Breaking through the fear, and becoming a legend. A symbol.
With the release of the abysmal ‘Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ earlier in the year, it seemed only fitting to revisit Batman’s previous outing, beginning with Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’. Nolan’s trilogy has been held by many as quintessential viewing when it comes to superhero films, as it delves deep into Batman’s long history and presents it in a grounded fashion, making it more accessible to a non-comic reading audience, leading to its success at the box office, as well as pleasing to the long time Bat fans.
Batman Begins brings Batman’s already well known origin to the big screen, but places a much larger emphasis on Bruce Wayne, rather than Batman. Allowing us to emphasis with Bruce and attempt to understand why a character like Batman would exist. The film’s opening and subsequent flash backs to childhood build up the ongoing presence of Bats throughout Bruce’s life, as well as his happy and fulfilling childhood and his relationship with his parents, especially his father. This gives a far greater weight to his parents death, as we have a greater understanding of how pivirol a role they played in shaping him. He reminds Bruce that when we fall, we must pick ourselves back up. While 2016s ‘Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’ places a large, and somewhat convoluted, emphasis on mothers, Batman Begins develops Bruce’s relationship with his father and the respect he has for him. His father is the one to initially pull him back out of the cave, surrounded by his fear, and tells him that it’s ok. The inciting incident that causes his parents death, comes from his father wanting to keep Bruce feeling safe. The change from ‘The Mark of Zorro’ to a play featuring Bats, allows Bruce’s fear to get the better of him and leads directly to the meeting with Joe Chill in crime alley. This adds a level of guilt to Bruce’s fear, and already tainted perception of Bats. Bruce even confides in Ducard that his “anger out ways [his] guilt”. The image of Bruce sat, almost centre screen, in the alley, perfectly mirrors the depictions in Frank Millar and David Mazzucchelli ‘Batman: Year One’, which the film takes heavy inspiration from.
At its heart, Batman Begins is a film about fear. How our fears can rule us, the importance of overcoming it and using it to grow stronger. Several characters throughout the film remind Bruce of the power of fear, Ducard reminds Bruce of what fear can do to us, “What you really fear, is inside yourself. You fear your own power, you fear your anger. The drive to do great and terrible things”. Bruce’s meeting with Falcone provides him with the proof that being feared gives you a power that “money just can’t buy. The power of fear”. With Scarecrow being the culmination of fear as power in the hands of a villain, “I respect the minds power over the body. It’s why I do what I do”.
Bruce’s devotion to his father is further emphasised in two later scenes. During his training, Ducard tells Bruce that his parents death was not his fault, it was his father, enraging Bruce. “Your anger gives you great power, but if you let it, it will destroy you.” Later, during a flashback to the day of Joe Chill’s trial, Bruce reveals to Rachael that he planned to kill Joe Chill himself and presents the gun that he had been hiding. Rachael slaps him and reminds him that his father would be ashamed of his decision. The earlier devotion shown towards his father, and his father’s profession as a doctor (a healer), instils in Bruce the idea that killing is not the answer, that it makes you no better than the criminals that took his parents away from him. Cemented when he throws the gun away into the ocean.
These early interactions and conversation shape the idea in Bruce’s mind of what he needs to be to insight any change in the city, and bring the criminals of Gotham to their knees. Bruce’s trek to the League’s hideout and his immediate fight with Ducard hit hard as reminders that he must be ready at all times. The villains will not wait for him, they will come at any time. He must be prepared to be the Batman at all times. The lessons he learns from Ducard allow him to not only understand his fears but understand the power it has over others, “to manipulate the fears in others, you must first conquer your own”.
“As a man, as flesh and blood, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol. As a symbol, I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” “Something terrifying.”
The use of the Scarecrow and Dr. Jonathan Crane is a bold choice as a lead villain in Nolan’s first outing with Batman. The character is little used outside of the comics, making him far less known than some of the other members of Batman’s rouge gallery, such as The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin or even the Riddler. This allows actor Cillian Murphy to leave an impressive mark on the character and define him in the public consciousness. The implementation of Scarecrow in to Batman’s origin story, plays largely into the films theme of fear as Bruce must overcome his own fear, become fear in the hearts of criminals, and defeat fear in the form of Scarecrow.
The Films portrayal of Jim Gordon borrows heavily from ‘Batman: Year One’, with Gordon acting as a moral centre for a corrupt Police Department. Oldman plays Gordon incredibly well, as a man who emphasises with the Batman, hating the corruption that runs through the Gotham PD and the city, but wants to change things from the inside. Becoming a lawful counterpart to Batman. Michael Caine brings a great depth of emotion to his portrayal of Alfred, giving Alfred a far more apparent position as a surrogate father figure to Bruce. One that emphasises the importance of that relationship more for Alfred then to Bruce, as appose to previous incarnations.
The city of Gotham is grounded much more in reality compared to previous incarnations, feeling much more like a living breathing city, helped by its influences from the real life cities of New York and Chicago, as appose to the sound stage hell created for the Burton and Schumacher films.
Batman Begins takes heavy influence from several key Batman stories throughout his almost 80 year history. With ‘Batman: Year One’ by Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli, being the largest contributer to both Bruce’s origins, Gordon’s characterisation, as well as heavily influencing visual aspects of the film. Details of Bruce’s training in the mountains take its lead from the 1989 one-shot ‘The Man Who Falls’, and the films depiction of Scarecrow borrows heavily from the works of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’ and ‘Batman: Haunted Knight’. Other titles the film could possibly take influence from are ‘Batman #232’, ‘Batman: War on Crime’, ‘Batman Annual #8’, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Batman #400’.
Batman Begins is a strong opening to The Dark Knight Trilogy, and a fine example of an origin story done right, though origin story films have become somewhat over saturated since the film’s release. The depth to which the film borrows from Batman’s long history and the extraordinary casting, gives us a faithful and interesting look and the Caped Crusader on the big screen, excisable for both long time fans and the general public. While Batman Begins works largely as an origin story, and does it well, it would have been interesting to see the evolution of Batman’s detective abilities as he is the Dark Knight Detective, something I feel few films have explored about the character and could be an interesting premise for future outings.