[Opinion] - Why Batman Begins Is The Perfect Batman Movie


Few people can argue that Nolan's Dark Knight series has had a profound effect on both the way comic book movies are made, but also how the public views them as a subgenre. Like the sword and sorcery genre of fantasty, superheroes have had to overcome an entrenched view that they are somehow less then, that the stories they mean to tell are somehow less worthy then movies that don't feature capes and cowls. Which, when put like that, is just bald faced genrism.

Few can argue that The Dark Knight itself is an incredibly good piece of film making. Yes, it's overly long, and relies a bit too much on... what's the opposite of couincidence? That, whatever that is, it relies too much on it. But beyond all that, it is a tense, character driven examination of belief and duty, and how sacrifice can shape a person. It's just not a very good Batman movie.

Dark Knight is certainly a superior film. But if you defined a Batman movie as a movie about Batman, Dark Knight (the title is very aware of itself) happens only to be a movie with Batman in it. It's a small distrintion, but an important one. Which is why I propose the following: Batman Beings is the perfect Batman movie.

Hit the jump for the argument.


Some things to remember before we move foward. One, Batman Begins was set up to be both the start of a new series, but also stand alone in case it failed, and Warners had to bail on the franchise again. Two, Nolan didn't know if the world of Batman was going to be interesting enough for him to return to. Three, DC and Warners had very tight restrctions over what could and couldn't be in it. Even after the success of the Dark Knight, they still tried to impose on Nolan, ordering him to include the Riddler in part three. He declined, they accepted that and stepped out of his way. Not so with part one. Nolan was, after all, the director of two smaller, critically acclaimed but not overly successful films to that point (Memento and Insomnia). He held no sway. Which isn't to say that he didn't leave his mark on Batman Begins. He's all over it. But it wasn't as much a passion project as Inception was. He was there to make a commerical film as good a film as he could. He came to make a movie about Batman, not a movie about ideas.

It's important to remember that it wasn't Nolan's idea to reboot Batman, it was the studio's. They were already looking at Darren Aronofsky, and even Joss Whedon pitched them an idea. Nolan came with a vision of how to explore a character he had no relationship with, under the structure of a story that was (esentially) already written. People sometimes forget, Nolan shares the writing credits on both films. On the second, he shares with his brother, Jon. But on the first, he shares it with David S. Goyer, who had already proven his mettle with the Blade series at Marvel. He was the big name in comic book adapations at the time, and was the one DC brought in to make a Batman movie work.

So, Batman Begins was the first of any of the Batman films to be equally about Bruce Wayne. Dark Knight took that too far, and was almost entirely about Bruce Wayne. The benifits of an origin a story is you get to explore the character before he puts on the costume. Call it the curse of Nolan that every superhero film since has followed his "no costume for the first forty minutes" rule. But the Tim Burton movies weren't about Bruce Wayne, and he was barely a character in them. Batman '66 didn't care about Wayne at all, and in fact used him as just another tool in Batman's belt. In Begins, he isn't just an rich billionair in a mask; he's a hurt, frightened, angry little boy who wants to punch the world in the face. Who learns to temper that anger, and channel into something constructive. Even his creation of the Batman persona is passive, taken shape grandually over time, and prone less to a specific idea and more towards necessity. Burton's Batman literally flies out of Wayne's mind. Each part of Nolan's comes together because he needs it to work in a certain way. The fact it looks like a bat is almost accidental. In other Batman films, you get the sense that he becomes Batman because he's supposed to be Batman. In Begins, you get the sense that he could have become Ratman, or Felt Top Hatman, or Perry Mason Eats You In Your Sleepman.

Becasue it had to function as both stand alone, and as a possible connection to a sequel made by someone else, Begins had to serve all masters. It had to feature iconic villains that would challenge Batman. It had to set up relationships that could have conflict that would be resolved, but also with the chance of future conflict. It had to introduce the character and leave him in a place where he could go off in any direction, while also stablizing him. And Nolan pulled it all off, even hooking a sequel without hooking a sequel. It was more a shout out to the comics then a call to the casting department. A world with a Batman needs a Joker, whether a film would be made out of it or not. The appearence of the card at the end was more a sign that the universe was normalizing, that it was approaching the Gotham that comic fans knew.

And this is a story that comics fans knows. It's as close and as perfect as an adaptaion for Year One we'll ever get, and I include the recent adaptaion of that work in that list. Certainly, for the sake of the narrative and simplicity, it leaves out certain elements, and introduces ones that never existed in the comics, but what it manages to do is take a simple, iconic idea, and make a nearly definative vision out of what could literally be a million differnt directions. Look and see how much Superman '77 has effected every single vesion of Superman, from comics, to cartoons, to films. In twenty years, hell, in ten years, you think it will be any different with Begins?

It's the universality of the film that makes it the perfect Batman movie. Dark Knight only works in conxtext and relation to Begins. Dark Knight Rises will only work in conxtext and relation to it's two predessesors. They are closed circuits. Begins is an open curcuit. It has no connection, corelation, or symbiotic narrative relationship with anything except itself. Forget the bit about Chill, and it could work as a prequel to Batman '89. Give a little leway with Ra's, and it works perfectly as an intro to the Animated series. Indeed, any Batman story you wanted to tell, save for the origin, and Begins fits very comforatbly in front of it. That openness puts it heads above the rest in terms of accessablitiy and watchablity. You wouldn't sit someone down and show the Dark Knight cold. There is a level of understanding that needs to come before watching that flick. But anyone can watch Begins and know everything they need to about Batman.

It's also the truest depiction of Batman, outside of animation, that has appeared on film. In The Dark Knight, Wayne considers giving himself up to stop the Joker, to foresake that which he has accomplished not becasue the Joker beat him, but because he felt the Joker had beaten him. The trailers for Rises make it clear that Wayne has quit being Batman for an extended period. These are not the actions of Batman. In Dark Knight, Wayne willingly allows Batman to be painted the villain, becasue he isn't answerable to anyone. He allows Batman to be sacrificed for the greater good. In Begins, Wayne doesn't hesitate to sacrifice Bruce Wayne for the sake of Batman. Multiple times, when he abadons his life to seek out the criminal element; when he ruins his reputation at his party, and is later accused of burning down his mansion; when Rachel clearly states that Wayne never returned to Gotham. Batman's purpose is resolute, and Wayne is prepared to sacrifice every aspect of his life to protect that purpose. In Begins, he does that. In Dark Knight, he uses Batman as more of a bullet proof vest.

I have no doubt that Rises will bring an end to the first great trilogy of the twenty first century, and like Dark Knight, I have no doubt that it will be a cerebrial feast, allowing people to debate and discuss it's layers and themes for years to come. I myself have spent many working hours with people ranging from barely hormonal to post-doctorite on the subject of Dark Knight. But there is a reason the first couple trailers for Rises featured almost no action, no heroics, and no Batman. Becasue they aren't movies concerned with a man in a cape, they are movies concerened about a man who wears a cape. Only Begins, the only one of which contains the word Batman, is a movie that be held up and said that it is, for all it's perfections and failings, a Batman movie. And it is certainly the best one of those ever made.

It was best summed up by a student who approached me one day, with no reason, or followup. He simply said this, and walked away:

Batman Begins > the others

And I have a hard time disagreeing with that.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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