Christopher Nolan Blogothon over at the Things That Don't Suck blog.
The fact that it took eight years for a new Batman film to be released illustrates how freaked out the studio was over the commercial and critical failure of Batman and Robin (1997). Warner Brothers gave the franchise a much needed rest while they quietly looked for someone to reboot it. At first, it looked like Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller might be the ones to do it but the studio didn’t like their vision of the character. Then came screenwriter David S. Goyer and then up-and-coming director Christopher Nolan who decided to return the Dark Knight back to his roots. They wanted to explore what motivated Bruce Wayne to dress up like a giant bat and wage war on the criminals of Gotham City. By all accounts, their effort, fittingly entitled Batman Begins (2005), was a resounding success. The critics loved it and audiences flocked to the theaters to see it. So, what did they do right?
The casting. While anyone can disappear into the bat suit and look scary it’s playing Bruce Wayne that is the real challenge. To date, only Michael Keaton has pulled it off because he brought a complexity and a refreshing unpredictability to the role. Christian Bale, who has proven that he’s got considerable acting chops with an impressive resume, perfectly captures the essence of the tortured billionaire. Also gone are the obvious casting of marquee names like Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger in favor of reliable character actors like Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy and Rutger Hauer. They bring sincerity and just the right amount of believability to their roles. The only weak bit of casting is Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Bruce’s childhood friend. She’s just not believable as a tough prosecutor who works for the District Attorney. Holmes is also too lightweight of an actress and is unable to bring the gravitas needed for the role.
The story. Goyer and Nolan remain true to the spirit of Batman’s origins as depicted by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, right down to how Bruce’s parents are killed and how this torments him throughout his life. Their death will provide the motivation for what he will become and the filmmakers never lose sight of this. They understand that it is Bruce’s single-minded obsession with fighting crime and keeping the darkness at bay is what motivates him to become Batman and Bale embodies his character’s inner turmoil perfectly. The first half of the film is devoted to Bruce’s transformation into Batman and the last half sees him defend Gotham City against a plot to poison the city with a deadly psychotropic drug. And for good measure, they also throw in the threat of local mobsters and the wild card bad guy known as the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). The screenplay is smart and well-written, hitting all the right emotional notes and thankfully keeping the cheesy one-liners down to a minimum.
The tone. The campiness of the Joel Schumacher films is gone, replaced by a darker, brooding vibe. Nolan brings an art house sensibility to a big budget superhero film which gives it more substance. He treats the source material with the respect that it deserves. Even more interestingly, he incorporates elements from the horror film genre. Early on, when Bruce Wayne as a young boy accidentally discovers what will become the Batcave, Nolan imagines the entrance as dark and foreboding, decorated with dangerous, jagged rocks. Then, many bats come flying right at the frightened Bruce. Meanwhile, the Scarecrow uses a hallucingenetic drug to induce nightmarish visions in his victims.
One of the reasons Batman Begins works so well is the choices Nolan makes, like sticking close to Batman’s origins in the comic book and filling in the gaps that the comics had created. Nolan and Goyer worked closely with D.C. Comics, picking and choosing aspects from various issues during Batman’s long run. For example, Nolan’s depiction of James Gordon (Gary Oldman) was influenced by Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Like in that comic, we meet Gordon early in his career as an honest police sergeant surrounded by corruption. Gary Oldman even looks quite similar to the way David Mazzucchelli draws him in Year One. Also, gang boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) is taken from this comic. Batman Begins’ primary villain is Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and his League of Assassins (League of Shadows in the film) is the creation of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams. They returned Batman to his darker, grittier roots in the 1970s.
The Dark Knight (2008).
For a more in-depth analysis of this film, check out Peter Sanderson's fascinating, exhaustive essay over at Comics in Context.