VOD film review: Batman Begins
Ivan Radford | On 06, Sep 2018
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes
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“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me,” says Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in Batman Begins, the first entry in Christopher Nolan’s brooding and bold Dark Knight trilogy.
The film is a smart, slick and unabashedly shadowy affair – one that shrugs off the camp of Joel Schumacher’s 1990s Batfranchise and takes things in a firmly gritty direction that, even years later, is still strikingly ambitious. Borrowing a leaf from Batman: Year One, Nolan and David S Goyer’s script introduces us to the Caped Crusader in a Gotham City that has become mired in corruption. With Gary Oldman on fine form as Sergeant James Gordon, the only straight cop on a corrupt force, this is as much crime drama as it is superhero blockbuster – and, laced with flashbacks to the now-familiar death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, that low-key tone brings real resonance to the trauma haunting the heir to the Wayne empire.
We catch up with Bruce as he’s escaping his past in the middle of nowhere – a journey that brings him into contact with Ducard (Liam Neeson), a man linked to the radical Ra’s al Ghul and the dangerous League of Shadows. Once back home, he finds Gotham under threat from Scarecrow (a scene-stealing Cillian Murphy), the alter-ego of Jonathan Crane, a pharmacologist obsessed with fear and who harbours his own nefarious plans.
Kicking off a trio of Batflicks with a villain primarily interested in manipulating people’s minds is par for the course for Nolan, who recruits Christian Bale to bring an intensity to Bruce’s inner conflicts – this is the first time we’ve really been allowed to invest in Wayne’s psychological and emotional well-being, as well as Batman’s escapades, and Bale’s engaging, glowering vulnerability is balanced delicately by Michael Caine’s chipper performance as his loyal butler, Alfred.
Throw in Morgan freeman as Lucius Fox, a man who gives Batman’s gadgets and costumes a scientific grounding, and you end up with a franchise that tries to stay as grounded as possible – even its big climax is rooted in the geography of Gotham City as much as any Big Bad’s evil schemes. That’s not to say there isn’t blockbusting to be had, as Nolan proves himself capable of juggling big-budget set pieces with aplomb, while the action and human drama is neatly echoed by an innovative score co-written by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer.
With practical stunts and model work prioritised over CGI, the result is a spectacular superhero movie that deliberately avoids behaving like one. Its narrower, character-driven focus gives Batman Begins a lean, mean quality that makes it the strongest of Nolan’s trilogy. “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me,” Batman declares halfway through, but by delving into the psychology of a man who turns his pain into action, Batman Begins understands the opposite is true. The fact that it spawned a generation of dark, gritty superhero movies is testament to its success.
Batman Begins is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.