Batman Begins / The Dark Knight Retrospective


With the release of The Dark Knight Rises (the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy) on Friday, it’s time to look back at the two previous entries and prepare for the return of the caped crusader. There are dangling plot threads and evil issues that need to be resolved from both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and with Christian Bale returning asTthe Dark Knight once again, I wonder if we are shaping up for possibly the biggest movie ever to be released?

It’s odd to consider how well acted the two movies are; for a comic book film, this is incredibly weird, but all actors act the hell out of both films; and it’s rewarded with shockingly believable characters. What’s to say someone isn’t going to cut their face, chuck some make up on, and start terrorising somewhere tomorrow? Heath Ledger’s incredible performance as The Joker is terrifyingly believable and elevated The Dark Knight from a great film, into a magnificent one. Even small performances, like Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane/The Scarecrow, in relatively minor roles were done so well that you want to see more of the same.

Originally I wasn’t too keen on seeing Christian Bale as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, however on re-examining both films, I’m glad to say he’s changed my perception of his performance; he is a terrific Batman; he’s not quite as good as Val Kilmer in Batman Forever, but his performance makes him more than a man in a suit, and he does drive a massive line in between his Wayne and Bats; something other actors have struggled to do. He actually does do Bruce Wayne-y things quite well too, and you can tell the clear difference between the Bruce mask of billionaire playboy, and the driven man still looking to avenge the senseless murder of his parents. There are some aspects of Nolan’s franchise that could use more work (Batman hasn’t lived up to his moniker as “The World’s Greatest Detective”) but there is one more film to pull it off, and with Bale behind both masks, I have full faith.

What I like about the plots of both so far is that they’re not particularly based on any particular storylines from the comics; there are nods to the origins of Two Face, and first meetings with The Joker stories, in The Dark Knight, and Begins has elements of previous Batman origin stories, but they are pretty small parts of the runtime; it shows how Nolan and his team can craft fantastic plots, which entertain throughout, without the reliance of previous material – and in modern day Hollywood that’s a real achievement.

With The Dark Knight Rises however, Nolan is certainly ambitious with his final piece of the trilogy jigsaw, and clearly loading it with tonnes of comic plots; we’re going to see Knightfall (where Bane breaks Batman’s back, and how Bruce Wayne recovers), The Dark Knight Returns (an elderly Batman comes back after 20 years retirement to resume his war on crime), and No Man’s Land (Gotham is broke off from the USA and declared it’s own region, leading to mass amount of crime and a gangland style takeover in a ruined city). The last story alone contained one year’s worth of plot in the comics, so good luck to Nolan to encapsulating all three on the big screen.

The expanded origin of Batman in Batman Begins (showing how he got his skills and motivations) is certainly welcomed. Casual audience members thought Bruce Wayne just put on a costume and bought all of his inventions, cars, costumes etc, until Nolan showed us how his Wayne actually became a highly skilled warrior. In Begins, you appreciate how Wayne goes through his voyage of discovery as a young man (after his father dies, and before stumbling across Ra’s Al Ghul’s cult), and it’s here that you learn about Wayne/Batman’s moral code, ninja-like training, and exactly why he decides to put on a bloody Bat costume to terrorise criminals.

There is some naff storytelling involved, and both films do suffer from being a bit too long. In The Dark Knight, the amount of ridiculous heists and actions the Joker can accomplish on such a small time scale is ludicrous; we’re led to believe that this mental character can accomplish and set up a plan with two or three double turns (including one where he has to get captured alive) to break someone out of prison? (What if someone just shot him dead?) and he even tells Harvey Dent “I don’t have a plan” during the film, which makes his secret schemer identity fall flat on it’s face.

The themes of fear in Begins and corruption in The Dark Knight really drive the fact that Batman, whilst a force for good, can unintentionally alter Gotham City; after spending two movies using fear as a weapon, he escalated crime to turn to costume criminals at the end of Begins and throughout The Dark Knight; and whilst Batman is seen as an incorruptible symbol, people have to focus elsewhere to gain their needs, and can be easily corrupted in The Dark Knight. It’s a testament to Nolan’s direction that both films carry these running themes, and stayed engaging throughout both runtimes.

I’d argue that in both films there’s too much plot holed-up in little lines of dialogue which, if you miss it, leaves you playing catch up the entire film (when watching Batman Begins the first time round, Dr. Crane kept mentioning “he’s coming to Gotham” – foreshadowing the return of Ra’s Al Ghul and his involvement with the drugs he’s dumping in the water supply – but I totally missed that and couldn’t make the connection why the two were together until later viewings). It’s a superhero movie at the end of the day, and it’s not the kind of thing I want to have my brain focused on 100% whilst watching.

The worst thing about both films for me is undoubtedly the citizens vs. criminals boat scenes in the penultimate moments of The Dark Knight; I can see why it’s there (to show how normal people are not as morally corruptible as Gotham City and The Joker are led to believe), however these clips are intersecting with the ‘supposedly’ high point of the movie (where Batman goes over the last hurdle of beating the Joker once and for all) slowing action down massively. Also it has the guy whose view is “all criminals are bad! Grrr!” despite not knowing one thing about what the criminals on the other boat did; he was more than willing to blow up the guys who just did the paperwork for the mob! Yeah, like that beats murdering 10 people.

Overall though, if the first 2 epic and incredibly well done parts of Nolan’s Batman trilogy are anything to go by, we are in for a fantastic conclusion. Despite it’s minor faults in the grand scheme of the three, I look forward to Friday with open arms and await the finale of possibly the greatest film trilogy ever to grace the silver screen. I’m very interested to see if The Dark Knight Rises can pull off the three complicated stories mentioned above in one film, as well as tie-in previous plot elements from the last two movies, and with Nolan, anything’s possible.

Terry Lewis@thatterrylewis.

Batman Begins on BD Triple Play and The Dark Knight on BD Triple Play are both available now, courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.