicates, this is an origin story. Young Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents and resolves to fight evil. It’s at least an hour and a half before we get to see any actual Batman stuff, and the film goes to great lengths to present Wayne as a realistic figure (a massively wealthy one, mind) who builds his bat-cave underneath Wayne Manor, using the same tunnels his great grandfather used in the Civil War to help slaves escape (an odd, throwaway element in the script – is it mentioned so we won’t hate this particular member of the 1%?)
The story is a bit daft and has all sorts of bizarre goings-on. Before Bruce chooses to don the cape, he is initiated into something called the League of Shadows, which is headquartered at the top of a mountain, and is probably funded by opium. Why exactly does Bruce Wayne become a criminal, and why does he steal from his own company? Actually, the film sort of answers that: Bruce has serious daddy issues. But why does he do it in Asia? Is Wayne Enterprises involved in sweatshops? The only reason that I could see for Bruce to begin the film in a Tibetan (?) prison is so he could do all sorts of whiny climb the mountain crap once he’s released, and face Liam Neeson with his particular set of skills (mostly ninja stuff). The first thing Neeson does is beat him up (hey, welcome to the party!) Ken Watanabe is also there inflicting multiple contusions on the English language.
We’re meant to think that Watanabe is the leader of this gang of oddball vigilantes. In fact – SPOILER! -it’s Neeson all along. The League, apparently, has always popped up throughout history to destroy civilizations just as they get too powerful for their own good (great idea, but where the fuck where they when the Nazis were coming to power?) He trains Bruce in ninja warrior stuff, so we get a Rocky-like montage.
Neeson tells Bruce that the only way to defeat your fear is to embrace it. I’m not sure Dr Phil would agree. Bruce’s fear is bats, because he fell down a well as a kid and was swarmed by them. He conquers the fear, of course, so well that later on he can summon hundreds of the things at a moment’s notice.
Back in Gotham, Bruce sets about doing all sorts of silly billionaire playboy nonsense to disguise his nocturnal vigilante activities. He’s helped by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and loved by Katie Holmes (who mysteriously later turned into Maggie Gyllenhaal).
There’s a gangster running Gotham, and he’s played (very badly) by Tom Wilkinson, and a dodgy psychiatrist who’s also a dangerous drug dealer called the Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy: I think he’s the best thing in the movie). Considering this was supposed to be a sober post-9/11 take on Batman, the plot is still stuck in ludicrous comic-book storytelling. There’s a magnetic weapon of some sort that vaporises water; a halluconegenic drug is put in the water; once the water is vaporised, everyone in Gotham will breathe in the drug and go crazy. Gotham will destroy itself, because the League of Shadows has always stepped in whenever civilizations have become too decadent. Of course they are thwarted by Batman, and the decadence continues, so I suppose we should blame Bruce Wayne for Duck Dynasty and the Kardashians.
Oh, and Joffrey shows up, but he’s only a little boy and not yet a cunt.
It has some very cheesy moments (at one point Gary Oldman sees the Batmobile whizzing away and says “I gotta get me one of those” – a line that should have been put to death five minutes after Will Smith said it in Independence Day)
Curiously, Gotham here looks very different from the other two films. Parts of the production design resemble Anton Furst’s leftover bits from the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacker movies. There are some very dodgy model shots.
But Nolan directs the whole thing quite well, and the story is less convoluted than the two sequels, and far less self-important. Bale is very good as Bruce/Batman, and I thought he looks appropriately young and boyish in the flashback to when he’s supposed to be a student. He hasn’t quite got the shouty growl we’ve come to expect, but the beginnings of it are there.
All in all, I think that Batman Begins is by no means terrible, and it’s a whole lot better than the sequels.