Best Batman movie made yet. That’s easy. How does it stack up against the best superhero movies ever? That’s harder to say, because in some ways it’s comparing apples and oranges. X-Men 2 and Spider-Man 2 are both excellent, but, though Spider-Man does quite a bit with the ol’ power ‘n’ responsibility theme, they’re both primarily action films. Batman Begins has plenty of action, but it is primarily a character study.
Christopher Nolan takes a tremendous risk in playing the story straight and serious. But with smart writing and impeccable performances behind him, he pulls it off. The Batman story is all tied up with revenge—doing it or not doing it—and fear—how to conquer it, how to use it. One of the classic Batman tensions is the thin line between Bruce Wayne and the loonies he squares off against, and this comes out clearly in the film.
Loved seeing Gary Oldman’s Detective Gordon, clearly modelled on the Gordon from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Loved seeing the old-school Batman characters like Fox make an appearance, though admittedly I never read those original Batman comics in the first place.
Only quibble: the fight sequences are almost all frenetic blurs that are too hard to follow. At a couple of points this is the right move: in those first scenes after Wayne puts on the Batman costume, we see things from the thugs’ perspective, and the visual language is that of a horror film, where you’re not supposed to clearly see just what the thing that’s attacking is. But even in the more straightforward fights earlier and later, the shots are cut so quicly that it’s hard to pick up any clear narrative of the struggle.
Fear is everywhere in Batman Begins. In one of our first scenes we learn how young Bruce Wayne gained his fear of bats. It is fear of the corrupt and powerful that keeps good men like Gordon from acting against the system. The Scarecrow’s poison gas induces paranoid delusions that cause people to react out of fear—and Batman uses theatrics to induce a similar sort of fear in his foes. There’s that thin line between the hero and the villain—though the Scarecrow’s gas can make people fearful who mightn’t be otherwise, while Batman plays upon the inherent weakness in his enemies. There’s a message implicit here, one that comes through loud and clear by the end: fear is something you conquer, and acting out of it is a sure road to failure. It put me in mind of Tony Blair after the London bombings, and how telling Britons not to be afraid was one of the first things out of his mouth, and how similar language has been conspicuously absent from Bush’s pronouncements, post-9/11 and since.
Anyway—I don’t mean to say that this is a conscious or even prominent reference in the film—it was just something I happened to respond to when I saw it. Still, living as we are in a time when how we respond to fear is important, people could do a lot worse than go see this movie.