If it wasn’t for the fact that Batman Begins released the year after Catwoman, the Catwoman movie probably would have damaged the DC superhero movies a lot more than it did. But the road to Batman Begins wasn’t a smooth ride, not in the least. There were a number of cancelled projects between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins.
First, there was going to be a fifth movie in the previous series, called Batman Unchained. Warner Bros. was impressed with the dailies from Batman & Robin … for some reason, and immediately hired Joel Schumacher to start working on a third movie. The main writer for both of Schumacher’s movies turned down the opportunity, so they hired another writer to write the script for Batman Unchained. The plan was to have this movie release roughly 2 years after Batman & Robin, but after the movie failed to impress critics, not to mention it barely succeeded at the box office, Batman Unchained was cancelled only 3 months before filming began. There was also going to be a Robin spin-off, starring Chris O’Donnell, but that too was cancelled.
Warner Bros didn’t know where to go next. They briefly considered a Batman Beyond film, and an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Warner Bros would greenlight whichever movie seemed to suit them best. Shumacher also wanted to be involved. “I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight.” I’ve seen enough of his darker movies to believe that he could have pulled it off. Meanwhile, another movie was pitched to Warner Bros. in 1998, called Batman: DarKnight, inspired by another Frank Miller story, The Dark Knight Returns. That movie would begin with Bruce Wayne having given up his crime fighting, Dick Greyson attending university, and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow) conducting fear experiments. That last point ended up being a major part of Batman Begins. Man-Bat would also appear, and many of Gotham’s public believed the Man-Bat’s activities were Batman’s “bloodthirsty” return. Bruce would need to return to the role of Batman to clear his name. Warner Bros. eventually abandoned both ideas in 2001. The script for DarKnight released on Amazon in 2015.
Oh yeah, and DarKnight was to be rated R.
At one point, Warner Bros. was developing a Batman Beyond movie, with Darren Aronofsky directing and Miller helping with the writing. Aronofsky is known for dark psychological thrillers, like Pi, Below, and Black Swan. However, in June 2002, the studio cancelled it in favour of Batman vs. Superman, also abandoning Year One. Batman vs. Superman would begin with Batman suffering a mental breakdown after being retired for 5 years from crime fighting. Alfred, Robin and Commissioner Gordon are all dead. Clark Kent and Lois Lane had divorced. Bruce and Clark were good friends. After the Joker kills Bruce’s newlywed wife on their honeymoon, Bruce blames Clark and the two fight each other. It’s revealed that Lex Luthor tried to pit them against each other, and they team up to take the supervillain down.
Interestingly enough, Christian Bale was approached to play Batman in Batman vs. Superman, who was considered for Robin for Batman Forever. Josh Harnett had been offered to play Superman in the movie. Filming for the movie was to start in 2003, with a release date in 2004. Warner Bros. eventually cancelled the project in favour of individual movies, hiring Christopher Nolan to direct what would become Batman Begins.
Nolan stated early on that he intended to reinvent the Batman film franchise, by “doing the origins story of the character, which is a story that’s never been told before.” He wanted humanity to be the basis of the film, and wanted his Batman movie would be grounded in reality. He said that the earlier movies were exercises in style over drama, so he took a lot of inspiration from Richard Donner’s Superman. He also wanted an all-star supporting cast to add credibility to the story. They also hired Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack, already known for his epic soundtracks in The Lion King, Prince of Egypt, and Gladiator.
David S. Goyer soon joined in as the lead writer. Nolan had no problem with the studio’s demands that it wouldn’t be rated R, hoping to make the kind of Batman movie he wished he could see at 11. The movie took inspiration from several existing works. For example, the opening scene of a young Bruce Wayne falling into a well was adapted straight out of “The Man Who Falls”. Batman: The Long Halloween also became a major inspiration for the story. They originally wanted Harvey Dent to appear, but decided they couldn’t do him justice with an already detailed plot. They instead replaced him with a new character, Bruce’s childhood friend and love interest, Rachel Dawes. Batman: Year One also served as a major influence on the main story.
Christian Bale joined the cast early on, having already been approached for Batman vs. Superman. He was relatively unknown before that, despite a number of film appearances. He needed to hire a personal trainer to gain 100 pounds of muscle in a couple of months, after losing a lot of weight for his role in The Machinist. As crazy as that sounds, he actually went over target by 30 pounds, and had to lose the excess weight before filming began to even fit into the Bat suit.
Other noteworthy actors who auditioned for Batman include Heath Ledger (the joker in The Dark Knight), Henry Cavill (Superman in the DCEU), Cillian Murphy (played Scarecrow in Batman Begins), and Jake Gyllenhall (Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home). They ended up choosing Bale because, while many of the actors could portray either Bruce or Batman really well, Goyer felt that Bale could do both. Also, Amy Adams served as the casting reader as a favour to the casting director. She would end up playing Lois Lane in Man of Steel.
Other cast members include Michael Caine as Alfred, Liam Neeson as Ra’s al Ghul, Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Lucious Fox.
As with all of his films, Nolan refused a second unit, which he did to keep his vision consistent. He used Blade Runner as an inspiration for the set design, and they built a miniature of Gotham City that filled Nolan’s garage. They wanted it to look like a large metropolitan area that reflected the various periods of architecture the city had lived through. The narrows, a major location in the film, was specifically based on the now demolished walled city of Kowloon in Hong Kong. The bat suit was designed with mobility in mind, with a lot of consideration into the neck so that Bale could turn his head without wrinkling the suit too much. Visual effects focused mainly on practical effects, with CGI only used for exterior shots of Wayne Tower, a handful of monorail shots, and touch-ups when needed.
In the scene were a number of bats fly towards Batman, most of the bats were entirely digital. They digitally recreated the set to make it easier to guide the bats with AI, yet what you see on film is the actual set.
Batman Begins released in June, 2005, and ranked number one on opening day with $48 million. Although that was a strong start, it was unimpressive by the mid-2000’s standards. The movie ended up earning $375 million on a $150 million budget, then making it the second most profitable movie in the franchise, behind only Tim Burton’s original Batman ($411 million). It was also the eighth highest grossing movie of 2005.
The critical reception was fairly positive, with an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and an average score of 7.7/10. Roger Ebert’s review was particularly positive, calling it “the Batman movie I’ve been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for.” He gave it 4 out of 4, praising the realistic portrayals of Batman’s arsenal, the focus on story and character. All this after he previously stated in his Batman Returns review that he didn’t believe noir worked for superhero movies. James Berardinelli (a film critic and former engineer) applauded the movie’s more introspective approach, which he felt that the Burton movies lacked. He did criticize the romantic aspect between Bale and Holmes though, stating that they lacked chemistry, comparing it negatively to Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder from Superman, and Toby Maguire and Kristen Dunst from the Spider-Man trilogy. Most critics in general agreed that Bale is great as Batman, but the chemistry between him and Holmes fell flat.
Tim Burton also commented favourably towards the movie. He felt that Nolan “captured the real spirit that these kinds of movies are supposed to have nowadays. “When I did Batman twenty years ago, in 1988 or something, it was a different time in comic book movies. You couldn’t go into that dark side of comics yet. The last couple of years that has become acceptable and Nolan certainly got more to the root of what the Batman comics are about.”
In the years since, Batman Begins is considered among the most influential films of the 2000s. Forbes published an article on the movie’s 10th anniversary highlighting the movie’s influence on superhero films. Empire Magazine named it in their 100 greatest movies of the 21st century. MTV credited the movie as kick-starting darker reboots of film franchises, stating that it helped influence Casino Royale, the 2014 reboot of Robocop (in development at the time of the article), and a number of others. Kevin Feige stated “Chris Nolan’s Batman is the greatest thing that happened to superhero movies because it bolstered everything.” The movie’s also been directly credited by a number of filmmakers and actors as an influence for movies such as Iron Man, X-Men: First Class, Skyfall, Logan, Wonder Woman (2017), and even the God of War video game series.
As for myself, it’s been a while since I’ve seen this … probably around the same time that I bought The Dark Knight Rises on Blu-ray. I was hesitant to watch the movie back then, and I don’t remember why. When I saw it after my aunt gave me the DVD for Christmas, I loved it. I still very much enjoy this movie now.
The movie can be slow at times, and it kind of feels like three different movies in one, but the movies do connect fairly well by the end. The opening third of the movie is basically Bruce Wayne’s journey to become Batman. It mixes in flashbacks of his childhood, including the night his parents are murdered, with his training under Ra’s al Ghul to become a ninja. It touches on his world travels to learn the mindset of a criminal, while he never quite becomes one of them. That’s the first movie within a movie.
After he returns to Gotham, there’s a touch of a James Bond element where he’s learning about all of these gadgets he can use, while he’s also figuring out who he can rely on as an ally. In terms of action, this is the slowest part of the movie, and it probably features the most comedy. The third movie within the movie begins the night he starts working as Batman. He’s chasing after a complicated conspiracy, while unraveling how dangerous it could be for Gotham City. Eventually, the three movies blend together into one, culminating in a kind of epic climax.
While I still think that Michael Keaton is overall better in the role, Bale is not only a close second in terms of acting, but he’s brilliant in terms of the physicality. You believe he could beat up a group of gangsters when you see him doing shirtless push-ups moments after waking up. You believe that he’s incredibly driven and intelligent. The supporting cast in general adds a lot of charisma, charm and clever humour to the movie. That said, Holmes isn’t really that convincing in her role as a District Attorney. She’s not bad, but when she tries to act tough, it doesn’t really work.
As much as this movie is relatively light on action compared to its length, the action is intense, fast-paced, and exciting. There’s a lot of cinematic creativity when Batman is taking out a group of thugs one at a time from the shadows, focusing more on their reactions than what Batman is doing. I’m pretty sure the action scenes in this movie are also a major influence on the Arkham trilogy of Batman games.
I won’t say too much else in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen the movie yet, as much as you should have by now. That and this blog post is getting pretty long.
Batman Begins is not a perfect movie. I would argue that overall, despite its own flaws, 1989’s Batman is a bit better. Batman Begins is a very oddly-paced movie that is a bit slow at times, and as terrifying as Scarecrow is, he’s not that much of an individual threat. Neeson is decent as Ra’s al Ghul, but he’s not charismatic enough for such a great supervillain. What’s really important about Batman Begins is not that it’s a good movie, but that it’s had a huge influence on modern superhero movies. Just like how we wouldn’t have superhero blockbusters without Superman, we wouldn’t have darker, more serious superhero movies without Batman Begins. Without this movie’s influence, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like The Dark Knight, Logan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or the Infinity War saga, among others. That alone makes this movie a piece of film history, and a good one at that. If that’s not enough to recommend this movie to superhero fans who haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know what is.
Next up is Superman Returns, before we finish up with the remaining movies in the Dark Knight trilogy. Then I’ll finish up this blog series with 2019’s Joker. After that I’ll focus on catch up for a bit, with Pixar’s Soul, the New Mutants movie, and Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon – not necessarily in that order. Whenever I finish that, I’ll do a classic musical theme month. Considering doing a Ridley Scott theme month at some point as well, touching on his most well-known works like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and at least one other.