“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.”

A retelling of the Caped Crusader’s origin leads him right to a confrontation with one of his teachers who is trying to destroy Gotham City. 

Directed by Christopher Nolan 
Story by David Goyer 
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer

Eight years after George Clooney “killed the Batman franchise” with BATMAN & ROBIN, a film so campy it made the Adam West Batman show look serious, Christopher Nolan came along and gave us a grittier, more realistic Batman that eventually led to  one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. 

But this isn’t THE DARK KNIGHT. This is the first movie in Nolan’s trilogy. And even though EVERYONE knows the Batman’s origin, we get reminded of it here. From the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne to Bruce’s travels to train and become a man who can exact revenge for his parents’ murder. But along the way he meets a man named Henri Ducard, a member of the League of Shadows, who trains Bruce to be more than just a man seeking revenge; he pushes Bruce to be a symbol. A guy in a six-foot bat costume who beats up criminals on the mean streets of Gotham City. 

And even though Gotham City was a hole before Bruce Wayne returned, it wasn’t besieged by costumed crazies or genocidal maniacs. But that all changes here. Because Henri Ducard isn’t what he seems. He’s actually Ra’s al Ghul, the Demon’s Head, the leader of the League of Shadows. And he wants to raze Gotham City to the ground. 

Using Ra’s al Ghul as the first main villain for Nolan’s trilogy was an interesting choice, and probably the best decision to establish the world this Batman was in. The Demon’s Head is a terrorist, not a homicidal clown or a maniac in a green suit spouting riddles. Sure, there’s always going to be a level of the fantastic in a comic book movie, but Nolan does a great job of grounding the fantastic in a more realistic setting, giving us a very different Batman than the one movie-goers had become used to. 

But still, Christian Bale’s Batman voice is ridiculous. And, if I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the costume – at the very least, the cowl. It shaped Bale’s head poorly. But, obviously, it was a work in progress. This was his origin, after all. Though it didn’t really get better. 

Bale is also flanked by a lot of great actors to get him through the film. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and Rutger Hauer all carry their own weight here, making this one of the best superhero casts since SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE

And then there’s Katie Holmes as Bruce’s childhood friend/love interest Rachel Dawes. I am admittedly a Katie Holmes fan. I think she has moments of being a great actress with a good amount of range. But here? Here she just comes off as an angrier Joey Potter, her character on DAWSON’S CREEK

Granted, Holmes was a better choice than her replacement in THE DARK KNIGHT, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who turned the character into a stereotypical damsel in distress who relied entirely on her two big burly men to save her when danger strikes. And it got her killed. But that’s another post. 

Overall, it’s a good start, giving Batman clear motivations for protecting his city while not looking completely like a sociopath who likes to beat people up. Easily the second-best flick in the Nolan Bat-verse.