Might contain spoilers.
It would be all too easy to write this movie off as an awkward, inessential early instalment in the modern superhero genre. That would be a mistake. It’s rough around the edges, sometimes silly, lacking in visual polish, and devoid of superpowers. Nevertheless, this is far from an irrelevant or inadequate movie. Though not a cultural milestone like its sequel, it had the impact it did because Christopher Nolan adroitly demonstrated how to tell a good story that happens to involve superheroes (so to speak).
Today’s DCEU is a joyless, overly dark travesty—which might be slowly changing—but The Dark Knight , masterpiece that it is, only exists because of this film. Iron Man was able to launch the era-defining MCU because Batman Begins laid the foundation for more complex and compelling storytelling.
I still maintain that the normally excellent Christian Bale is the weakest link in this trilogy. His American accent is sub-par, his performance verges on absurd, and his ‘Batman voice’ is ridiculous. No wonder it’s hard to get through the first 45 minutes, which detail his history and training with the League of Shadows. The backstory really is the worst part of the film: young Bruce is quite bad and no one shows to advantage.
Gary Oldman’s caricaturish American accent is particularly jarring considering what a master of
voices and accents he is. The moustache, too. Perhaps it’s deliberate, but thank goodness it
improves slightly in the sequels. Meanwhile, Michael Caine steps fully-formed into the role of
Alfred—he could have been born for it. I enjoy the way he constantly needles Bruce (
the point of all those bloody pushups if you can’t even lift a log?). Morgan Freeman similarly
slides into the role of Lucius Fox with ease. Liam Neeson turns in an effortless, unflappable
performance as the otherwise rather bland Ra’s Al Ghul.
Cillian Murphy strains against the fetters of his role: he relishes the moment when Dr. Crane is finally unleashed, but it hardly lasts. The women are all written as inanimate props for the men, so I don’t entirely blame a miscast Katie Holmes for not being up to scratch as Rachel. And I just noticed that that’s Lashana Lynch as the completely forgettable secretary outside the Wayne office!
The monorail incident is the stuff of nightmares. Look at all those high-rise buildings. How did not a single one of them fall over and cause a chain reaction of disaster when an entire train crashed into them at high speed?
Last but not least, I can’t forget the genre-defining score by Hans Zimmer: again, something of a prototype for what was to come, but standing on its own regardless.
- Not counting the standard Hollywood action movie powers of surviving battles and falls that should kill you.↩
Next in series: The Dark Knight (#2 in Thoughts & Spoilers: Films: The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005))