Batman Begins (2005)
Succeeded by: The Dark Knight (2008)
When the Batman character was to, not for the first time, be re-introduced to the movie audience, the task was given to talented British director Christopher Nolan. You needn't see more than the title to realize that this film probably would be more interested in Batman's motivation and persona than the previous two Schumacher-films of the mid-90s, but that wouldn't necessarily mean the return of Batman would be successful. Not only has the superhero genre been packed with films that more or less go down the same path lately (Spiderman, Daredevil, Hellboy, to name a few), but to make Batman interesting again, a whole new approach was needed, bearing in mind the catastrophic Batman & Robin which signed off the series of the 80s and 90s.
Christian Bale is brilliantly cast in the lead, but it doesn't start too brightly when Nolan uses an uninspired Liam Neeson to dig himself into a hole of twaddle about "journeying inwards" and lines like "training is nothing, will is everything" (when training is in fact what they are doing). It's all too familiar and clichéd, just like most 'training sessions' in movies. But luckily, in the end this one turns out better than feared, and as Bruce Wayne is about to return to Gotham, the film becomes more interesting than superhero-films have been since Richard Lester's Superman II.
Perhaps the most effective with Batman Begins is exactly what was totally lacking from Batman's previous movie outings, as director Nolan takes us on an exceptional psychological study of his protagonist. We're getting to know his motivations and take part in his ups and downs without this ever feeling phoney or banal. That's quite an achievement with a household character like Batman, and Christian Bale deserves quite a bit of credit for it. I can't help being impressed (to say the least) with Bale's physical feat of the past couple of years, bearing in mind his (most likely) unhealthy diet prior to the filming of Brad Anderson's The Machinist before going directly into a hard training scheme to build up his Batman-body. That's an achievement that stands unparalleled in movie history, and his soul searching and incredibly charismatic Bruce Wayne matches it.
As Batman finds his way and starts fighting injustice in Gotham City, we're having a lot of fun with boyish gadgets, stylish special effects and great dialogue. Additionally, the rich character gallery invites screenwriters Nolan/Goyer to set off a number of well-spawned character relations which an impressive cast of inspirational actors make the most of. It's good to see Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Rutger Hauer and (last but not least) Gary Oldman in brilliant character turns. Their acting works brilliantly in the context, because Nolan creates a far more serious and realistic Gotham City than we're used to seeing. It doesn't necessarily make the film darker, but it makes the drama more vital, because the bad guys here are allowed to maintain human instead of becoming clowns. In that respect, it is a stroke of genius (albeit a small one) to cast Tom Wilkinson in the role of Carmine Falcone (even though he never gets the best out of the character). This approach gives the study of Bruce Wayne a lot more edge, and ultimately gives the usual fight between good and evil more potency. And by the end, even Liam Neeson has been able to enhance his performance. His final two seconds being easily his best.