Appreciating Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins

Image retrieved from IMDb

Batman Begins (2005)

If you watched Memento and Insomnia, then you probably would have had a hard time guessing that Christopher Nolan would be the next person to direct a Batman movie. But that’s exactly what happened. Nolan brings a completely new take to what a superhero movie could be.

Prior to this movie coming out, most, if not all, comic book movies felt like they were comic book movies. In other words, they weren’t grounded in the same sort of realism that Batman Begins and the subsequent Dark Knight movies are. This trilogy is what laid the groundwork for the possibilities of what superhero movies can be: much more than just a fun summer blockbuster. They can actually be taken seriously as good films.

Nolan takes the approach to Batman where there is no sort of sci-fi or fantasy elements that other superhero movies have. Everything that happens in it could conceivably happen in real life at some point. No one can fly and no one can make fire come out of their hands. It’s just a billionaire who sees a problem in the city that he lives in and loves, so he becomes this persona. In a way, it’s actually a believable story, which is exactly what Nolan was going for and why he only needed fifteen minutes to convince Warner Bros that he was the man for this job.

Another unique thing that Nolan did with these movies is that he made them each on their own self-contained story. So many superhero movies these days are made with the intention of a sequel or franchise. But Nolan has talked about how he and his crew only ever looked at one movie at a time. There are Easter eggs in this movie, such as Zsasz and the Joker card, but none of it was obviously him saying, “Here’s the next movie.” It was more of a nod to the fact that there is a large Batman universe out there and that Batman could go on other missions than just the one in this specific movie.

But even with all of this, a movie about a guy who dresses up as a bat and fights crime definitely is a superhero movie. This movie just began to show the different ways a superhero movie could go.

Batman Begins is also able to bring in a lot of interesting themes and ideas that weren’t really being brought up in superhero movies at the time. Each movie in this series takes on a central theme, and the central theme in this one is Fear. Bruce wants to “turn fear against those who prey on the fearful.” So he becomes an ideal, as Ra’s Al Ghul puts it. He becomes more than just a man. He becomes Batman, therefore becoming a symbol. He wants to show that people can stand up for themselves. Not everyone has to submit to the evil that has come over Gotham through the years.

Then of course there are the two recurring sayings: one from Thomas Wayne and the other from Rachel. Thomas says that we fall so “we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” Throughout the entire trilogy, Bruce/Batman falls – both literally and figuratively – many times. But he learned that lesson early on in his childhood that there is a reason for this falling, and he remembers it and makes the best of it. The quote from Rachel is, “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.” Bruce really takes this idea to heart, because you see a change in him after Rachel says this to him. He realizes that you can have a great heart, but if you’re not doing anything about it, then it almost doesn’t count for anything.

This is where we see the real Christopher Nolan flare come in the picture. There’s no big mystery. This isn’t a psychological thriller. The events of the story aren’t presented too unusually. But we again get to dive deep into the mind of Bruce Wayne and learn what happened to make him have these ideas. It’s fascinating to see so much depth from a superhero movie. This film just laid the groundwork for the different things that movies in this genre could be. Its effects are still being seen today and that’s largely because of Christopher Nolan’s visionary thinking.

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