February 4, 2006
The fact that it took eight years for a new Batman film to be released illustrates how freaked out the studio was over the commercial and critical failure of Batman and Robin (1997). Warner Brothers gave the franchise a much needed rest while they quietly looked for someone to reboot it. At first, it looked like Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller might be the ones but the studio didn’t like their vision. Then came screenwriter David S. Goyer and up-and-coming director Christopher Nolan who decided to return the Dark Knight back to his roots. They wanted to explore what motivated Bruce Wayne to dress up like a giant bat and wage war on the criminals of Gotham City. By all accounts, their effort, fittingly entitled Batman Begins (2005), was a resounding success. The critics loved it and audiences flocked to the theatres to see it. So, what did they do right?
The casting. While anyone can disappear into the bat suit and look scary it’s playing Bruce Wayne that is the real challenge. To date, only Michael Keaton has pulled it off because he brought a complexity to the role. Christian Bale, who has proven that he’s got considerable acting chops with an impressive resume, perfectly captures the essence of the tortured billionaire. Also gone are the obvious casting of marquee names like Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger in favour of reliable character actors like Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy and Rutger Hauer. They bring sincerity and just the right amount of believability to their roles. The only weak bit of casting is Katie Holmes who is utterly forgettable as the token damsel in distress.
The story. Goyer and Nolan remain true to the spirit of Batman’s origins as depicted by Bob Kane and Bill Finger (with a dash of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One), right down to how Bruce’s parents are killed and how this torments him throughout his life. Their death will provide the motivation for what he will become and the filmmakers never lose sight of this. They understand that it is Bruce’s single-minded obsession with fighting crime and keeping the darkness at bay is what motivates him to become Batman and Bale embodies his character’s inner turmoil perfectly. The first half of the film is devoted to Bruce’s transformation into Batman and the last half sees him defend Gotham City against a plot to poison the city with a deadly psychotropic drug. The screenplay is smart and well-written, hitting all the right emotional notes and thankfully keeping the cheesy one-liners down to a minimum.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Batman Begins is the League of Shadows, a secret society that trains Bruce and gives him the physical skills to fight crime. However, their overtly fascist philosophy repulses Bruce who believes that he can’t be completely ruthless when it comes to fighting criminals. Compassion is what separates him from them. It’s a key point in showing that amidst the darkness lies a spark of idealism in Bruce. He truly believes that Gotham can be saved from the criminals that wish to corrupt it from within.
The tone. The campiness of the Joel Schumacher films is gone, replaced by a darker, brooding vibe. Nolan brings an art house sensibility to a big budget superhero film which gives it more substance. He treats the source material with the respect that it deserves.
This is the best Batman film to date. It even surpasses Tim Burton’s first one. While he certainly got the look of Batman’s world and even understood the character’s tortured psyche, he injected moments of silliness that took one out of the film (i.e. the Joker shooting down Batman’s plane with a handgun?!). Nolan does not make this same mistake and he has created an excellent comic book adaptation that deserves to be ranked with other superior examples of the genre.
The first disc features spoof of the movie called “Tankman Begins” that Jimmy Fallon did for the 2005 MTV Movie Awards. It basically inserts Fallon and Andy Dick into the movie at certain key points.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
The second disc starts off with “The Journey Begins,” which looks at Nolan’s vision for Batman. He wanted to depict his world realistically and talks about working with co-screenwriter Goyer who in turn talks about what he wanted to do with the character. Nolan thought of Bale as Bruce Wayne before he had even written the screenplay and convinced the actor to do the film. Bale talks briefly about how hard he prepared for the role.
“Cape and Cowl” is a featurette on the Batman costume and how Nolan and his team tweaked the traditional design to resemble a combat outfit. We are given insight into the process of how it was made.
“Gotham City Rises” takes a look at the creation of Gotham City and the Batcave. Nolan wanted to create a heightened reality, an exaggerated version of New York City. The visual effects techies show us how they achieved the dense, complex cityscape through CGI, models and actual, elaborately constructed sets.
“Path to Discovery” explores Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. Nolan and Goyer built his backstory up in an attempt to get the audience to emotionally invest in the character. They shot Bruce’s training on a glacier in Iceland with a fight scene conducted on a frozen lake that was disintegrating by the hour!
“Shaping Mind and Body” takes a look at Bale’s preparation for the role. Nolan wanted to get away from The Matrix-style wire-work for a more, visceral style. Bale had to learn a martial arts hybrid known as Keysi and did all of his own fight scenes.
“Genesis of the Bat.” Nolan wanted to stick close to Batman’s origins in the comic book and fill in the gaps that the comics had created. Nolan and Goyer worked closely with DC Comics for source material, including “The Long Halloween,” ‘70s era Dark Knight material by Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams, and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.
There is also a gallery of various movie poster designs from all over the world that feature some really cool looking takes on how to advertise this new take on the Batman mythos.
“Tumbler” focuses on the designing and constructing of the film’s Batmobile. Nolan worked on it while writing the screenplay. We also see it being tested and built.
“Saving Gotham City” takes a look at the exciting monorail chase scene that takes place during the climatic part of the movie. Not surprisingly, it was done with a mix of CGI, practical stuntwork and miniatures.
Finally, there is a 72-page mini-comic book that includes three stories that inspired Goyer and Nolan’s screenplay.