Hey folks! I posted this on the "Things Batman Begins Got Right/Wrong" thread, but it kinda got lost in the shuffle as the conversation shifted topics. So, since I took so long writing it, I thought I'd give it its own thread. It will make your eyes bleed: For me, there is one moment more than other that sets Batman Begins apart from Spider-Man, that establishes the key differences in tone, and in the worldviews on display in each film. That moment comes during the films climactic set-piece. After dispatching one of Ras al Ghuls henchmen, Batman takes a tumble, landing among some of the denizens of The Narrows. Now, in a Spider-Man movie, this would be the moment where the ordinary citizens band around the hero in a show of support (Us New Yorkers stick together!). But in Batman Begins, the panicking crowd form a mob and attack Batman, forcing him to fight back against the very people hes trying to save. Its a stark difference, which encapsulates the fact that this Batman is not the squeaky-clean man of the people that Spider-Man embodies, and suggests a dark heart beating beneath the films heroics. If Spider-Man was the early, defiant response to the atrocity of 9/11, America united through the belief that good will prevail (and Spider-Man existing in a New York where the Twin Towers still proudly stand), then Begins is its darker cousin, embodying the contrasting response: paranoia, uncertainty, and a fair share of moral questions. In many ways, Batman Begins is like an anti-superhero movie. Rather than create a fantasy world where superheroes can exist, Nolan and Goyer take the superhero out of his element and place him in our world. Serious questions about what drives a man to put on a costume and fight crime and what the consequences of doing so are are raised, and many of our assumptions are challenged. And thats not just relating to the superhero genre in general, but to our assumptions surrounding the Batman mythos. Take Gotham City. For so long presented as a nightmarish, Gothic nightscape, Nolan first presents his Gotham a shiny, modern metropolis much like Chicago in bright daylight. People have complained that grounding the setting of the action so much makes the film too realistic (the dreaded word) and strips away the larger-than-life elements of Batman. I disagree. When the rest of the world is so grounded and gritty, I feel the presence of a figure like Batman seems all the more fantastical. His impact is truly felt. And what about the killing of Thomas and Martha Wayne? Before Begins, Im sure most of us had a clear idea of that scene in our head. Joker-based revelations aside, the scene was executed wonderfully in the Burton Batman film. The nightmare-haze of it, the slow motion shot of Marthas pearls scattering across the ground. And in the comics, Joe Chill is presented as an icon of faceless, nameless evil, whose malevolent presence, in crossing paths with the Wayne family, was enough to create Batman fully formed in young Bruces mind on the spot. So, we have our expectations. And Nolan turns them on their head. The dramatic, stylised murder of Burtons film is replaced by a blunt, messy killing. Joe Chill is no longer a faceless evil we see the fear on his face before we see it on the Waynes. And, to varying degrees, Bruce, Thomas and Martha Wayne all become partly to blame for the tragic deaths. Joe Chill is no criminal mastermind, no epic symbol of Gothams evil to shape Bruces life the murders are an act of panic and desperation, and Chill is captured that same night. For so long, weve taken the death of Bruces parents for granted, and Nolan makes it upsetting again. He gives it more meaning, to us as a viewer, by giving it less meaning in the world of the film. In the film, Nolan underlines its status as a pointless, aimless act of random violence. As Falcone states later in the film, Sometimes, things just go bad. This idea of stripping down myth to reveal the grubby humanity at the core becomes a recurring theme in the film. The Ras al Ghul we meet at the beginning of the film hailed as a great leader and fearsome force is quickly eliminated by Bruce Wayne. The real Ras al Ghul, when revealed later in the film, exposes his immortality as nothing more than cheap parlour tricks. Falcone, built up as a nigh-untouchable crime kingpin, exposes himself as a classless hood on his first appearance, and later is subordinated first to Batman, then to Dr. Crane. Scarecrow, the one supervillain in the film, is in truth a wimpy psychologist who is easily beaten by a girl. Much of the films talk surrounds the idea of legend, of people reinventing themselves as symbols, but most importantly, that its what you do that defines you. So its very appropriate that when it comes to the villains, the man never lives up to the myth. But the biggest myth of all to be deconstructed is that of Batman himself. Going back to the murder of Bruce Waynes parents, in so many previous adaptations of Batman, weve seen the murder, then its fast forward 20 years to Bruce Wayne as Batman. The murder is his moment of transformation, the moment he decides to become a hero. And this seems to be a trend in many superhero origin stories on film. We may see them get their powers, we may see them struggle with them, but the space between them choosing to use their gifts to fight crime, and actually doing so, rarely tends to be any longer than a brief costume-making montage. But in Batman Begins, that process of becoming a superhero is the meat of the movie, as evidenced by the fact that Batman doesnt show up until an hour into the movie. And heres the kicker: we dont miss him. Because the journey Bruce Wayne takes to get to that point is so fascinating. Some have complained that having Bruce Wayne come close to killing Joe Chill is too different from the Batman of the comics, who is of course perfect and never even considers doing anything morally questionable. But I think having Bruce go through these doubts and dark passages makes him a more rounded character. He isnt just a paragon of virtue by default. He has to struggle to become one of the good people, he needs the help of various influential figures along the way, he has to become truly lost before he can find his way. And in the end he seems like a better, more believable person for it. And, of course, if we really think about it, comics Batman isnt perfect, is he? Part of what made Batman so fascinating in Year One was that he was a Batman who screwed up, who made stupid mistakes. Yes, not introducing Batman until an hour into the movie is a gamble, but it gave me a whole new appreciation for a character that is too often overlooked in Batman lore: Bruce Wayne. At last, the most fascinating, compelling character in a Batman film, is Batman himself. And while Nolan and Goyer deserve due praise for crafting a script shaped around Bruce Waynes struggle, much of the credit must go to Christian Bale himself. One of the finest actors of his generation, his casting as Bruce Wayne was certainly a dream choice for me. But while it would have been all to easy for him to slum it a little, as some feel he did, I think he brought his full dedication to the role. He underplays it, which some have mistaken for being wooden. But in fact, Bale shows great versatility by essentially playing three characters in one film. The first mask is that of playboy Bruce, a smug smirking imbecile who is nevertheless Bruces healthiest, most normal persona, and as Alfred alludes to, there are various points in the movie where we get an inkling that this is the kind of person Bruce secretly wishes he could be. Beneath that is the mask of Batman. And after the lame quips and campy antics of Schumachers Batman, how refreshing is it to once again see a Batman that you can believe criminals would find frightening. He is particularly menacing during his interrogation of Flass, his voice guttural to the point of being animalistic, and totally unlike the Bruce Wayne weve seen for the films first hour. And while the previous films, Batman was often in danger of coming across as lumbering and immobile, Begins manages to make him look dangerous again. Though the fights too often rely on excessive cuts (a topic Ill discuss later), Batmans first appearance at the docks is a masterclass in suspense. Shame about the ending, though. That moment with the homeless guy Nice suit, PHWOOOOSH! is, in my opinion, one of the films few facepalm moments. But right up until that point, Batman is presented as something akin to a force of nature, something feral, primal. The Batman persona feels very much like a cathartic release of Bruces pent up anger. But now we return to the old question whats the mask, and whats the real face? Its become popular to say that the public persona of playboy Bruce Wayne is the mask, and Batman is the real face. Rachel Dawes even says it. But shes wrong. Batman and playboy Bruce are both masks. And the real Bruce Wayne turns out to be the most compelling performance of all. Im a big fan of Michael Keatons performance as Batman, and Ive often cited his definitive moment as the character coming in Batman Returns, in the scene where we see him just sitting in his lounge, in the dark, staring aimlessly out the window, just waiting for the Bat Signal to light up. That moment perfectly captured Burtons take on the character, presenting Bruce Wayne as an empty shell who only really comes to life as Batman. Bales definitive moment in Begins comes moments after he has sedated the rescued Rachel Dawes. He turns his back to the camera, and we see him take off his mask .and shrink before our eyes. His shoulders slump, he looks upwards and just stands there, as if lost. Say hello to the real Bruce Wayne. With Spider-Man, the strength of Tobey Maguires performance is that he makes us feel close to Peter Parker hes relatable, we feel like hes our friend, that with his narration hes taking us into his confidence. On the other hand, the strength of Christian Bales performance in Begins is that Bruce Wayne ultimately remains unknowable. We follow his journey through the whole film, but always seem to be kept at arms length. It is a very restrained, reigned-in performance, that of a man uncomfortable in his own skin, only capable of fluency when donning one of his masks. Even in the scenes where he trains with Ducard, his dialogue (I seek the means to fight injustice, My anger outweighs my guilt) come across as Bruce saying what he feels he is supposed to say, throwing Ducards rhetoric back at him as a substitute for expressing his own innermost thoughts. Another mask. In the moments where he is alone, where he is most himself, flashes of the past of his father, of the bats dominate his thoughts. Perhaps Bruce Wayne the real Bruce Wayne never really developed beyond that childhood. Ironically enough, one performance Bales reminds me of is that of Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. Bruce Wayne shares Ennis Del Mars rage and guilt, internalised and eating away at him because he cant express it, leaving him permanently coiled up and distant from both other characters and us viewers. Only Bruce Wayne is never granted the emotional release that Ennis gets in the closing moments of Brokeback. No, Bruce Wayne ends Begins by once more retreating behind the mask of Batman. Christian Bale gives a phenomenal performance as Batman, in my opinion the best seen thus far on film. Batman Begins has rightly received much praise for framing Bruce Wayne as the main character. But whos the second most important character? Its not Alfred, or Rachel Dawes. Its Ras al Ghul. Despite the fact that he disappears for a large portion of the film, his presence is constantly felt. It is what he stands for that makes him so significant. But first, a more general word on the role of villains in Nolans Batverse, as I see it. I talked earlier about the post-9/11 connotations of Begins, and I think they once again manifest themselves in the villains. The idea of using fear as a weapon is one familiar to those following this never-ending war on terrorism. Terrorists of course use fear as a tool to further their goals, hence the name. But theres plenty of fear at play on the American side of things, watch some Fox News and it seems like theyre trying their utmost to keep people good and scared. So its highly appropriate that Ras al Ghul and Scarecrow would exploit fear to force a city to tear itself apart. Ras al Ghul in particular represents a kind of villain that is recognisable to many of us in this day and age. He does not want world domination or personal revenge, like your usual movie supervillain. His enemy is our society, our way of life, our very way of looking at the world. His ideology demands the annihilation of ours. Its the kind of motivation we see in real-life villains on the news every day. Judging from what weve seen so far, these are overtones Nolan will continue to explore with his interpretation of The Joker. But going back to Ras al Ghul, a big strength of the characters realisation in Begins is that he comes to us in the perennially-trustworthy, mentorly form of Liam Neeson. And to Neesons credit, he never plays Ras al Ghul like a villain. Thats always been a pet peeve of mine in film and TV, when a supposed good guy is revealed to be a villain, and all of a sudden starts acting evil, totally inconsistent with what came before. Neeson thankfully doesnt fall into this trap. His performance remains consistent throughout, with his villainy being so intriguing because of the noble intentions driving it. Hence why the hurt is so clear in Ras al Ghuls eyes when Bruce once again rejects him in their confrontation in Wayne Manor. In his mind, he and Bruce are one in the same. They both aspire to the same thing: justice. Its in their methods that the conflict arises. Ive seen much talk about fear being a dominant theme in the film. This is true. But another theme which isnt discussed enough is that of boundaries. Physical boundaries, of course, such as the divide between The Narrows and the rest of Gotham, but more importantly, moral boundaries. How far outside the law is too far? One of the films most fascinating elements is the fact that it never takes the presence of a superhero for granted, instead raising important moral questions about what sets someone like Batman apart from a common vigilante, or about whether someone like Batman does more harm than good. After the car chase scene (which Ill discuss in more depth later) we get news footage of the massive damage Batman has left in his wake. And then of course theres the escalation theory, lifted out of the comics, and brought to life perfectly in the excellent final scene with Batman and Gordon. The idea that Batman is partly responsible for the rise of the freaks just for existing. Ras al Ghul is a fascinating foe for Batman because of this theme of boundaries, and the fact that Ras has crossed all of Bruces. Their fight is a moral question: theyre both operating outside the law in hopes of finding justice, but without crossing the biggest boundary of all murder is Batmans mission a pointless one? Weve heard reports that in The Dark Knight, The Joker will essentially be a Macguffin, and the real storyline will be the one that develops between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. And this is a rumor I can totally buy as being true, because if Dent becomes Two-Face, as a murderous vigilante like in The Long Halloween, its exploring similar moral murk as the dynamics that exist between Batman and Ras al Ghul here. And to me, the only real bum note in this dynamic comes when Batman leaves Ras al Ghul to die. I wont kill you, but I dont have to save you seems like a cop-out to me. It is essentially killing him. Batman shouldnt kill, period. If his moral code becomes I wont kill anyone, unless theyre REALLY bad, then it sets up a rather slippery slope, where Batman is in danger of not being all that different from a common vigilante after all.