BATMAN BEGINS: The Movie We Needed Author: Ricky Church (@RICHARDCHURCH16)
Date: June 24, 2005
A young boy witnesses his parents gunned down in cold blood. Stricken with grief, he makes a vow to avenge his parents by fighting crime, striking fear into the criminals and corrupt. To do this, he realizes he has to become something else and creates a suit out of what he fears most: a bat. Bruce Wayne becomes The Batman.
Sounds pretty cheesy, right?
While Bruce Wayne’s character and motivations have gotten deep examinations in the comics, he never came across as the most interesting character in his own films. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) opened with him already Batman and never fleshed out why he dressed like a nocturnal animal. Batman Forever(1995) came the closest to examining Bruce Wayne’s character, yet missed the mark not only due to its campy tone, but also because of the deleted scenes regarding Bruce’s psyche.
Screenwriter David Goyer and director Christopher Nolan made it a point to focus on the question of who Batman is, or rather who Bruce Wayne is and why he chose to become Batman. Batman Begins emphasizes its characters over anything else and analyzes the importance of Bruce’s choice.
Bruce’s decision doesn’t happen overnight, but is built up through years of anger and resentment. A very important scene in Batman Begins that helps him decide what course of action to take is his confrontation with mob boss Carmine Falcone in a bar. Falcone points him around the room at all the notable people who help run Falcone’s machine. It is no accident all those people have lawful roles within Gotham City, showing Bruce that every legitimate avenue to save Gotham is closed. To Bruce, the choice is clear.
His transition from angry billionaire to superhero is one of the best deconstructions of Batman fans have ever gotten. Begins actually treats Bruce like a real character and by focusing so much on his motivations, it actually made it seem logical Bruce would become Batman. Even the reason why he dressed up as a bat is spoken out loud and given a very convincing yet simple reason: bats frighten Bruce so now his enemies will feel his dread.
Focusing so much on what made Bruce tick proved to be the right call as audiences who never found Batman ‘cool’ before now suddenly thought he was the best. Begins took people by surprise because Nolan brought a level of seriousness to a superhero film, both in story and in filmmaking, that had not been seen in quite sometime. People like to say The Dark Knight raised the bar for the quality of superhero films, and that is true to a large extent, but Begins is really where it, ahem, began. Studios now usually attempt to emulate Nolan’s work on Batman Begins when they make an origin story for a superhero. Iron Man, Captain America, The Amazing Spider-Man and even Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond in Casino Royale all used Begins as a blueprint. The term “reboot” even became famous in Hollywood thanks to Nolan wiping the slate clean and starting over from the Burton/Schumacher era. Superman recently received the Begins treatment with Man of Steel as well (that’s no coincidence though since Nolan handpicked Zack Snyder to direct and David Goyer wrote the script).
Batman Begins was a groundbreaking film for Batman as it finally made Batman cool again. It was a dream come true for fans as it gave an actual origin story for Batman on film, one where he was unquestionably the star. It also gave significant roles to Batman’s supporting cast; Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox were but a few who benefited from this focus on character. It still remains one of the best origins films for a superhero to date and its influence over the genre cannot be overshadowed. The Dark Knight may be the Batman film we deserved, but Batman Begins is definitely the one we needed. - Ricky Church