Batman Begins (2005) Movie Review

While watching “Batman Begins”, it’s best not to consider this installment in the Dark Knight’s life and times as being a part of the Burton and Schumacher (I still cringe saying that second name) Batman films. True to advance buzz, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” is an Origins Story, and one that rarely, if ever, takes its heed from the last four movies in the franchise. You could call it a prequel, but that wouldn’t exactly be correct; if it’s anything, “Batman Begins” is a “re-imagining”, basically a different version of a familiar story. And also true to rumors, Nolan has brought the Caped Crusader almost entirely down to Earth. Almost.

The first hour of “Batman Begins” doesn’t even have Batman anywhere in sight. Instead, the film opens with a disheveled and battered Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, “The Machinist”) locked up in a Chinese prison, picking fights with anyone who wants a piece of him (which, apparently, a lot of them do). Enter Ducard (Liam Neeson), a mysterious stranger who offers Bruce a chance at redemption — learn the secret arts of the League of Shadows, an ancient gathering of vigilantes, and he can become more than human — he can become legend. Bruce agrees, if only to cleanse himself of the guilt he feels over his parent’s death in a filthy alleyway back in Gotham City. (And no, it wasn’t at the hands of the Joker ala Burton’s “Batman”.)

After harsh and brutal ninja training in the mountains, Bruce bucks the final lesson of Ducard and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the leader of the League of Shadows, by refusing to kill. The disagreement ends with Bruce returning to Gotham City and Ra’s Al Ghul’s headquarters in ruins. Back in Gotham City, Bruce transforms himself into Batman, and finds allies in Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), the last honest cop on the force, and crusading District Attorney and Bruce’s childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Forming an unlikely alliance, the trio battle crime lord Tom Wilkinson and the devious Dr. Crane (Cillian Murphy), aka the Scarecrow, who claims to be working for someone else, someone more sinister.

There’s little doubt that Christopher Nolan (“Memento”) did exactly what he set out to do — make a gritty, grounded movie about a guy that fights crime wearing a Bat costume. The very first action scene in the film, coming a brief minute or two after a flashback to Bruce’s childhood, declares early on that “Batman Begins” is no Joel Schumacher production, or even a whimsical Tim Burton film. Even Gotham City gets a facelift. This is a city we can touch, that exists, and not models created from someone’s imagination. A mixture of the old and familiar, with a little dash of futuristic thrown in, Gotham City has never looked more real, or corrupt.

The same is true for the characters. Bruce Wayne’s pain has never felt so real, especially the flashbacks to his childhood. Young Gus Lewis, who plays the 8-year old Bruce Wayne, is dead on. You never felt Bruce’s pain in Burton’s “Batman”, and it certainly never even came up in Schumacher’s versions — or if it did, it was lost in the bright colors and rubber nipples. Even “Batman Begin’s” most outlandish sequence — when Batman takes the entire Gotham City P.D. on a highly destructive citywide chase — is tempered when Alfred chastises Bruce for being a thrill seeker instead of a man in search of justice. I don’t know if Nolan or Goyer wrote this post-chase sequence, but it makes “Batman Begins” just that much more grounded.

Previous reviews have remarked on the lack of visible action choreography in “Batman Begins”. I don’t see it. Literally. And guess what? It works. This is how it’s supposed to be. When Batman first appears in costume and attacks a group of thugs at a dock, he’s a vicious, horrifying monster. In a lot of ways, most of the scenes of Batman in action looks more like a horror movie — with a dark, unseen creature literally lifting and punching and kicking goons out of frame, faster than they know what’s happening, faster than our eyes can follow. The swift, brutal, and bone-crunching action also gives Batman the appearance of actually being able to move in his body armor, something that the previous “Batman” films could never convince.

A lot of the credit goes to Nolan for deciding early on and then sticking to the notion of a realistic Batman. After a night of battling thugs, Batman wakes up with bruises all over his body. When he first encounters the Scarecrow, Batman nearly gets himself killed, ending up on fire and frantically calling Alfred for salvation. Goyer’s script has its moments, but one suspects that the film’s biggest weakness, its Ra’s Al Ghul subplot (especially in the third act) is the fault of Goyer, who is known for such grand villainy in his comic book movies (of which the writer seems to have cornered the market).

It’s the last third of “Batman Begins” that is its weakest, especially when Ra’s Al Ghul, thought dead, resurfaces with a plan to destroy all of Gotham City for — well, it’s a bit silly, and belongs in a comic book, or at least in a Schumacher or Burton “Batman”. In a Nolan “Batman” movie, the “out there” idea of Ra’s Al Ghul to “cleanse” Gotham City and start all over again just seems out of place and too, well, comic booky. In a movie that is so determined to be as realistic as possible, the overblown third act, with a citywide disaster in the making, is too much to take in, and it overwhelms much of the grit that Nolan had created up to that point.

“Batman Begin’s” other major asset is Christian Bale, who is utterly convincing as the tormented Bruce Wayne and the athletic, ninja-like Batman. Bale has an outstanding supporting cast in Michael Caine, playing a younger version of Alfred (albeit not all that much “younger”), and Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) as Bruce’s de facto weaponsmith. The man known as the movie chameleon, Gary Oldman, delivers another outstanding supporting turn, and Oldman’s Jim Gordon is simply a treat whenever he’s onscreen. Equally fine is Tom Wilkinson as a vicious crimelord and Cillian Murphy (“28 Days Later”) as the downright creepy Scarecrow. Something about the insane twinkle in this guy’s eyes make you afraid of him, even if he happens to look like a nerd.

Alas, poor Katie Holmes fares the worst, and like Natalie Portman in the “Star Wars” films, I’m not entirely sure if Holmes is just not a very substantive actress (or an actress capable of strong emotions), or if it’s just some of the silly things Goyer and Nolan’s script has her say. Basically a walking fortune cookie (but insert poorly delivered self-righteous platitudes in lieu of Chinese wisdom), “Batman Begins” would have been so much better without the Dawes character. If you want to know how little impact Holmes’ character, or Holmes herself has on the movie, you could remove the character completely and it would have made for a tighter, more focused film.

“Batman Begins” marks a stunning return to form for the Caped Crusader. Or actually, it’s a return to the character’s Frank Miller days, when the Dark Knight Detective cracked bones and crushed thugs with surgical precision and didn’t waste time trading one-liners with his over-the-top foes in bright garb. With such an all-around excellent beginning under his belt, a dream “Batman” sequel would be one that takes place somewhere in the future, where an aging Bruce Wayne, long retired from his Dark Knight duties, must once again don the cape and cowl to bring order to the world.

One can only hope.

Christopher Nolan (director) / Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer (screenplay)
CAST: Christian Bale …. Bruce Wayne/Batman
Michael Caine …. Alfred
Liam Neeson …. Ducard
Katie Holmes …. Rachel Dawes
Gary Oldman …. Jim Gordon
Cillian Murphy …. Dr. Jonathan Crane
Tom Wilkinson …. Carmine Falcone
Rutger Hauer …. Earle
Ken Watanabe …. Ra’s Al Ghul


Buy Batman Begins on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • Kevin

    This review starts amazing which I really agree with everything but then it completely bashes the movie for such small reasons. How can the movie not have a love interest from childhood. Maybe you never had a love interest from childhood but that was great for Bruce to have a childhood love and she is the one who takes him to the underworld to show him the reality of everything. She is a key player in helping him to want to find himself to be a better person inside and become batman. Which is someone who believes in Justice and not revenge or playing God.

    Rachel and Alfred are the only true emotions to batman’s tie to Gotham and that is what makes him stand up to his mentor which is extremely difficult.

    Also, you bring down the final act where ra’s shows up to truly reveal himself. I mean come on! if you didn’t see that coming you must not know the actor. There was no way that character was not going to be a huge part of the movie. He plays the best role in training batman and then becomes his biggest threat.

    When he surprises Bruce at his birthday party that was truly amazing, that was the best part of the movie! He finally found himself facing an equal fight and he needed to kill his mentor which in the end he doesn’t but tells him he doesn’t have to save him either, that was truly brilliant writing!

    The story was so real and I could see it happening in a city where cops are corropted and a rich soldier gets technology that can help him move outside the law. This finally showed the real Batman for what he truly is and my wife finally understands the whole batman thing.

    What I love about this batman is that it was made for adults and not for children. That is what spiderman lacked and star wars and so many other movies like the old batman and superman movies.

    The producers, writers, and directors have to start making these movies both rated R and a kids version. That way you can make everyone happy. Can you imagine a spiderman as serious as batman movie.

    I watch spiderman 3 just yesterday and it really sucked. After I watched the star wars movies and they are terrible. The problem is that they try to make a movie for a family to enjoy and that’s where everything goes wrong.

    Forget the kids, let them have the toys and cartoons. After all, they end up not even being able to concentrate and they actually hate the comedy as well.

    A super hero movie should never have comedy because it takes away everything.

    Batman begins and The Dark Night have open the doors for a new era of comic characters. Lets face it, at the end of the day it’s the adults that pay are disappointed with child like films.

    To be honest, our kids loved batman begins because they don’t think or care about having comedy in the movie. They like to see the batman character at his best.

    A agree with you a lot but you lost me at the end! And great ending to a movie has to have a twist and surprise. This movie delivered and also showed that batman was trained by Ninja’s which is something that not too many people know.

    Remember, it’s called Batman begins and it’s a realistic story that blew my mind away. I always wanted people to see the training and how he becomes batman. Very well made and I wouldn’t change a thing. It ended with the Joker card and that left everyone wondering if that would ruin the franchise and they actually created the Dark Night which is the best movie of all time in action, drama, and in Super heros. They chose the perfect actors in both movies. I’ve seen both movies a few times and I can’t get enough of the joker who died in real life and left us such a gift.

    When you say you hate the final plot, I don’t get it? The plot is relavent with the world we live in today. Hello, weapons of mass destruction? and how a terrorist see’s another kind of truth. I loved seeing the process of bruce wayne slowly becoming batman.

    I hate movies the Star Wars where you see characters like the stupid yellow robot or like the stupid Ja Ja Character which is their for the kids. How can you have the best concept of creating a Jedi and not make them like Batman where it’s all serious and no comedy please.

    The best example of a good super hero with comedy is Spiderman. The part where you here the orginal song being played by a lady in the subway. Or the stupid things that spiderman focuses on. The final spiderman sucked because of the child like way it was made.

    It also shows how good people like the Waynes build things to help unite a city.

    I think your way off and The Dark Night Proves that because it no one has ever seen both movies, you can show them back to back and that is truly amazing.

    I just hope part three uses the same characters and gives us an opening for a part four and five. Why is it that good movies always end on the third flick. Keep going with amazing stories and get to batman beyond where Bruce Wayne is Cloned to be the next batman. That would be awesome….

    Also, the part where scare crow is holucinating and sees batman as a demon, wow, that was amazing.

    The only thing I hate is how Katie Holmes wasn’t in the second movie but I actually liked the new rachel and it didn’t make a difference.

    The only movie that even comes close to batman is V for Vendetta which Natalie Portman stars in the amazing flick. V is like the british batman and that was cool. Iron man is what batman could be if we move toward Batman beyond. The future looks good and producers and directors have to have patience and not just give us something fast and soft. I don’t care if it takes 5 years, just give us the same magic the first 2 movies did. Please!

  • Kevin

    This review starts amazing which I really agree with everything but then it completely bashes the movie for such small reasons. How can the movie not have a love interest from childhood. Maybe you never had a love interest from childhood but that was great for Bruce to have a childhood love and she is the one who takes him to the underworld to show him the reality of everything. She is a key player in helping him to want to find himself to be a better person inside and become batman. Which is someone who believes in Justice and not revenge or playing God.

    Rachel and Alfred are the only true emotions to batman’s tie to Gotham and that is what makes him stand up to his mentor which is extremely difficult.

    Also, you bring down the final act where ra’s shows up to truly reveal himself. I mean come on! if you didn’t see that coming you must not know the actor. There was no way that character was not going to be a huge part of the movie. He plays the best role in training batman and then becomes his biggest threat.

    When he surprises Bruce at his birthday party that was truly amazing, that was the best part of the movie! He finally found himself facing an equal fight and he needed to kill his mentor which in the end he doesn’t but tells him he doesn’t have to save him either, that was truly brilliant writing!

    The story was so real and I could see it happening in a city where cops are corropted and a rich soldier gets technology that can help him move outside the law. This finally showed the real Batman for what he truly is and my wife finally understands the whole batman thing.

    What I love about this batman is that it was made for adults and not for children. That is what spiderman lacked and star wars and so many other movies like the old batman and superman movies.

    The producers, writers, and directors have to start making these movies both rated R and a kids version. That way you can make everyone happy. Can you imagine a spiderman as serious as batman movie.

    I watch spiderman 3 just yesterday and it really sucked. After I watched the star wars movies and they are terrible. The problem is that they try to make a movie for a family to enjoy and that’s where everything goes wrong.

    Forget the kids, let them have the toys and cartoons. After all, they end up not even being able to concentrate and they actually hate the comedy as well.

    A super hero movie should never have comedy because it takes away everything.

    Batman begins and The Dark Night have open the doors for a new era of comic characters. Lets face it, at the end of the day it’s the adults that pay are disappointed with child like films.

    To be honest, our kids loved batman begins because they don’t think or care about having comedy in the movie. They like to see the batman character at his best.

    A agree with you a lot but you lost me at the end! And great ending to a movie has to have a twist and surprise. This movie delivered and also showed that batman was trained by Ninja’s which is something that not too many people know.

    Remember, it’s called Batman begins and it’s a realistic story that blew my mind away. I always wanted people to see the training and how he becomes batman. Very well made and I wouldn’t change a thing. It ended with the Joker card and that left everyone wondering if that would ruin the franchise and they actually created the Dark Night which is the best movie of all time in action, drama, and in Super heros. They chose the perfect actors in both movies. I’ve seen both movies a few times and I can’t get enough of the joker who died in real life and left us such a gift.

    When you say you hate the final plot, I don’t get it? The plot is relavent with the world we live in today. Hello, weapons of mass destruction? and how a terrorist see’s another kind of truth. I loved seeing the process of bruce wayne slowly becoming batman.

    I hate movies the Star Wars where you see characters like the stupid yellow robot or like the stupid Ja Ja Character which is their for the kids. How can you have the best concept of creating a Jedi and not make them like Batman where it’s all serious and no comedy please.

    The best example of a good super hero with comedy is Spiderman. The part where you here the orginal song being played by a lady in the subway. Or the stupid things that spiderman focuses on. The final spiderman sucked because of the child like way it was made.

    It also shows how good people like the Waynes build things to help unite a city.

    I think your way off and The Dark Night Proves that because it no one has ever seen both movies, you can show them back to back and that is truly amazing.

    I just hope part three uses the same characters and gives us an opening for a part four and five. Why is it that good movies always end on the third flick. Keep going with amazing stories and get to batman beyond where Bruce Wayne is Cloned to be the next batman. That would be awesome….

    Also, the part where scare crow is holucinating and sees batman as a demon, wow, that was amazing.

    The only thing I hate is how Katie Holmes wasn’t in the second movie but I actually liked the new rachel and it didn’t make a difference.

    The only movie that even comes close to batman is V for Vendetta which Natalie Portman stars in the amazing flick. V is like the british batman and that was cool. Iron man is what batman could be if we move toward Batman beyond. The future looks good and producers and directors have to have patience and not just give us something fast and soft. I don’t care if it takes 5 years, just give us the same magic the first 2 movies did. Please!