Ed. Note: Part One of the Batman Begins Discussion can be found here. and the Letterboxd review here. Part Two comes thanks to Steve McGinley, lifelong Batman fan who most certainly still wears gold, blue and black underwear around in the world.
Batman has always been a fairly simple concept. A billionaire orphan who decided to fight crime with fancy gadgets. He’s summed up as the rich guy fighting bad guys with toys. He’s basically a brooding Iron Man.
Except there’s an important difference: his discipline. People often forget to mention that he’s also an Olympic-level athlete and world-class detective blessed with a genius intellect. He’s traveled the world and learned from the best hand to hand martial artists. So how, in two and a half hours, do you show an audience how he trained to become a master of deception and shadow ninja warrior? If there was a way, I think it was done in this film, my favorite of the Nolan trilogy. Everyone says The Dark Knight was the best film, and for good reason. It was fantastic. But this is where it started. And no one has does it better.
Ra’s al Ghul, played by Liam Neeson, has a very simple philosophy. Rid the world of scum and villainy by any means necessary.
“Who is he?” Bruce asks.
“He was a farmer, until he killed his neighbor and became a murderer.” Raj replies.
“What will happen to him?”
“Justice. Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s….understanding.”
Such simple answers. Clear. To the point. But man, do they hit home.
Ra’s al Ghul basically sets up the template for Batman. The idea of a symbol. The idea that he should become more than just a man. The practice of using distractions as practical agents. Hell, Batman even mirrors his gauntlets after Neeson’s. I initially wrote that Ra’s was the villain of the movie, but I actually think he makes some good points. Let’s just go with “character” instead of villain.
Later, after their BFF falling out, Ra’s actually shows up to Bruce Wayne’s house and reveals his true identity. He actually mocks him openly. (Before doing the classic bad-guy move of telling him his plan. Shame on you Ra’s. You were doing so well.)
Ra’s, who is basically the inspiration for every tactic Batman uses, derides Batman for how he’s applied the skills they taught him. And rightly so. What better line in is there in this entire movie than when Bruce accuses Ra’s of initially not telling him who Ra’s really was than Neeson’s response:
“Surely a man who spends his nights scrambling over the rooftops of Gotham, would not begrudge me dual identities.” That line is dripping with mockery. I only wish I could deliver sentences with that level of contempt.
Michael Caine takes up the role of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and does a phenomenal job. Michael Caine has seamlessly transitioned from leading man to supporting actor. I wish he could just be Alfred regardless of whoever plays Batman. He’d be like the Q (from the Bond movies) of the DC Universe.
I actually don't mind Scarecrow as a villain in this movie, even if he is a bit superfluous. His fear toxin also conveniently gives a good excuse for CGI so we get to see Batman with black ooze dripping out of mouth. It’s much scarier than thinking about a guy running around with black eye liner and a helmet that won’t let him turn his head.
Seeing Batman get sprayed by the fear toxin is probably one of the most powerful moments of the film. Despite the push-ups (shout out to you, Alfred), Bruce Wayne's most powerful weapon is his mind. And this biggest moment is when that momentarily taken away. This, coupled with the fact it's the first time we see him call to Alfred as he did after the funeral. As a scared young man with no one else to turn to. Plus, Michael Caine tearing up makes me tear up.
Ra’s is what Batman should be. No secret identity. Okay fine, Ra’s kind of does, but it’s really more like a stand-in double. He has no secret childhood love interest. Instead, replaced with a burning desire for revenge. No polished butler. Replace with an entire army of trained deadly assassins. Ra’s al Ghul isn’t the protagonist we have, but he’s the protagonist we deserve.
On a lesser note:
***So wait, Rachel is mad Bruce at first because he's not taking enough initiative; he's a rich playboy who can "enjoy his parties and women" while others work at the DA's and do the real heavy lifting. Then when she finds out he's the Olympic-level athlete crime-fighting genius who has been feeding her all the golden information she needs to put criminals behind bars, she declares he's in too deep and she can't date him. Wow.
***Bruce's dad looks like the ultimate pedophile when he holds the kid’s stethoscope to his chest.. I'm sorry, but it had to be said. Nothing against the actor, but how was that not left on the cutting room floor?
*** I still can’t get over that scene where Alfred picks up Bruce after being poisoned by scarecrow. Alfred doesn’t say a word and I still think that’s one of the most powerful scene in the film. It’s an angle that’s been played out many times in the comics, but how great is Michael Caine at showing the split he feels between respecting Bruce’s mission while caring for the boy he raised.
***I’m thinking..…the League of Shadows should have told Bruce the big plan before training him for years. Congratulations on training your greatest enemy.
*** I guess old church rooftops support 8-ton tanks
***”Time to spread the word and the word is…panic.” Get it?!?! How is this not on some top 10 villain lines? The only thing better than hitting the right note is hitting the right pause, and this might be Neeson's best.
***All the liquid is turned to gas and it freaks people out. Do we not take warm showers? Sometimes there's steam. There should have been a severe uptick in hallucinations. They must all be drinking ice tea, because apparently no one is boiling water.
*** Did Batman really tie him up to a spotlight and take the time to meticulously tear Falconi's coat in such a way so that it would resemble a bat against the clouds?
…then again, he paints a bunch of gigantic bat signals all over the city in the third film instead of spending more time testing the Batplane’s autopilot.
*** Can someone please let me know the joke Alfred referenced? I won’t rest until I know what it was.