“If you make yourself more than just a man. If you devote yourself to an ideal. And if they can’t stop you. Then you become something else entirely.”
(Throughout this year we’re going to be diving into films, TV shows and movements from 2000 to ’20 that changed the entertainment world. Today we begin with a look back at Batman Begins, the film that made every studio decide they need their own “gritty, realistic reboot.”)
After the failure of Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers began looking in a new direction for the Batman franchise. After years of development on different projects, they finally settled on a reboot of the franchise with Christopher Nolan (Memento) directing a script he co-wrote with David Goyer (Blade). The result was a realistic take on the Batman mythology which would see Bruce Wayne’s journey from childhood trauma to becoming the Caped Crusader. The film would feature elements of his origin not seen before on the big screen, including him travelling around the world, and learning different fighting styles from a man named Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson). It would also feature two villains who had never been seen on the big screen but were fan favorites, Sacrecrow, played by Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) and Ra’s al Ghul played by Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai).
The film would become a moderate success, and would lead Warner Brothers to greenlight a sequel, with Christian Bale, who portrayed Batman, and Christopher Nolan becoming hot commodities as the franchise grew. But the film did more than just make a name for these two artists. It changed everything in Hollywood by giving a “gritty, realistic, reboot” to a character who had often been associated with campy material.
The success of the reboot, not only financially but as a solid film, made Hollywood believe that every IP could be rebooted in a “gritty, realistic” way and find success. The flaw in that thinking is the fact that Batman is a gritty and somewhat realistic character. He’s a character with 80 years of material that mostly consists of him beating up criminals on the street and working in the shadows. He’s a dark and gritty character, that leads himself to this type of storytelling. But applying that to every single IP (intellectual property), doesn’t work. Some material is supposed to have some camp or lightheartedness to it, and overall Batman Begins thrives not because it’s a gritty reboot, but because it’s true to the character.
The film doesn’t take itself seriously, but it does take the world it’s creating seriously. In doing so it creates a story that makes sense, and plays into the strengths of this mythology and the format in which it’s being presented. Having Bruce Wayne steal from Wayne Enterprises in order to survive is a smart move, and something that Bruce would do in the comics. Having him trained by Henri Ducard, is something that’s done in the comics. Having Alfred (Michael Caine) order ten thousand copies of the headpiece for his cowl helps play into the reality of this world, and something that would fit into the comics.
Batman can straddle that line between the realistic and the fantastic because he is simply a man. He doesn’t come from another planet, he doesn’t have any super powers. Batman is simply a human pushed to the utmost limits of what can be achieved by a human. He has unlimited resources, and unlimited wealth to achieve any sort of training he needs, and buy any sort of material he may need. Nolan and Goyer took these aspects of the character and let them fly, and in doing so created a story that makes sense on every level. This isn’t just a good comic book movie, or superhero origin film, it’s something that is completely feasible.
Overall that’s where Batman Begins starts to thrive. It continues with pitch perfect versions of the characters within this universe. Everyone from Bruce and Alfred to Ra’s and Scarecrow is portrayed as if they leaped off of the page of a comic book. These actors and these performances are the go to standard for how this type of material should be handled. They may not always look exactly how they’re usually presented on the page of a comic book. But their performances are as high caliber as they would be for a period piece or historical drama. Again, Nolan took this world seriously, and he gave it the respect it deserved, and in doing so he crafted a world that is beautiful and incredibly true to the source material.
A big help with that is the excellent cinematography by Wally Pfister and the amazing production design by Nathan Crowley. Their work helped to create a cinematic image which fits everything you expect from Batman. Whether you come to the character from the 90’s animated series, or are a lifelong comic book fan, there isn’t an image from this film that you could look at and not immediately distinguish as a Batman feature. Hans Zimmer score is also on point, never giving us the well known Danny Elfman queues from the original Tim Burton films, but instead giving us deep dark themes which heighten every single moment, and every bit of action or self reflection throughout the film.
Every piece of Batman Begins work so seamlessly that it’s amazing to think that the film could ever be overshadowed by another movie in terms of the standard for comic book or superhero films. It may not be referenced as such, but this movie is the basis for which all Superhero films from the past 15 years have followed. It’s also the basis for nearly everything Hollywood has done to redefine IP in film. It’s a film that should be touted as one of the greatest cinematic landmarks of our time. A solid story, amazing performances, phenomenal work in front of and behind the camera on every single level. But as Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) explains to the Caped Crusader at the end of the film, escalation will always be there when good prevails.
Written by Alex Lancaster
(Alex is a life long film fan, and has dedicated his life to watching, making and obsessing over films. His favorite film is Big Fish, and he despises Avatar. He has a 5 year old son. And a bad habit of saying more than he needs to. Follow @alex5348 on Twitter)