When I heard that The Avengers was coming out, I instantly light-bulbed with the concept of watching the prequel/tie-in movies and reviewing them before it hit the theaters. Unfortunately that didn't work out but, on the bright side, it isn't like many of those tie-in movies were that good anyways.
But now we have a new monster coming, The Dark Knight Rises. And, unlike with The Avengers, the prequels to TDKR are really good movies. Christopher Nolan has truly managed to capture what makes Batman great. And so, without further ado, here is my review of Batman Begins.
The Hero's Journey
Batman is a badass. We all know it. This is the movie where the focus is on him, his psyche, and where he gets his drive. Like any origin story, we see why Bruce Wayne is driven to fight crime, as well as where he gets his gadgets and skills. But, unlike most origin stories, with Batman Begins we go a great deal deeper.
At the beginning of our story, Bruce Wayne is in a prison in Asia, as far away from home as possible. He's living every day to the next with no clear idea of where he's going or what he's doing. For all we know, he's just going from one fight to another. Soon enough we learn that he's trying to understand what killed his parents (criminality) by immersing himself deep within it. It isn't until he's released by a mysterious man named Ducard that Wayne is set on the path of discovering how to harness his hatred of crime and conquering his own inner fears.
Batman Begins makes for a fantastic first half of the movie. Christopher Nolan raises all sorts of interesting questions that make us understand that things aren't black and white for Batman. Through Wayne, we see that vengeance can mislead people into deviating far from where they started. Through Ducard, we wonder if the end does not always justify the means. Through Falcone, we question how different criminals are from the everyday people we see everyday. And through Rachel, we ask ourselves whether trying to do good within the system is ever really effective.
It's remarkable how many aspects of Batman we get, and we get to see many different criticisms of his methods and their efficacy before he even dons the cowl. However, what prevents the movie from being the masterpiece, in my book, is that this only applies to the first one-half or two-thirds of the movie. At a certain point, things swing back into motion that remind you that this is just another superhero movie. The villain returns and sets into action his nefarious plan, and Batman swoops in to save the day.
The League of Shadows
Ra's Al Ghul is one of the most interesting villains in the Batman universe, mainly because everything he says is true. He serves as a foil to Batman, a dark counterpart who represents what Batman could be if Batman had no moral code. And even that is a simplifying of matters. Ra's Al Ghul represents a neoconservative viewpoint on how to deal with injustice and crime in the world; he maintains that criminals should be made a brutal example of since they show no attachment to society's laws. The theory is that if the world is not harsh with people who disobey, then the rules which we maintain will slowly be corrupted in time, leading to the decaying of civilization.
This is a controversial subject, but this point-of-view hasn't been proven wrong, even today. Fact of the matter is that we have differing perspectives on how we should treat criminals in this day and age. Some nations like to do their best rehabilitate them, with considerable success. On the flip side, those nations with harsh penalties such as public humiliations or the death sentence provide an immense discouragement to anyone thinking of breaking the law. There is not yet a definitive right answer, and the middle ground arguably causes just as much harm as good. This is important as, if Ra's Al Ghul is correct (and there's nothing that can definitively disprove his philosophy), then Batman is genuinely serving as an impediment to human progress by prolonging a system that perpetuates corruption.
However, I wish that the movie had found a more ambiguous way for Ra's to serve as a villain in the end. I say that because, near the end of the movie, we discover that he is going to cause the whole city of Gotham to devolve into a bloody anarchy by spreading fear toxin everywhere, likely killing thousands of people. This seems very odd for someone who declares earlier in the story to have lost his wife to criminals; one would expect such a man to have more empathy for those members of Gotham who aren't corrupt. But, hey, any movie can't be perfect I suppose.
Batman Begins is a great movie that could have been greater if only it had had the balls to deviate from the superhero origin formula that requires a climactic battle at the end. That may be silly to say, and it isn't like the action wasn't awesome, but it made it so that a movie that was genuinely thought provoking turned into a more mind-numbing thrill-ride at the end.
Lastly, I had one nitpick. Do you remember the scene where Batman is being forced to execute someone at the League of Shadows' fortress, and instead chooses to blow up the entire fortress, killing everyone inside, instead of taking the man's life without a jury? Did it occur to anyone that, by blowing up the whole freaking place, Bruce ended up killing the guy anyways, and dozens of others besides? Also, for someone who says he'll never take a life, I find it hard to believe that he didn't kill any policemen in that one chase with the Bat-tank. At two separate points, he smashes a cop car underneath his huge rover and blows up two of them with explosive caltrops. How did nobody die? It seemed a bit unbelievable.