What struck me most about Batman Begins, and what still resonates most with me, is how realistic a film it was. That might sound strange, considering it’s a superhero flick, but Batman is a hero without special powers. He draws his strength and determination purely from his anger and guilt, rather than from a mutation or otherworldy force. With director Chris Nolan at the helm, this film does a great job of exploring that side of the character, and giving it equal weight with the action story, which is, incidentally, also driven by very human motives of greed and power, rather than gratuitous insanity and fancy costumes. Even the production design is gritty and down-to-earth, inasmuch as it can be with locations like Wayne Manor and the Batcave. Much though I love Tim Burton’s Batman I have to say that I vastly prefer Nolan’s vision to Burton’s gothic stylings.
The casting is great, and all the actors give excellent performances. Christian Bale in particular shines from inside the costume and mask. His face may be hidden, but he drops his voice a notch, adds some gravel, and pumps all of Bruce Wayne’s anger and frustration into short, punchy sentences. The moment when Bale first utters the words “I’m Batman” sent a shiver up my spine and left me with goosebumps for a good minute after.
(Did anyone else notice, by the way, the near total absence of American actors in the headline cast? You’ve got Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, and…er…that’s it. Christian Bale is Welsh, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson, Gary Oldman, and Linus Roache are all English, Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy are Irish, Ken Watanabe is Japanese, and Rutger Hauer is Dutch. When was the last time a Hollywood summer blockbuster was ever cast with so few American stars?)
The one thing that let Batman Begins down for me, and this is the only thing that knocks it down from a perfect 5 stars, is the microwave generator plot device. Nnggggnggaarghhh. Did they have to do that? It is the single thing that puts this movie beyond the realms of the plausibly realistic. A secret society driven to purify Gotham City by destroying it is far-fetched, but no more so than, say, The Da Vinci Code (hack, spit). A sinister figure using a weaponised hallucinogen to instil fear and madness in his victims? Yeah, I’ll still buy that. Bruce Wayne using prototypes from his own company’s advanced weapons lab to build the persona of the Bat? It works.
But a microwave emitter capable of selectively targeting water supplies, without cooking every man and beast nearby? Sorry, you lost me there. I see how the device needs these properties to sustain the final chase sequence, but damn it, this could have been the greatest superhero film ever. It could have been utterly unique in not resorting to hand-waving mumbo-jumbo. But it just…quite…isn’t. I badly wanted to give this five stars, but I just can’t forgive the microwave device. Sorry.