There’s a unique challenge in re-reviewing something; a testament to the benefits and messy difficulties of that uniquely validating place of hindsight. Ultimately a decision must be made: to review the film as part of its legacy? Or to review the film as its original, unhindered by past experiences? Replace every instance of ‘review’ with ‘make’ in this paragraph and, presumably, you’ll find director Christopher Nolan’s position as he prepped to reboot the blighted Batman film series.
Batman Begins is a strange film. Simultaneously a homage to everything that made Batman what he is (as depicted in the original gritty, grisly and famously dark graphic novels) and also a complete rejection of everything that he’d been made into (evil eyes to Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997) and Adam West), Batman Begins found itself with little pre-programmed identity. A veritable angsty teen of the cinematic world who found solace in the company of bats. It’s a matter of universal thanks then that Nolan, still relatively fresh meat on the Hollywood market at that time, traversed this tonal quagmire and emerged victorious through the dark well at the other end.
Batman Begins is – brace yourselves – an origins story. While this may be taking the obvious to ever more exuberant degrees, it’s a point worth making as this is the Bat’s 7th, 10th, 40th (who knows!) origins story. But also the most significant. Following the graphic novel source material with passionate enthusiasm, Nolan crafts an engaging, entertaining and, most importantly, respectful tale. Taking the character of Bruce Wayne (an eager and vehement Christian Bale) from his snivelling childhood, through tormented young man and eventual anti-heroic caped crusader, BB offers the thrills, explosive set pieces and pervasive darkness so distinguishing of the Batman universe. Where BB best succeeds, though – and its financially and critically more successful younger brothers fail – is in crafting a fully explored protagonist, satisfactorily distinguishing and deftly balancing the emotional intensity of Bruce Wayne and the raw vengeful power of his shadowy alter ego.
What is clear to see then is how masterly Nolan has tackled this review’s opening dilemma: taking the best of what has come before, he has crafted an original experience, paying homage to Batman’s long and fanatically devoured history to help engineer a new dynasty within the Batman canon. Something which – oh glorious hindsight – he has more than achieved.
But back to those brothers. Taken as its own piece of media as in 2005, BB is a film with which little can compare. If not simply because, y’know, it’s a good Batman film. But since then, both The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) have surfaced, and together they highlight the weaknesses of their forbearer with all the strength of the sun on steroids. And no, this isn’t because of all those pretty little zeros and stars they hoarded. No, it’s the question of one of the Batman series’ greatest accomplishments: its villains.
And so hindsight throws a punch to the gut. While Cillian Murphy’s Jonathan Crane-come-Scarecrow is a harrowing delight – so much so that he’s cameoed in both follow-ups – he simply does not compare with the raw chaos or brute physicality of his spiritual brothers, the Joker and Bane. While BB is entirely about the Caped Crusader, the fact of the matter remains that he is neither a strong or interesting enough character to carry an entire film on his own burdened shoulders. Which, despite the best efforts of the supporting choir (Michael Caine’s Alfred, Morgan Freeman’s Fox and Gary Oldman’s Gordon) he is. The Joker and Bane came to define their films, to lead the marketing charge and, particularly with The Joker, spawn an ocean of quotations. Something which the Bat’s garbled motorboat throat could never conceivably achieve.
It’s with sadness then that this re-review was written. Batman Begins was and is an accomplished, entertaining film, achieving what many had thought impossible by making the Caped Crusader serious, genuine and – for the kids – cool again. But the tidal wave with which it was followed sadly serves to underline what may have once have been concealed weaknesses, like a cracked wall covered in budget stucco. Ultimately it doesn’t matter as BB more than achieved its goal and will remain a valiant veteran. But lets just hope it doesn’t get lost, for while its legacy will no doubt live on, it too deserves a long, lively retirement.