Rating: 4 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered by a mugger after leaving an opera. He’s grown-up now but he’s still pissed about it.
He travels around the world hanging out with criminals to learn their ways. As he does, he develops enough empathy for them that, while he still wants to stop them and work on the side of justice and order, he doesn’t want to actually murder them.
Wayne is recruited by the League of Shadows, who teach him to use fear and theatricality to dominate his enemies. They part ways when they ask him to execute a criminal and he refuses.
Returning to Gotham, Wayne turns his own fear of bats into a weapon against criminals as… The Batman!
This is a pretty legit Batman movie. I’ll never be tired of seeing a group of criminals pacing around terrified, shooting at every noise, while Batman quietly and discreetly swoops in and picks them off one-by-one. We also get Batman fighting a group of guys all at once, Batman racing through the streets in the Batmobile, and Batman summoning a tremendous swarm of bats to distract and confuse the crooked police officers chasing him. It’s nearly everything you’d want Batman to do all in one movie.
Christian Bale is a great actor and I don’t mind his Batman voice.
Cillian Murphy is a fantastic villain. Between this and Red Eye I am baffled that he’s not in more films. He’s a terrific Scarecrow.
Liam Neeson is doing his Liam Neeson thing. In hindsight it seems obvious since Neeson looks just like the comics version of Ra’s al Ghul, but the first time I saw this film I was completely shocked by the reveal that he wasn’t merely Ducard.
This movie is packed with great actors actually: Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, even Tom Wilkinson. I also like Katie Holmes more than most people probably do, though she doesn’t have a lot do (except for the wonderful moment where she completely defeats Scarecrow by tazing him in the face, and the last we see of him is him screaming being carried off by a runaway horse).
The use of practical effects and miniatures make some of the big action scenes look quite impressive, such as the train smashing through the parking garage.
The Nolan films have a reputation for being dark and serious but there’s actually some wit and humor here, which I appreciate.
“I analyzed your blood, isolating the receptor compounds and the protein-based catalyst.”
“Am I meant to understand any of that?”
“Not at all, I just wanted you to know how hard it was.”
I don’t really get the whole deal with the League of Shadows. They’re a little too silly and obscure to feel like a legitimate threat, and their motivations are very hazy. At first it sounds like they want to destroy Gotham because it’s been irredeemably corrupted since it went through an economic depression, but then later Ra’s reveals that the League caused the depression to begin with because they wanted to destroy Gotham either way. He also rants about the League having caused the destruction of various major cities throughout history. The whole deal with the League up to this point is that they hate criminals and injustice, but it sounds like they just hate big cities. And how a hut full of ninjas on a mountaintop caused Gotham’s crappy economy is unclear. Attributing every bad thing that’s ever happened in the world of Batman Begins to one source is supposed to make the source more threatening, but it just makes the world feel small.
The romance between Bruce and Rachel doesn’t work. They don’t have chemistry, and it seems like they’ve barely spent any time together since they were children. And then once Rachel finds out that Bruce is Batman, she kisses him, and gives him a confusing bit of badly-written dialogue:
“I never stopped thinking about you. About us. And when I heard you were back, I… I started to hope. Then I found out about your mask.”
“Batman’s just a symbol, Rachel.”
“No, no, this… is your mask. Your real face is the one that criminals now fear. The man I loved – the man who vanished – he never came back at all. But maybe he’s still out there, somewhere. Maybe someday, when Gotham no longer needs Batman, I’ll see him again.”
So Rachel goes from being a morally-upright and determined district attorney who is with-it enough to zap Scarecrow in the face with a tazer to yet another female love-interest scold who wants the cool male hero to stop doing the thing the audience really wants him to do. Even in 2005 this was a cliché.
Some of the fight scenes are choppily edited and hard to follow.