Like many others, I went to see ‘The Dark Knight’ without seeing ‘Batman Begins’, both because it had much better advertising, and, as part of this, it starred the late Heath Ledger in what I believe was the best role of his tragically short career.
‘Batman Begins’ seems very wordy compared to its sequel: but this is not a criticism. If anything, it fulfils its role as the prequel in its explanatory role, building up Batman’s character before the real action gets underway. True, at times this made it slightly hard to follow, particularly as I have no comic knowledge to background the events: I only got as far as the Val Kilmer and George Clooney film version (so I knew where Harvey Dent’s story was going in ‘The Dark Knight’), so I wasn’t fully able to follow what Liam Neeson’s role was until the big reveal at Bruce Wayne’s birthday bash. I believe the narratorial-esque quality of the film, however, gave a certain legitimacy to the fantasy by showing that modern heroes are born, they are made.
Christian Bale, I thought, wasn’t as strong in his role as he would become, and I thought his playboy millionaire persona didn’t really have any credence as it seemed rather randomly placed. This was also the case with regards to his relationship with Rachel Dawes: it wasn’t until the very end that the spark finally arrived and it was perceivable that they might just have feelings for one another, but even then I don’t think Katie Holmes had the same chemistry with Christian Bale as Maggie Gyllenhall did; she came across as the little fish in the big pond, which was effective in her role as a rising star within the D.A. world, but it did make her character seem quite helpless and ineffectual at times.
The two standout characters for me were Alfred and Gordon: the former showed that every film needs a charmer who can lighten the otherwise dark mood, and the latter showed the passion that Batman as a symbol was attempting to encapsulate: both men showed what real acting is all about. Michael Caine has always been the lovable cockney, and it served him well within his role, as he was able to be sincere without being patronising. Gary Oldman is aesthetically perfect for his role: the worn out yet endearing officer on his own crusade to clean the streets of Gotham.
The actual plot didn’t really come to fruition until the film was halfway through, although this is understandable when the first half was spent explaining Bruce Wayne’s background instead of expecting the audience to gather information as they progressed through the film. This meant that the Scarecrow was entirely underused when he could have been as big as Heath Ledger’s Joker if he’d been given the time. He was suitably manic and was certainly a match for Batman at points, but he was defeated slightly too easily for my liking, especially seeing as the Batman had only just recovered from his panic-inducing spray. I think if Liam Neeson’s Henri Ducard had been allowed to join with the Scarecrow within the movie, as opposed to being separated from the man doing his work, it would have had a bigger impact, as it would have been clearer that the line between good and evil is incredibly thin. However, Neeson was able to show this alone, although it was a shame he was flying solo in this.
Overall, though, I would definitely recommend ‘Batman Begins’: it provides a solid basis to understand the sequel, and helps out those of us who were not devotees of the comics in understanding Bruce Wayne’s origins as opposed to seeing his actions without a fully divulged motive.