Not long ago I made the proclamation that Christopher Nolan is a hack. I stand by that principle, even though there are a few of his movies that are not that bad. Batman Begins (2005) is one of them. It marked a rebooting of the Batman franchise after a spate in the 1990s and early 2000s of increasingly silly installments of tales of the Caped Crusader. Interesting nickname for Batman, no? I will hand it to Nolan in this respect. The word “crusader” (aside from its more zealous connotations) conjures images of knights. Indeed, another of Batman’s alternate titles is the Dark Knight, not because he is evil but because he does his crime fighting after the sun goes down. A knight is somebody who is called to serve a higher purpose and to protect others. Nolan makes it clear that this is what motivates Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to take on the mantle of a vigilante.
Bruce’s desire to do what is right on such a grand scale is instilled in him by his father, Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache), and we see early on in Batman Begins their close relationship. You would not know it at first. The first scenes we are treated to at the outset are Bruce in a dingy Asian prison picking fights with his fellow inmates. He is taken from his imprisonment by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who hopes to recruit Bruce to his organization, the League of Shadows. The League of Shadows is a shady group of ninjas that see it as their mission to bring balance to the world, though Bruce is duped into it by being told that their main goal is to counter evil. During Bruce’s training, the film flashes back and forth between his time at the organization’s headquarters and his younger years because Nolan just cannot seem to tell a linear story. Still, this is key because the event that had driven him to the mountains of Asia is his witnessing of the death of his parents, a moment for which he blamed himself. Yet when it comes time for him to take his place as a foot soldier of the League of Shadows, he cannot commit the final act of summarily executing a criminal. They do not react well to his defiance, and he is forced to flee. He decides to return to his home, Gotham City, and take on the role that had been waiting for him there of helping to run his father’s business, Wayne Enterprises. As it turns out, the company had been trying to make weapons for the military, and while Bruce is not keen on this enterprise he takes advantage of the technology at hand, aided by the department’s head Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). Using these items he creates his suit and persona as Batman. The illicit world that he enters in Gotham is run by the crime boss Carmine “The Roman” Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). His empire involves all manner of unlawful activity, and he owns the loyalty of many politicians and police officers that allows his doings to go unchecked. That is until Batman arrives. Just as he is making headway, the League of Shadows decides that Gotham should be sacked. They had already been laying the groundwork for their arrival through the work of Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) who uses a psychotropic drug that induces crippling fear in people to become the Scarecrow. The League intends to use this drug, introduced into the city’s water supply by the Scarecrow, to bring what they see as a corrupt city, beyond saving, to its knees. Of course, Batman steps in and saves the day.
Batman is an interesting character from a Faith perspective, and Batman Begins does a pretty good job (certainly unintentionally) of presenting a sort of warrior priest. To be clear, only “sort of.” As the head of a globe spanning business (and to help protect his identity), Bruce Wayne must act very differently than Batman. Where the Dark Knight is serious minded, Bruce’s public persona is devil-may-care, free-spending, and a bit of a philanderer. However, when Bruce dons the accoutrement of Batman, he is fulfilling his true calling. Lately I have been watching many documentaries on the lives of nuns. One of the things about their habits (their clothing) is that it is consecrated. They give up the world for a life dedicated to work and prayer, all for the uplifting of humanity. What they wear is a visible mark of this vocation. While Batman must occasionally doff his suit to be ordinary Bruce Wayne, it takes a special kind of person to attempt to wage war on crime on their own. The same could be said for those who enter the religious life.
So there you have it with Batman Begins. It is okay. I think Nolan traded a bit on people knowing what Batman is about because it takes a moment for it to become clear what is going on in the story. Otherwise, it has everything you would expect from a Batman movie, and even sets up the next film in the series by mentioning the Joker at the end. See it if you must, but it is not Earth-shattering if you do not. Meh.