There was a time when you couldn’t even mention “Batman” without having to bare some idiot’s rendition of “na na na na na na na na na na na na”…. And if it wasn’t that then you were left with little more than images in your mind of a camp crusader chasing down clowns and cats and penguins with a touch of goth or a ridiculous pair of tight wearing crime-fighters “kapowing” their way through a horde of heavies. But, in 2004, director Christopher Nolan changed that forever.
Through another of his typically fragmented narrative constructs, Nolan charts an orphaned Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) physical and spiritual transformation from a disillusioned young man into the resolute and altruistic vigilante of Gotham City. Forget what you think you know about Batman. This is, in essence, a grounded film about a lost soul’s search for purpose, justice and the means to fight injustice. And the outcome? Absolutely majestic: a pulse-pounding, game-changing blockbuster with brains, heart and two solid sequels to spare.
Opting to look beyond 40+ years of erroneous tv and film portrayals of the Dark Knight, a then relative unknown Nolan and Dark City scribe David S Goyer set their sights on a string of gritty comics that had been ignored by Hollywood for far too long. Comic book nuts the world over will be quick to tell you that Batman Begins was heavily inspired by Frank Miller’s groundbreaking Year One run back in the mid 1980’s. And they’re right, it was. Miller’s crime embroiled noir angle was a far more rational one that focused on the man behind the myth and a city in decline. It set the tone for a host of riveting Bat books but Nolan and co-writer Goyer took all this material and made it not just their own but something else entirely: a moody, earnest and somehow believable piece of modern fiction and film that relied little on explosions, baddies and brawls but more on a profound, onion like plot and a strong predilection for character development.
Batman Begins is less about the Bat and more about the man. DC’s flagship hero doesn’t even appear on screen until half-way through the film and the word “Batman” is only said 10 times. Yes, I actually counted. Sad, I know.
Anyhoo, Batman Begins is a briliantly conceived blockbuster that leaves all that revel in the comicbook subgenre firmly in the shade. This is a carefully engineered film that achieves a steady balance between form and content; the lighting, the photography, the decor- at times Batman Begins looks like Blade Runner. And like Ridley Scott’s rain soaked classic, Nolan’s Batman Begins boasts both a stimulating score and some truly memorable turns from an uncanny cast.
This wasn’t just the film that spurned one of the best and most talked about trilogies in recent years, but also the one that signaled the big-time arrival of, arguably, the most gifted director of his generation. Least I forget his equally gifted disciples in Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy and Hans Zimmer. It doesn’t get much better than this (ok, maybe it does COUGH The Dark Knight COUGH). See it. Then see it again.
Batman Begins (2004), directed by Christopher Nolan, is released on Blu-ray disc and DVD in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12.