"Nolan has gone beyond DC Comics into a psychological no-man's land where lessons can be learned."

The mood has changed. The Gothic look that Tim Burton created for Batman and Batman Returns has gone. The flashy pantoesque style of Joel Schumacher in Batman Forever and Batman And Robin is ditched. The campy comic book villains and noble, empty hero has been replaced by something approaching... real life?

In the beginning, there was a boy called Bruce Wayne, who lived in a Victorian pile on the edge of Gotham City. One day, he fell down a disused well in the grounds, awakening a colony of bats that flew screeching past him to the safety of the sky. Ever since, the boy has been terrified of the creatures.

Copy picture

This is the story of how Bruce conquered his fear. His father's last words, as he lay dying, shot in an alley by a mugger, were: "Don't be afraid." As a young man, Bruce disowns his inheritance, wandering the world, imprisoned in Asia, adopted by a secret society, called The League Of Shadows, not unlike al-Qa'eda - excluding the Muslim faith, including fascist philosophies - whose HQ is on a mountain top in Tibet.

This early section of the film is in danger of straying into Highlander territory, or even The Phantom Menace, as Bruce's tutor at The League's school of hard knocks (ref: The Last Samurai) is Ducard (an emaciated Liam Neeson), who resembles, both physically and psychologically, a Jedi Knight.

Co-writer/director Christopher Nolan, best known for Memento (and British to boot), is concerned with the evolution of a mixed up kid, from guilt-stained confusion to the self-styled arbiter of justice in a city already ruled by the crime lord Falcone (a chilling Tom Wilkinson), where rotting slums encroach downtown's faded flamboyance. He never allows his protagonist (intelligently played by Christian Bale) to forget the responsibility of his birthright, aided by cryptic reminders from the family butler (Michael Caine in majestic form).

"What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing?"

Almost everywhere you look there are references to the politics of post 9/11. Is Ducard's attitude to Gotham any different to George W Bush's attitude to Kabul, Baghdad, Tehran? Nolan has gone beyond DC Comics into a psychological no-man's land where lessons can be learned. How Bruce becomes the iconic vigilante ("As a symbol I can be incorruptible") is logical every step of the way. He is helped by Mr Fox (Morgan Freeman), a Q figure, who works in the bowels of Wayne Tower and is a technical wizard. The batmobile, for example, is not what you expect and yet appears infinitely more credible as a result. There is a chase through the streets of the city that will blow what remains of your mind.

If The Joker dropped by, with his leery grin and circus clothes, he would be dismissed as a raving lunatic, which may be a genuine criticism of Nolan's consummate work. The prequel does not fit what will follow - or rather, has followed - despite scintillating visual feats and daring stunts. This is as much an investigation into the human heart as the recreation of a superhero's early days.

"It's what you do that defines you."

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2005
Share this with others on...
Batman Begins packshot
The evolution of mixed up rich kid Bruce Wayne into the Dark Knight of Gotham City.
Amazon link

Read more Batman Begins reviews:

Stephen Carty *****
Scott Macdonald ****1/2
The Remote Viewer ****

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan, David S Goyer

Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Morgan Freeman, Linus Roache, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Gus Lewis, Sara Stewart

Year: 2005

Runtime: 141 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


Search database: