If I’m being honest, this could be any number of superhero films – Superman the Movie, Avengers (the first one), etc. – but I decided that Batman Begins still reflects the socio-political environment of our world today. And seriously, can you go wrong with Christopher Nolan?
Fifteen years ago, the keys to the Batmobile were passed to Nolan and David S. Goyer (Blade, Man of Steel) with Christian Bale playing the younger version of Bruce Wayne (until the Gotham series went even younger). With Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween as inspiration, the two spin an epic, exciting tale that set the stage for what superhero cinema would look like ever since. While the basic premise – a young Bruce Wayne watches his parents murdered and vows to train himself to fight evil- remains the same, the 2005 version finds Bale’s Wayne struggling with the shame of the impact his cowardice and fear had in his parents’ death. He’s not just angry – he’s also ashamed.
The genius of Nolan and Goyer’s relaunch, sixteen years after the release of the modern Tim Burton Batman film, was focusing on less-heralded characters, especially villains. Focusing on the evil of Carmine Falcone (an ’80s Miller creation), Ra’s al Ghul (created in 1971, used again in “Contagion” which lead to “Cataclysm”/”No Man’s Land”), and Scarecrow (created 1941, only maximized in Loeb and Tim Sale’s series of Batman standalones), the film created a sense of mystery for those who didn’t read the comics, and enough earmarks of canonical Batman stories for those who did. Throw in a younger Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) who would play more of a role later and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) as just as instrumental in the formation of Wayne’s persona, and you had some serious gold.
But in addition to the exciting Batmobile scenes and hand to hand combat, Batman Begins also has a morality play built into the DNA of the superhero action. Lessons like abound like “Why do we fall? So we can pick ourselves up” or “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmond Burke or not). Still, the core is the battle for Wayne’s soul between those who tell him that evil must be stopped at all costs – with mortal blows, preemptively, etc. — or with the just intervention of heroes, using their powers to ultimately make others experience peace and safety. The lines are drawn here, and The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises will tackle these issues and more.
Somehow, Nolan dips us into the darkness of evil in the world but doesn’t quite submerge us the way he will in the next two films. We walk away recognizing that goodness will win – even if it takes a supreme effort and time. And we can see, visually and storywise, that sometimes everything gets reduced to ashes before it can be rebuilt.
Consider that hope in the midst of dark times.