BATMAN BEGINS

After the abysmal disaster that was Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. wasn’t feeling the desire to allow Joel Schumacher to direct another Bat-film. Funnily enough, before the film’s release, they were committed to the director and were even planning for a fifth film called Batman Triumphant or Batman Unchained. Both titles seem to have coexisted. One or both may be correct. I don’t know.

Fan made poster

This film would have seen most of the cast return and have them face-off against the Scarecrow and Harley Quinn. Potential actors to play Scarecrow were Jeff Goldblum and Nicolas Cage, with Cage being the frontrunner. Courtney Love and Madonna were apparently considered for Harley. This already sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately for us, Batman & Robin performed terribly and Warner Bros. changed their minds. 

However, they didn’t settle on an immediate reboot. Rumors circulated for years that Warner Bros. wanted to take the franchise forward and cash in on its hot new Batman, Terry McGinnis. Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin apparently approached the show’s creators about making the film which was then pitched to Warner Bros. They were obviously ecstatic because now they didn’t have to figure it out, so they allowed Yakin to write the script however he saw fit. When he came back with something that was a definite R rating, everyone began to reconsider. Once film politics came into play, Yakin left the project.

So the studio chose to start over. Revitalize Batman and get rid of the campiness that was reassociated with it. The studio began looking at hot new filmmakers that would have the right edge to bring the darkness back to the bat. Darren Aronosky has recently made a name for himself with his Academy Award winning film Requiem for a Dream (great film BTW). So the studio approached him to make a new Batman. However, Aronofsky’s ideas conflicted with what the studio wanted which led them to part ways.

The studio then looked to Christopher Nolan to direct which obviously worked out for everyone. And luckily they trusted his judgments, otherwise we could have been stuck with the studio choice of Freddie Prinze Jr. as Batman. Deciding to loosely adapt Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Nolan approved his pitch and allowed him to reboot one of their most lucrative franchises.

From the outset, hearing that Christian Bale was going to be Batman seemed like a great fit to me. Having started out as a child actor, it wasn’t until I saw him in American Psycho that I took note of him. I could see him doing something bigger, but I never expected him to play Batman. To me, it somehow seemed beneath him. However, with a respected director and a respected actor then surrounded by even more respected actors, the project looked to be shaping up as something we’d never seen before.

Michael Caine isn’t necessarily what I picture when I think of Alfred, but he is amazing in the role. He doesn’t just tend to Bruce, but continually challenges him and his decisions at every turn which is what the character needs. Alfred is Bruce’s tether to normality. Without him, he would run himself into the ground. Finally introducing Lucius Fox into the films was great, especially utilizing an actor like Morgan Freeman. He’s a man who’s already wise to Bruce from the start and just asks not to be treated like an idiot. Fair enough, right.

Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon was an inspired choice if I ever saw one. The man had made a career playing eccentric characters and now would have to play one of the most straight-laced, by the book, detectives ever written. Yet Oldman knocks it out of the park and looks like the character come to life on screen.. To me, this is what you call perfect casting.

Liam Neeson was a great choice for Ra’s Al Ghul, even though I was originally taken aback by that twist in theaters. The narrative had me believing that the Scarecrow was the big bad of the film and even when it was revealed that Ra’s was still alive, I didn’t expect to see Neeson appear, but instead Ken Wantanabe. I’m sure the signs were there but I missed them. That’s the strength of an engrossing story to me.

Cillian Murphy was a good enough Scarecrow. I thoroughly enjoyed how the fear toxin was utilized in the film. Shots seeing its effects really made the film stand out to me. Never seen THAT in a Batman movie. Katie Holmes is also good as Rachel Dawes. I thought she did fine here and hated that she didn’t return in the sequel. Casting inconsistencies really bug the shit out of me.

One thing that has gotten tiresome in Batman films is watching the death of his parents. It’s a familiar tale we all know by now, just like Superman being jettisoned from Krypton or as an equal parallel, Uncle Ben dying in Spider-Man. These moments are supposed to define our characters, yet sometimes with subtle changes, it can make all the difference. This interpretation is perfect in my opinion because not only is it a tragic moment for Bruce watching his parents being shot by a random thug, but also because of WHY they wound up in the alley to begin with. Now, it’s not only about Bruce dealing with that loss but a feeling of guilt that he is responsible. That adds so many layers to the character. Perfection.

Even exploring his journey into becoming Batman and WHY he chooses THAT persona is compounded by the minor addition of a fear of bats. “It’s time my enemies shared my dread.” Solid writing. When I initially caught wind of the new Batmobile aka the Tumbler, I wasn’t sold on it. Then I saw it in action and I changed my tune. I know it’s not a universal favorite but I still dig. Not my favorite Batmobile, especially not anymore.

The police chase scene is one of the highlights of the film for me. In fact, props to director of photography Wally Pfister for superbly capturing every frame. Not everyone can shoot car chases and capture the intensity. That was an “edge of my seat” sequence for me in theaters and I still get a vibe to this day.

The score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer is another elevating element to the film that gives it some gravitas. While most of the musical cues aren’t as recognizable as those in Danny Eflman’s score, his Batman theme is definitely one of my favorites. It just exudes the sounds of a true hero theme. 

Batman Begins was a breath of fresh air for the character on the big screen. The material was more grounded, yet still with a comic book flair. In 2000, X-Men redefined what a comic book movie could be and has even been cited as a source of inspiration for Nolan. But even if X-Men showed how good comic book movies could be, Batman Begins would show how much greater they can be.

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