Batman Begins was one of the first movies I saw in an IMAX theater and it left an indelible mark on me.
I’m a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series and it felt like on the huge IMAX screen with the perfectly attuned surround sound that several sequences captured the feel of the Animated Series in movie form. This is especially true of the sequence where Bruce Wayne dons the Batman outfit for the first time and is battling crooks at the docks. Watching Batman use shadows and darkness to cover his taking out the crooks one by one sent shivers up my spine.
It still does.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the only shivers this movie sent up my spine. The closing scene when Lt. Jim Gordon asks for Batman’s help to look into a criminal who leaves a calling card with a Joker on it had me aching to see what would happen next. It helps that the follow-up to this moment is one of the greatest movies — superhero or otherwise — ever made.
Part of me finds it hard to believe that we’re celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Batman Begins this summer. It feels like just yesterday I was seeing it for the first time and being utterly amazed by it. Going in, I had lofty expectations — I’d “discovered” director Christopher Nolan as many cinephiles had from his work on Memento.
There were always rumors going around that the next Batman movie would give us the Scarecrow as the central antagonist. But after the box-office debacle of Batman and Robin (saw it in theaters, too), it felt like we’d never quite get to see the Scarecrow on the silver screen.
Batman Begins grounds the story of Batman in reality. As an origin story for Batman, it works well. And the three adversaries — Scarecrow, Carmine Falcone, and Ras Al Ghul — all work well for an entry-level origin story. The threat of the toxin dosing all of Gotham via the water mains feels like a fairly standard Batman level of emergency — not so huge that you feel like maybe (if he existed in the canon of the movie) that Superman might not be a great idea to call upon (I’m looking at you The Dark Knight Rises).
Watching Batman Begins this time around, I couldn’t help but be struck by how the villains in the film are working to tear down symbols. Early in the movie, Thomas Wayne tells Bruce that the monorail around the city is meant to give the citizens hope. So, it’s interesting that when Bruce decides he will become a symbol of hope for the city in the form of Batman, that one of the consequences of that will be the destruction of the symbol his father made. Of course, this entire trilogy is about Bruce and the complicated relationship he has with his father — but nowhere is it quite as explicitly stated as it is in this movie.
The follow-up film will then show us how the symbol Bruce created is torn down and abandoned.
Batman Begins impressed me on a lot of levels back then — and it still does today. Gary Oldman deserved a ton of praise for his work as Jim Gordon. I feel like he’s overshadowed a bit by Christian Bale and Heath Ledger — especially in the next movie. But his take on Gordon makes this one of my favorite performances by Oldman. He seems to disappear into the role and — back to my The Animated Series love — he just looks and feels like the Gordon we saw there.
It’s easy to look past Begins to its sequel because, let’s face it, The Dark Knight is just that good. But without Begins doing such a deft job of establishing the world and characters that Nolan will build on in The Dark Knight, I’d argue that film wouldn’t be quite as powerful or as mesmerizing as it is.
But my love for that movie is another post for another day…