Tormented by memories of his millionaire parents’ murder by a petty thief (and wracked with guilt, believing it was his fault) young Bruce Wayne is raised by his loyal butler, Alfred.
As he matures, he bears the burden of smoldering wrath. But his quest for revenge gets frustrated when a twist of fate robs him of the chance to settle the score. How can he reconcile his rage and the legacy of benevolence and decency he received from his father? Bruce sheds his name and privilege, choosing to roam the globe and observe criminal behavior. It lands him in a Bhutanese prison. He is identified, freed, and trained in the arts of combat and stealth by Henri Ducard, an enigmatic member of the League of Shadows. Ducard’s dark fraternity of vigilante ninjas is committed to removing social cancers—including the rampant crime and corruption that is Gotham City. Bruce pledges to fight for the same cause, but not by destroying the city. He wants to save it.
Bruce returns home to Gotham aware that very few people are willing to stand against evil. One is Lt. Gordon, a beacon of integrity amid dirty cops. Another is his childhood friend Rachel Dawes, the Assistant District Attorney. (She can’t seem to keep criminals behind bars because the oily Dr. Crane always manages to get an insanity ruling that lands them in his asylum.) Also worthy of Bruce’s trust is Lucius Fox, a long-time employee of Wayne Enterprises—one of the few who hasn’t forsaken its founder’s altruistic vision in favor of globalization and shady military contracts. And, of course, there’s Alfred. With their help, and aided by a foreboding alter-ego, Bruce embraces his calling to rescue Gotham City as Batman.
With the success of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, Hollywood rediscovered the public’s hunger for comic book superheroes. But subsequent flops proved that audiences don’t care about empty computer-generated effects or mind-numbing action sequences. They want smart, character-driven stories with a moral core. Batman Begins understands this, and should appeal to the same crowd that propelled a certain web-slinger to big-screen success.
As a boy, Bruce shares a warm, healthy relationship with his altruistic, socially conscious dad. Wayne Enterprises is driven to improve life for the city as a whole. We learn that Dr. Wayne even created an economical rail system to provide disadvantaged people with transportation, and that his ancestors helped slaves via the Underground Railroad.
When Bruce experiences a crisis, his father says, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up” (a lesson repeated often and at key moments, much like Spider-Man’s mantra “With great power comes great responsibility”). When Bruce’s parents are killed, the boy is shown kindness by a police officer destined to become a loyal ally.
Alfred is patient and sacrificial, a loyal, respected servant who isn’t afraid to tell Master Bruce when he’s out of line. When Bruce expresses disregard for the fate of his name, Alfred insists, “It’s not just your name. It’s your father’s name. And it’s all that’s left of him.” Later, Bruce humbles himself, giving his coat to a homeless man and embarking on an anonymous journey of self-discovery without his fortune. Bitterness is deemed counterproductive (anger strangles grief until it turns into a self-defeating poison).
Meanwhile, Rachel stands up for what’s right despite risks. She distinguishes between justice and revenge, lecturing Bruce about selfishness and civic duty (“Justice is about harmony; vengeance is about making yourself feel better”). When he puts on the playboy act—meant to keep people from connecting him with the crusading Batman—her disappointment in what she thinks he has become doesn’t keep her from believing in his potential. She tells him, “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you” and asks, “What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing?” Characters advocate perseverance, patience, confronting fear and “devotion to an ideal.”
Urged to kill a criminal, Bruce refuses (“I’m no executioner”). He seeks justice rather than revenge, and is committed to not killing his foes. Bruce risks his life to save a mentor from a fiery fate. Later, Alfred does the same for him. After processing his fear, hatred and grief, Bruce determines to show the city of Gotham that it doesn’t belong to the corrupt, criminal element (“I seek the means to fight injustice, to turn fear on those who prey on the fearful”). He’s convinced that wiping out the population like a malignant tumor isn’t the answer (“Gotham isn’t beyond saving; there are good people here”).
The League of Shadows’ heartless Eastern philosophies fail to jibe with Bruce’s nobler sense of compassion and justice. While not overtly spiritual, this stark contrast supports a Christian worldview. Bruce feels called to show mercy to the people of Gotham, arriving in their evil midst, not to pronounce judgment but to redeem the city.
Going out of his way to act like a wealthy playboy, Bruce visits a restaurant with two women on his arm who wind up frolicking in a nearby pool (bare shoulders shown). Sweethearts share a tender kiss.
According to director Christopher Nolan, “[Audiences] have gotten comfortable seeing fighting portrayed in this graceful, dance-like fashion to the point where the violence loses its threat. I wanted to take it back to a grittier place, where you feel the punches a bit more.” Hence the movie’s frequent barrages of hand-to-hand combat, most often employing tight, disciplined Keysi attacks. Whether taking on seven men in an Asian prison camp, engaging in brutal ninja-style combat while training under Ducard, or disabling bad guys in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne mixes it up early and often.
Arsonists begin to burn down an inhabited apartment building, and later Wayne Manor. Other specific instances of violence include the shooting of Bruce’s parents, the Jack Ruby-style assassination of an ex-con, and a public official being bludgeoned and shot in the back. A traumatic fall leaves a boy with a broken arm. Thugs beat up Bruce and dump him in an alley. Threats at gun- and knife-point are common, as are flurries of gunfire. A building gets blown to smithereens with assassins still inside. The destruction of property—including numerous police cars—occurs during a reckless, high-speed chase. Bad guys get head-butted, knocked cold (once by Alfred brandishing a nine-iron), sail out of windows, succumb to a taser and are trapped inside a fiery train wreck.
Crude or Profane Language
Just over a dozen profanities. Most are mild except for single instances of “a--hole,” “g--d---“ and an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Police make a drug bust. Central to the plot is a scheme to unleash a lethal airborne hallucinogen on Gotham City. A villain uses smaller amounts of this panic-inducing toxin to temporarily cripple foes, causing people to have blurred vision and trippy, sometimes grotesque hallucinations. (He eventually gets a taste of his own medicine.) A man attempts to kill a girl by administering a concentrated dose. Exposure demands that some victims be injected with an antidote. Men drink liquor. Alcohol is served at Bruce’s posh birthday party.
Other Negative Elements
Bruce admits that he stole food to survive, yet states that he never allowed himself to adopt the true character of a thief—logic that could lead young people to justify stealing under certain circumstances. Creepy hallucinations show a man’s burlap hood crawling with maggots.
Although the titular superhero does his best to subdue rivals using non-lethal means, Batman Begins is quite violent, and it runs to the darker end of the comic book spectrum. It also includes some profanity. Still, it falls responsibly into the PG-13 category, giving mature teens and adults a summer popcorn flick brimming with moral dilemmas and character issues sure to generate discussion. Just as director Sam Raimi took Spider-Man to new heights, Chris Nolan’s back story of the Dark Knight should please both avid fans and casual thrill-seekers alike.
“What’s always been fascinating about Batman,” says Nolan who also co-wrote the script, “is that he is a hero driven by quite negative impulses. Batman is human. He’s flawed. But he’s someone who has taken those very powerful, self-destructive emotions and made something positive from them. To me, that makes Batman an extraordinarily relevant figure in today’s world.”
I’ve enjoyed various incarnations of Batman throughout my life, from the campy ’60s TV series (all hail Cesar Romero!) to comic books and cartoons, and even the cheesy black-and-white matinee serials from the ’40s released to DVD earlier this year. But I have to admit, Bruce Wayne has never been the easiest character to identify with. Clark Kent? You bet. Peter Parker? Absolutely. Those guys exude a relatable, mild-mannered awkwardness. I mean, who hasn’t felt like a nerdy outsider forced to conceal his true identity? Then there’s Bruce. I’ve always found it harder to empathize with a sullen rich kid nursing a bat fetish ... until now.
Batman Begins does a masterful job of making Bruce Wayne a more sympathetic hero without violating the legend. He still lingers in shadow. He still growls hoarsely, “I’m Batman.” However, we no longer see him as just an unfortunate boy who witnessed the senseless murder of his wealthy parents. With the gaps filled in, we now understand the fear and guilt that haunted him, and how even his thirst for revenge became frustrated before he got his moral bearings.
More than just informative, this new film is smart and subtly self-aware. The screenwriters weren’t lazy. They respected fans enough to make each development—from the birth of the bat cave to the outfitting of that utility belt—reasonably logical (including why Batman always seems to have a spare hood on hand). Where did the body armor come from? The bat signal? How does he fly? After Batman Begins I can even accept that a brooding millionaire could somehow possess the ninja skills to mix it up with members of the underworld.
Christian Bale is perfectly cast as the caped crusader. He has the presence, dry wit and smoldering intensity to make Bruce Wayne believable, whether he’s being tormented by personal demons, assuming the role of spoiled playboy, creating his cowled alter-ego or taking out the bad guys with brute force. It’s enough to make us forget Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney altogether. Bale has resuscitated an American icon and given new life to a franchise feared dead ever since Joel Schumacher put nipples on the batsuit. A final scene in this prequel could be connecting the dots to the 1989 film, or it may be setting up a brand-new sequel. I for one hope it’s the latter.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman; Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard; Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth; Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes; Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox; Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon; Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane; Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone; Rutger Hauer as Richard Earle