In my imagination, the jokey outtakes from Batman Begins would feature Christian Bale hamming up that typical actor’s query: “What’s my motivation??”
As Michael Chabon makes clear in The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, his literary homage to comic books, the key to a great comic superhero isn’t the costume, the name or even the powers, but the why – why does he do what he does in the way that he does it? Come up with an answer which is more interesting than the vagaries of “fighting crime” and “upholding justice”, and you might just create a legend.
In Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan explores “the why” and gives us what all the other Batman movies couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Apart from weirdness in the start where Bruce Wayne is apparently young and restless in a country full of Asiatics who all speak English like David Carradine, an annoying Michael Caine as Alfred whose accent wobbles Thatcher-like between posh and decidedly un, and the fact that I personally find Christian Bale bloody ugly and wish he’d keep his bat mask on all the time, I think Nolan succeeds spectacularly. In these dark cultural days for UCL alumni when Coldplay rule album charts, it’s nice to have a fellow alumnus actually doing something you’re proud to be associated with, albeit incredibly indirectly. (Ricky Gervais, Antony Gormley and Gandhi, I’m totally proud of y’all too!)
So, “Batman” is cobbled together from Bruce Wayne’s childhood fears, residual guilt from his parents’ deaths, advice from mysterious mentor Henri Ducard to “become what you fear most”, his view that Gotham’s criminals need to fear a symbol rather than just a man, and finally, the relative ease of making good bat-shaped ninja stars as compared to, say, wombat-shaped ones. Wombatman’s ninja stars would suck, though I guess he’d probably sell more Happy Meals. I’d buy a Wombatman Happy Meal.
But I digress. At the risk of sounding a bit high-school film class, I’ll say I think the theme of fear is well developed and explored in this film, and at the risk of sounding like a pretentious fuck I’ll also say I liked the modern allegory of the ploy to destroy Gotham by creating artificial and irrational fear in its populace. Cillian Murphy is great as Scarecrow, and the trippy sequences where he induces terror and dons his mask look soooo Dave McKean. Also, he’s dead sexy, and can lock me up and play scary mask games with me any time.
Although I’m only tangentially familiar with the Batman/DC Comics universe (through the bits of it that appear in Sandman), one thing which stood out for me was how much Batman Begins felt like reading a good graphic novel – meticulously intelligent, plot-driven yet dense with interesting ideas, and visually transporting. All in all, it is a stunning example of how once in a while, movie adaptations don’t end up raping their comic book originals in the ass.