On the verge of The Dark Knight Rises coming out, I thought it might be a good idea to catch up with Batman Begins again. Will The Dark Knight Rises live up to the hype and expectations we put on Nolan after the increasing success of the first two films in the franchise? Only time will tell. For now we take a look at what got this thing started with Batman Begins. Here are some of the things that I noticed or now appreciate after not having seen Begins for so long . . .
Most of what I know of Batman and his world comes from Batman TAS, the previous (Tim Burton) Batman franchise, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel. Batman’s origin is barely touched on in those or only seen in flashback (mainly to support some aspect of an episode-and never as a beginning for the mythos). In Batman Begins we get a really great sense of Bruce pre-Batman. We are shown his family life, what drove him to anger and revenge, and how he was trained. All of this setup gives us a reason to buy into the character of Bruce Wayne before he ever puts the cowl on. This makes us invested in a character that is not as exciting as Batman–which then makes Bruce’s transition into him all that more meaningful when he does.
Liam Neeson as the Antagonist
Something I didn’t fully appreciate upon seeing the movie the first few times in theaters or on DVD after its immediate release is the fact that Liam Neeson is just so good as the villain of the film. I think what makes him great is that in the beginning he uses his natural “father like” or “mentor like” persona to great effect in training Bruce. Then at the point when he and Bruce disagree on ideologies, he makes for more of a formidable opponent–not only because he trained Bruce and is potentially better than him, but also because there is a relationship there between protagonist and antagonist. Because of their prior history together, it’s this relationship that is key to making him a great villain and foil for Bruce/Batman. Not to mention, Neeson is a great actor and brings his worldliness to the role.
Something else that I thought of after the rewatch is that, based on what I know of Ra’s al Ghul, his character is seemingly immortal and always pops up from time to time throughout Batman’s career. Now I know Neeson was listed as Ducard in the Batman Begins credits, but he WAS Ra’s in the movie (despite the fact that Ken Watanabe portrays and is listed as Ra’s al Ghul). The scene in Bruce’s mansion where Ducard/Ra’s makes his return is evidence of that. Fast forward to the end of Begins…we never see Ducard/Ra’s dead body. We only see the monorail go off the tracks, crash, and then blow up. We assume Ducard/Ra’s died but we never get confirmation. Could Ducard/Ra’s be pulling the strings behind Bane (Tom Hardy) or Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman played by Anne Hathaway) in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises? Though we know who the main antagonists are I wouldn’t put it past Nolan to keep Neeson’s involvement under wraps to surprise the audience. Though highly unlikely I admit, it is still plausible.
From the beginning Nolan said he wanted to make a more realistic version of Batman–and I think he does it brilliantly. From Bruce’s role in Wayne Enterprises, to the development of his Bat-gear; everything feels somewhat grounded, seemingly has a real reason for being there, or has the chance of realistically happening. It’s definitely something we take for granted in The Dark Knight. With the setup is already in place from Begins, we just go full bore into Bat-mode in The Dark Knight since the grounding of the character is pretty well done and previously established.
Sometimes when you have big actors in a film, it’s hard not to associate an actor’s previous role or acting style with what you’re watching on screen. The problem can then be compounded when you have a large ensemble supporting cast. To Nolan’s credit, that is not the case in Batman Begins. Nolan chooses the right actors and puts them in the perfect roles. A lot of the main characters are played by well establish or even “big name” actors and it doesn’t work against the film, it actually helps it. Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Sgt. Gordon, the aforementioned Liam Neeson as Ducard, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox . . . the personal characteristics of each actor fit perfectly with the role they play in the film.
So after rewatching Batman Begins, what does this do as far as framing or setting up for watching The Dark Knight Rises?
Probably the main takeaway from rewatching Begins is going back to see where Batman originated from. It definitely sets the table very well and provides perspective on the evolution of the character across all three films. There are some really great moments of wisdom that Bruce is given in the film that help him not just to become Batman, but to help define who Batman is and what Batman stands for. Seeing this again and knowing where the character started from–I think will give a better appreciation and understanding of things Bruce and Batman have to go through in the next two films.
When was the last time you watched Batman Begins? If you remember anything notable from Batman Begins that would be relevant to the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises let us know in the comments.