As one of DC’s most popular superheroes, Batman has been gifted with a number of animated adaptations and films dating back to 1943. However, there is one Batman film in particular that has made a singular mark in the last decade: “Batman Begins.”
Debuting in 2005, the film brought about a new era for the Dark Knight, ringing in a new interpretation for the icon while ushering in the great age of big-budget comic book films we find ourselves in. While many fans look to its sequel “The Dark Knight,” the first of this trilogy is, in fact, the film that reigns supreme in this gripping trilogy. It defied the norm of what it meant to be a comic book movie, and proved their marketability and sustainability to audiences. So today, we’ll be taking a look at the 15 elements that made this first Batman film the absolute best.
15. CHRISTIAN BALE
From the days of Adam West in the 1960s to Michael Keaton in 1989 to present-day Ben Affleck, many actors have portrayed the Dark Knight or voiced his character in various adaptations. Thanks to his first performance in “Batman Begins,” Christian Bale firmly planted himself among the elite actors to play Gotham’s caped crusader.
While his gruff voice isn’t the biggest draw for fans, Bale brings out the entirety of what it means to be Batman. He was tough and intimidating without overplaying the role while showing a more realistic side viewers rarely get to see, which is important in an origin story like “Batman Begins.” Bale proved to not only be a great Batman, but a great Bruce Wayne, particularly when it came to the character’s relationships with Rachel and Alfred, both of whom are important links to a happier time in his life. He has proven himself to be arguably the most relatable Batman, as Bale clearly demonstrates that the hero isn’t by any means fearless, nor is he completely invincible or perfect. That in itself becomes a much more significant factor in the character’s growth as he becomes the very figure that frightens him most.
14. LIAM NEESON
If there’s a role that Liam Neeson thrives in that doesn’t involve being a badass ex-agent and rescuing kidnapped loved ones, or his role in “Schindler’s List,” it’s being the badass master of skilled students. He played an excellent Qui-Gon Jinn in “Phantom Menace” and brought an even more menacing Ra’s Al-Ghul to the table. Acting a as mentor to the wandering billionaire Bruce Wayne, Neeson delivers one of the best portrayals of the character, challenging Batman from both a combat and mental standpoint.
Ra’s is a villain who challenges Batman, especially when it comes to dealing with the corruption-filled streets of Gotham. Neeson was able to convey to the audience a man who is not necessarily evil, but who has seen and undergone a great deal of pain and hardship throughout his life that led to his current mentality of wiping Gotham off the map. Neeson is an example of how to play a non-generic villain and do it right, as he excelled in portraying the various mental complexities within Ra’s, showing that he and his student are very much alike, especially when it comes to their convictions to meet their different goals.
13. CILLIAN MURPHY
Yet another Irish actor who excelled in his role as a smaller yet important villain, Cillian Murphy was perfect in bringing Jonathan Crane to life on the big screen as Scarecrow. While he won’t bring the action or combat skills of someone like Ra’s, Murphy did a stellar job inducing what Scarecrow is best known for: fear.
One of the best aspects for Scarecrow as a villain is the psychological impact he has on people thanks to his fear toxins and background as a psychologist. Before Heath Ledger came along as the Joker, Murphy was an example of playing an effective psychological villain in recent memory that didn’t need to do damage with his fists. What Murphy excelled in more than anything was his overall delivery of the villain, especially when it came to his dialogue. Because of his manipulation and fear tactics, how well Scarecrow is played depends more on his tone than his imposing figure (or lack thereof). Murphy passes this test with flying colors, especially when his fear toxin comes into play, along with his trademark mask.
12. BATMAN TRAINING
If it’s done well, a good-old fashioned training montage can never get old. One of the more underrated aspects of Batman as a character is the intense training regimen he undergoes to fulfill his duties as Gotham’s vigilante. “Batman Begins” does a phenomenal job at introducing us to just what kind of training led to the Dark Knight’s wide array of skills.
Seeing this whole training sequence of Bruce alongside Ra’s (going under the alias Henri Ducard) is nothing short of intense. Whether it’s fighting and learning swordplay on a frozen pond with the risk of sinking beneath the ice, or learning stealth and fighting numerous League assassins at once, it remains one of the most engaging training sessions to watch in any superhero film. While much of it is obviously combat-oriented, there remains a strategic aspect to the training, particularly when Ra’s states that Batman must “become more than a man in the mind of his opponent.” This signifies that the training is as much a mental struggle as it is a physical one, and is perhaps the statement that best personifies the mantle of Batman itself, who becomes almost non-human in the face of his own opponents.
11. ESSENTIALLY BATMAN: YEAR ONE
One of the great aspects of this film is that it is, in a sense, a cinematic rendition of the iconic “Batman: Year One” comic story. Written by Frank Miller in 1987, the story is widely regarded as one of the best interpretations of the character and helped lay the foundations for future interpretations of him. In fact, “Batman: Begins” includes several aspects of the renowned comic in its narrative. Some of these aspects include the inclusion of characters like Commissioner Gillian Loeb and crime boss Carmine Falcone, who plays an integral role in Bruce leaving Gotham to travel the world and gain the skills to free the city from corruption.
The film also takes place in the same timespan as “Year One” and even focused more on the poverty and criminal underworld dealings within Gotham itself. While the film is not as dark in comparison to “Year One,” there is no denying that “Batman Begins” can be considered the closest thing viewers have to a live-action adaptation of Miller’s work that viewers can expect to get. Regardless, seeing these various elements incorporated into Nolan’s first Batman film illustrates how much “Year One” withstands the test of time.
10. BATMAN’S PSYCHE
Unlike Nolan’s other two Bat trilogy films, “Batman Begins” allows us a deeper look into the psyche of the vigilante himself. Viewers see more of what makes this hero tick, as well as his ideals and motivations. At this point, people are more than aware of Batman’s origin story. However, what the film excels at is displaying the many facets of his mindset.
Viewers see a man broken by the psychological trauma of having his parents murdered in front of him. They see a man craving revenge and bent on shooting his parents’ killer in court. They later see a man who feels the need to carry the weight of saving Gotham on his shoulders alone, almost as if feeling guilty of the privileged life he lived on account of others’ suffering. But above all else, viewers see a man who appeared lost as he traveled the world, seeking the kind of guidance that he was unable to have since the age of nine when his parents were killed in the alleyway. This film is as much an inner journey and self-exploration for Bruce as it is his progression into a full-fledged Batman.
9. MORGAN FREEMAN
The mastermind behind much of Batman’s gear and technology, Lucius Fox is one of several brains behind the Dark Knight’s Gotham crusade. Normally, this kind of supporting role could have easily gone to a lesser known actor and Fox could have easily just been cast as a more average run-of-the-mill gadget guy working behind the scenes. Casting Freeman was the best thing that could have happened to Fox’s character.
Besides the obvious love we all have for Freeman’s god-like voice, the veteran actor brought a very realistic presence to the role. He played Fox with a more light-hearted, candid demeanor that clearly conveyed that he was not simply the type to blindly supply Bruce with all of this military-grade equipment. The moments in which Fox is introducing Bruce to the various types of equipment at his disposal and making note of the billionaire’s need of it for “spelunking” gives the film some of its more lighthearted moments, and Freeman delivers on these scenes perfectly. Freeman’s example goes to show how important subtle supporting characters like this can be in making films like this work.
8. THE MEANING OF FEAR
Throughout the entirety of “Batman Begins” lies a rather crucial theme that is prominent throughout the film: fear. It is the central foundation that the narrative builds itself on and becomes the main focal point in Batman’s origin story, delivering a strong premise of how it is used in Gotham.
Fear was an essential element of Batman’s rise. Just as he feared bats as a child, he grew to invoke and spread justice through that same fear. It also acts to represent Bruce’s fear of loss as a result of his parents’ deaths, and it is almost as though, no matter how much training he undergoes, the fear within the mind are just as powerful, if not more so, than our physical ones. By the same token, the kind of criminals and corruption that takes place in Gotham is fueled by fear, putting the city in a never-ending cycle of it. Scarecrow’s fear toxin also acts as a representation that no one is immune to feeling fear, and how overcoming it is the greatest battle one must undertake. In other words, it is the will to act during that fear that makes us more powerful.
7. ORIGIN STORY DONE RIGHT
One of the biggest criticisms about superhero movies is that they all follow the same basic formula, which makes for a lack of quality and variance among them. However, “Batman Begins” isn’t like other origin stories, and in fact is one of the best at making the formula fresh and new. Of course, everyone has probably seen the Waynes’ death portrayed in multiple formats at this point, so there’s nothing new there.
However, what makes “Batman Begins” so different is the way in which it flashes forward and back between different points and time, adding a unique element of intimacy to the emotional weight on Bruce’s shoulders. The film also shows several sides of Batman: the hopeful son, the brooding teenager lusting for revenge, the lost traveling soul, the prodigal billionaire playboy and, of course, Batman himself. “Batman Begins” is very much a psychological battle within Bruce himself, which is an aspect that many origin stories lack, as many often tend to focus less on the psychological mindsets of the main hero. Focusing on Batman’s own weaknesses as a hero adds more depth to the overall narrative and makes for a greater investment in the character itself.
6. GREAT SUPPORTING CAST
Much is often made about Christian Bale’s performance as Batman. Liam Neeson’s shot as Ra’s was also impressive, as we’ve mentioned. However, the work of other supporting characters isn’t mentioned as much. Katie Holmes played a great role as Rachel Dawes in “Batman Begins.” Bruce’s childhood friend and love interest, Rachel acted as a kind of moral compass in her own legal battles to clean up Gotham. In many ways, she shares Bruce’s strong will and conviction that a city like Gotham can be saved.
Gary Oldman gave perhaps the best portrayal as Jim Gordon to date, showcasing the officer’s conviction in a corrupted police force and his simultaneous reluctance-cum-faith in what Batman is doing. Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone was another underrated aspect of this film. One of his best scenes was in the bar with young adult Bruce, where he threatened the billionaire by flexing the kind of power and influence he had by threatening to kill Alfred and Rachel and showcasing to Bruce just how deep Gotham’s corruption runs. These kinds of niche performances are the little things that make this film work so well.
5. STELLAR ACTION
Of course, a Batman movie wouldn’t be the same without a good dose of action to go alongside all of the mental and psychological struggles. Fortunately, “Batman Begins” brings plenty of action alongside a more physically healthy and able-bodied Batman. The training scenes with Ra’s Al Ghul provided viewers with an especially good idea of Batman’s fighting style.
The fights with Ra’s, both at the beginning, during Bruce’s training, and later, during the climax of the film on the subway, were both superb displays of hand-to-hand combat between them. The combat scenes were easy to follow and well edited, and it’s easy to see that Bale put in plenty of work for the physicality of the role. Neither “Dark Knight” and “Dark Knight Rises” had the kind of action sequences their predecessor had. The Joker wasn’t used in a combat fashion, and Bane was more of a brawler, which made fighting him take a much more blunt and primal approach. In Batman’s fights against Ra’s, there is an element of tactics and strategy that made them more exciting and thrilling to watch.
4. LIGHTER & MORE COMEDIC MOMENTS
“The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are both quintessential superhero films worth viewing in their own right. However, both of them progressed down darker storylines, leaving little room for lightheartedness of any kind. When it comes to the Nolan trilogy, “Batman Begins” is the best in lightening the darker moods of its hero’s storylines.
Some of the best lighter moments often came in scenes with Fox, especially when it came to Bruce’s various needs of military grade equipment. Even Bruce asking if the gear comes in black adds a little levity to the more serious nature that his character always brings. The way he plays up his facade as a billionaire playboy by simply buying a hotel after jumping in a fountain alongside several women he brought with him also serves as a rather humorous cover for his identity, but also an important element to the character. Lighter scenes also came with Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, the ever-so-present butler and father figure of Bruce. Always worth some sly comments and wise words, Alfred always makes sure to keep the billionaire vigilante in check as both Bruce and Batman.
3. CHARACTER DYNAMICS
Batman is, in itself, a very character-driven story. Without its great cast and their ability to mesh well on-screen, the films wouldn’t have the kind of charisma they do. Out of the Nolan trilogy, “Batman Begins” has perhaps the best dynamic between characters, which is especially refreshing given its status as the origin story.
Perhaps the best dynamic is the most well-known of the Batman mythos: Bruce and Alfred. Bale and Caine worked very well off of one another, with the hard-working billionaire hell-bent on saving Gotham and the loyal, loving butler wanting nothing more than to keep him safe. Just as Bale brought forth a great Batman, Caine brought forth a phenomenal Alfred, serving as the lone connection to Bruce’s parents and the closest thing to family he truly has left. A similar thing can be said for Holmes’ portrayal of Rachel, who appeared to be Bruce’s only friend, and who saw him as more than another billionaire Wayne. “Batman Begins” does the best job of portraying these relationships within Bruce’s life, especially when it comes to these two precious remnants of a past marked by sudden tragedy.
2. MORE THAN BATMAN
Some of the best superhero materials are the ones that do the greatest job at giving viewers a look at the man or woman behind the mantle. “Batman Begins” is able to convey that Bruce is more than his title of Batman. Throughout the film, viewers see a man who continually suffers from the death of his parents. Despite all the training and hardship in his solo crusade to save a city filled with corruption, “Batman Begins” displays how Bruce sought such strength and cursed his own powerlessness to do anything to stop the corruption that consumed his loved ones.
By the same token, it also emphasized the glimmer of hope and humanity that remains within him, displayed by his relationships with Rachel and Alfred, both of whom represent different facets of Bruce’s life outside of the Batman mantle. If there’s anything “Batman Begins” does well, it’s the way it reminds viewers that Bruce is more than a skilled man in a mask jumping from rooftops or the billionaire playboy of Wayne Enterprises. He is a man in pursuit of preserving what ties he has left while carrying the weight of an entire city on his shoulders.
1. BLAZED TRAIL FOR COMIC BOOK FILMS
Having made its debut in 2005, “Batman Begins” preceded the slew of comic book films we have today. In fact, it is the success of “Batman Begins” that made people realize one thing: comic book movies can be big money-makers in theaters, especially if studios put in the effort and money to do so. “Batman Begins” was made on a budget of $150 million and brought home $374.2 million at the box office. Its success bled into “The Dark Knight,” which made a whopping $1.005 billion on a budget of $185 million. Such a large jump from the first movie is indicative of the kind of success the first film had with audiences and displayed the fact that comic book films could be marketable to a wide array of people.
It proved that superhero studies could be thoughtfully adapted to live-action from their animated and source material while being re-told in mature, thoughtful ways. By the same token, it also proved that there’s more than one way to tell a superhero story while staying true to its origins, and “Batman Begins” proved to become the first of many successes to usher in the age of comic book films.
What’s your favorite film in the “Dark Knight” trilogy? Was it “Batman Begins” or another one? Let us know what you think in the comments!