It could so easily have been a committee-approved paddle in the shallow end of an over-milked franchise. What makes Batman Begins special is vision. Top to bottom, director Christopher Nolan has taken the story of Bruce Wayne’s journey from orphan rich-kid to urban vigilante and made it his own.
As told in the Genesis Of The Bat doc, Nolan thrashed out the whole thing in the matey intimacy of his garage, holing up with co-writer David Goyer and production designer Nathan Crowley. They worked in obsessive secrecy, even inventing a leakable script (The Intimidation Game) and hosting cast readings from a single screenplay – no photocopying allowed.
The control-freakery cuts through – and benefits – the entire movie. It’s not so much hands-on as hand-crafted. Nolan had first and final say on everything: the glossy, hyper-real Gotham vibe (“New York on steroids”); the character motivation (“extreme aversion therapy”); the down-and-dirty, elbows-and-haymakers scrapping style (“We’ve seen too much wire combat in films. Violence has lost its threat – I wanted to roughen it up”). Much to his engineers’ anguish, he even had clear demands on how the cockpit of the freshly styled, Lamborghini-meets-Monster-Truck Batmobile should open (“like the petals of a flower”).
Nolan’s masterstroke is the way he drains the character of all camp and kitsch, gradually shading in the origins with a patient but pacy first hour of foreplay before we get anywhere near the Bat – costume or man. Eventually, as Hans Zimmer’s searing, non-brassy score burrows to the emotional core of the story (grief, loss, revenge, rebirth), Nolan fires off a breathtaking flurry of money shots: Wayne lost in primal reverie at the centre of a swirling cyclone of bats; Batman as dark denizen, perched on a tower overlooking the rotting city he’s destined to redeem...
Split into themed sections, the Making Of is a faintly disappointing patchwork of promo and new-ish, but all the key players are terrific value. Method man Christian Bale laughs about how he came to the film fresh from the starvation chic of The Machinist (“I bulked up a little too much. They said, ‘What are we making: Batman or Fatman?’”). Nolan is erudite and fighty on one of the key criticisms: the film’s jittery fight-scene editing (“I wanted to keep a fleeting, criminal’s eye-view of Batman, to make him unknowable and frightening. Those fights can’t be neatly choreographed. They need to feel raw and animalistic”).
Clanging action; glitzy supporting cast; fan-faithful; deeper, darker, earthier... and, most unusual for a comic-book adap, a sharp, eloquent script that cuts right through the dress-up games to smuggle in a few keen human truths. Scoffs about Katie Holmes and yet another set-piece subway-train scrap aside, Batman Begins is a rare beast: a blockbuster with balls and brains.