Like most self-respecting nerds I went to see The Dark Knight Rises last Friday, and surprise surprise, I found Batman punching guys again to be pretty enjoyable! I’ve also recently re-watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and after much thought I’ve come to a conclusion even I find a bit surprising — Batman Begins is the best of the bunch.
Batman Begins has been largely forgotten — wiped from the public consciousness by the mania surrounding The Dark Knight. Don’t get me wrong, Heath Ledger’s Joker was amazing, but aside from that one fantastic performance, Begins actually trumps Dark Knight in a number of other areas, and it certainly beats out the somewhat flawed Dark Knight Rises.
So, why am I such a Batman Begins fan? Well…
SPOILER WARNING – There are probably some minor Dark Knight Rises spoilers scattered below. Nothing movie-ruining, but if you haven’t seen the movie and want to go in completely fresh, stop reading.
It’s Filmed Like a Regular Movie
Over the past few years Christopher Nolan has really been honing his unique style, a style that he really pushed to an extreme with The Dark Knight Rises. Booming music, quick jittery editing, lots of montages — the style can be exhilarating, but it can also be hard to follow and eventually kind of exhausting.
Batman Begins was a more traditionally shot film, and in the end I think it’s better for it. The movie is easier to follow, and contains images more beautiful and better staged than anything in its successors.
Everyone’s Motivations Were Clear
In Batman Begins it’s made very clear what everyone’s striving for. Batman has to overcome his need for vengeance in order to become something greater. Ras al Ghul wants to wipe out the modern decadence of Gotham City. Katie Holmes is on a quest to deliver even a single line convincingly (I like Batman Begins best, but yeah, Katie Holmes is not good in it).
Things become much more muddled in the later movies. The Joker is an agent of chaos who nevertheless seems very organized and detail oriented when it comes to planning his villainous schemes. Bane is even more confusing — he wants to return the power to the people, but actually wants to blow them up, but actually actually he’s doing it for love, or uh, something. Batman himself spends most of Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises just reacting to the villains or moping.
It Had the Best Action Scenes
Okay, this one might be a bit controversial, but I really think Batman Begins has the best action scenes of the bunch. The scene where Batman uses the Tumbler Batmobile to escape the cops and jump from roof-to-roof is still the best vehicle-based action scene in the trilogy. The final action sequence with the water vaporizer on the train was also more dynamic than the endings to either Dark Knight or Dark Knight Rises in my opinion.
There’s been a lot criticism directed at Batman Begins’ fight sequences — that too much of the action was off-screen or obscured with jiggle-cam. In the end though, I think I actually prefer this approach. Dark Knight Rises in particular filmed the fighting quite clearly, which only emphasized the awkwardness of the Bat-costume. While fighting Bane, Batman definitely didn’t look like a living shadow trained in ancient ninja arts — he looked like a guy struggling against his own rubber suit.
The Movie Had a Sense of Humor
While obviously infinitely more serious than, say, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins still had some amusing lines and moments throughout, and at least Bruce Wayne was allowed to have a little fun with the whole being Batman thing. At least for a little while.
The Dark Knight had some dark humor from the Joker, but Batman himself was stuck in the midst of a full-on mope throughout. The Dark Knight Rises barely had a moment when the proceedings weren’t grimly serious. Sometimes it’s okay to just let Batman have some fun punching dudes and playing with his wonderful toys.
Gotham City Felt Unique
The Gotham City of Batman Begins is a fascinating mish-mash — part real-life Chicago, part steampunk fantasy, part Blade Runner dystopian slum. The Gotham of the later movies pretty much just looks like a regular, somewhat generic, modern-day American city. Considering how much time people spend talking about and obsessing over Gotham City in Batman movies, the city really ought to have some character I think.
I Kind of Love Scarecrow
I’ve always been a fan of minor comic book villains — the guys who aren’t necessarily threatening or really competent in any way, but just keep showing up because they’re assholes who don’t know when to quit. I’m the kind of guy who ranks Killer Moth and Firefly above The Joker on my list of favorite Batman villains.
Cillian Murphy is great as Scarecrow and I kind of love that his minor villain appears in all three Nolan Bat-films. So yeah, Batman Begins gets bonus points for having the most Scarecrow content.
It Has the Best Character Moments
With the exception of any scene involving Katie Holmes, I think Batman Begins features the best interplay between characters. There are so many great moments between Bruce and Gordon/Alfred/Lucius/Ras al Ghul. The scene where Bruce in his proto-Batman outfit holds a stapler to the back of Gordon’s head and tells him “now we’re two” may be my favorite of the entire trilogy. The “we fall, so that we can learn to get back up” scene between Alfred and Bruce after Stately Wayne Manor is burnt down? Brings a tear every time.
The other movies had their moments too of course, but the relationship between Bruce and Harvey Dent in the Dark Knight and Batman and Catwoman from Dark Knight Rises just weren’t as effective. Gordon, Alfred and Lucius of course all appeared in the sequels, but they didn’t seem to have as much to say or do.
So there you go, that’s why I think Batman Begins is the best Nolan Bat-movie. What about you folks? Which is your favorite? Is Batman Begins underrated or am I the wrongest guy in the history of wrongness?