Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer, based on the comic books by Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Rutger Hauer (William Earle), Gary Oldman (Sgt James Gordon), Cillian Murphy (Dr Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone), Mark Boone (Detective Arnold Flass), Linus Roache (Thomas Wayne), Sara Stewart (Martha Wayne), Ken Watanabe (Ra’s al Ghul) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox)
Young Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents. He returns to Gotham City as an adult, intent on revenge against the killer, who is then assassinated before he can do so. He decides to immerse himself in the criminal underworld to try to understand the motivation to do evil and ends up in a hellish prison. He escapes and encounters Henri Ducard, who leads him to Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, where he undergoes rigorous training, intended to rid him of his fear and turn him into a fearless fighter. He is told of a plan to purge Gotham of evil by destroying the city, but he refuses to have anything to do with it. He returns to Gotham and with the help of Alfred Pennyworth, the loyal Wayne family butler, he sets about creating an alter-ego, Batman, to help rid the city of corruption.
It took me three attempts to watch the whole of the film. I all but gave up after the first 45 minutes or so, having become increasingly irritated by the relentless ninja nonsense. I later returned to the film for a second try, picking it up where I had stopped watching. Once the action moved back to Gotham and Batman made a first appearance, things improved marginally, but still I grew restless within the hour. I came back to the film the next day to finish watching it, but I had largely lost interest before the end came.
So, what is wrong with the film? Probably nothing very much, but I just didn’t like it. Much was made of the fact that the film and directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan and clearly it has been made with some skill. It was, we were repeatedly told, a much darker interpretation of Batman, which I guess is true if by dark they mean silly. I found the comic-book fight scenes excruciatingly boring, but that is something I knew to expect, because it has increasingly become a problem in these types of blockbuster films.
Most troublesome, though, was my dislike of Christian Bale’s performance in the lead role. I had not previously seen a Christian Bale film and I was undoubtedly guilty of some bias because of the spectacularly appalling rant he was responsible for on the set of ‘Terminator Salvation’. Irrespective of the excuses that have been made for his behaviour, and his own subsequent apology, he is quite clearly an arsehole. However, it is tempting to suspect that this kind of behaviour is commonplace and Bale is only really guilty of having his outburst made public. It should not necessarily affect judgement of his acting. I was just left cold by his take on Batman. I didn’t like Katie Holmes either, although I have seen performances in other films and not come away with any negative opinions. She was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in the sequel, ‘The Dark Knight’. Cillian Murphy seemed to be channelling the spirit of Christian Slater, which I found rather off-putting, because it was all I could focus on whenever he was on the screen. Having said that, the concept of the Scarecrow was quite effective.
The remainder of the lead cast did exactly what you would expect from them and this was probably the saving grace for me. I was happy enough to watch Michael Caine and Rutger Hauer and rather impressed by Liam Neeson, although the true identity of his character was blatantly obvious to me right from the start, without any knowledge of the comic book source material. The revelation, so I have subsequently read, was supposed to come as a shock. I find this very hard to believe, so glaringly obvious was it. The Ming the Merciless facial hair did rather give it away.
‘Batman Begins’ had a production budget of $150 million and grossed a not entirely overwhelming $323 million at the box office. It was ranked eighth in the annual domestic box office list for 2005, but its gross was dwarfed by that of its sequel ‘The Dark Knight’ three years later, a film that garnered considerable additional publicity because of the untimely death of Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous best supporting actor Academy Award for his performance as the Joker.
Review posted 7 June 2010