Batman Begins & The Dark Knight
Famously directed by Christopher Nolan; there is a third film to complete the trilogy, Dark Knight Rises, but it is more depressing and not one I really wanted to revisit (more on that later). Christian Bale (who is technically Welsh and played Jack Kelly in Newsies, the voice of Thomas in Pocahontas, and known for American Pyscho, Ford v Ferrari, and The Fighter. He will also be in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder film and The Pale Blue Eyes [the main reason I’d be interested in this film is because it filmed near where I live]) leads the film as Bruce Wayne, with Gary Oldman (Air Force One, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, voicing the bad guy in Quest for Camelot, Red Riding Hood, and most recently known for Tinker, Tailor, Sailor, Spy and Darkest Hour. And of course, no one of my generation is going to forget him as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films) as Jim Gordon. Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn in Phantom Menace and the voice of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, also known for A-Team, Taken, and Schindler’s List) is Ducard, Michael Caine (whose acting career goes back to the fifties and was in Zulu, The Battle of Britain, The Eagle Has Landed, and A Bridge Too Far [we blame my father for my knowledge of some of these movies], and more recently in Miss Congeniality and Muppet’s Christmas Carol) is Alfred, while Ken Watanabe (Katsumoto in The Last Samurai) appears as Ra’s Al Ghul. Katie Holmes is Rachel Dawes, Morgan Freeman (he needs no introduction) is Lucius Fox, and Colin McFarlane (he appears in Outlander, Dr. Who, and Torchwood, and is not terribly nice in Hallmark’s Crown for Christmas movie) is Commissioner Loeb. Charles Edwards (Michael Gregson from Downton Abbey) also makes a brief appearance, as does Jack Gleeson (most famous as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones) as a little boy.
The film opens with a young Rachel and Bruce playing on the grounds of Wayne Manor. Bruce falls down an empty well and bats fly out of a cave underground. He wakes up and it’s a memory from his childhood; he’s now a grown man in a foreign prison (somewhere in Asia, I presume). A fight begins and he comments that his opponent is not the devil, just practice. In solitary, a cultured man finds him and knows him to be Bruce Wayne [I actually forgot that Liam Neeson was in this film until I heard him speaking]. His name is Ducard and he works for Ra’s Al Ghul [pronounced Raz, unlike Batman Beyond]. He offers Bruce a path with the League of Shadows, where men share his hatred of evil and he can devote himself to an ideal, becoming a legend. If he wants this path, pick a blue flower on the side of the mountain, then journey to the top.
Bruce picks the flower and makes his way up the mountain. He is asked what he is seeking and responds that he wants to fight injustice and turn fear on those who prey on the fearful. Ducard starts a fight to test Bruce, warning him that he faces fear and death in training. What does Bruce fear? He fears the bats that swarmed him as a child. His memory continues with his father rescuing him. “Why do we fall? So we learn to pick ourselves up,” his father teaches. They take the new train into the city for a night at the opera, built by Wayne Enterprises and makes their tower the center of the city. Unfortunately, the demons in the opera are reminiscent of bats and Bruce begs to leave early. The family take a side door out into an alley, where they are confronted by a man with a gun. Thomas Wayne easily hands over his wallet, attempting to keep the situation calm, but when the other man points the gun at Martha, Thomas steps in front and is shot, followed by Martha. The crook runs and Bruce is left to hear his father tell him “don’t be afraid,” before he dies.
There is a kind police officer who drapes Thomas’s coat over Bruce that night at the precinct, assuring him “it’s okay.” The crook is caught, but now all Bruce has is the manor and Alfred. The boy blames himself for his parents’ death. In the present, Bruce tells Ducard his anger outweighs his guilt. Ducard instructs him to confront his guilt and counsels him that theatricality and deception are powerful agents. Criminals thrive on society’s “understanding.” Bruce recalls the hearing he attended as a young man against his parents’ murderer. Alfred continues to support Bruce and gives a damn about him and his family’s name. Bruce takes a gun to the proceedings and plans to shoot Joe Chill afterwards. But someone else, connected to the Falconi mob beats him to it. When Rachel, now part of the DA office, finds out, she slaps Bruce and tells him off. What chance does Gotham have when the good people do nothing? Bruce attempts to confront Falconi, but the man sees through Bruce’s bravado. Falconi revels in the fear he creates and the power it gives him. So Bruce makes a decision. He leaves Gotham. And spends the next years studying the criminal world by becoming a part of it.
Ducard continues to instruct Bruce that to conquer fear, one must become fear. One must become a wraith and one with the darkness. Bruce faces his final test to become a member of the League of Shadows; he fights Ducard amidst a room full of identically dressed men. Bruce triumphs, using a bit of deception, but now is told to execute a man. Bruce refuses; he’ll fight, but he won’t kill. His compassion separates him from his enemies. Ducard warns him against it, he and Ra’s wish Bruce to join them and bring down Gotham. It is the city’s time to fall. Bruce takes the sword offered and throws a branding iron into the building, starting a fire. He fights Ra’s and ultimately kills him. Bruce saves Ducard and carries him down the mountain. Then he calls Alfred to return home; he wants to show Gotham that the city doesn’t belong to the criminals. Well, after he’s brought back from the dead; it’s been seven years, Alfred points out.
Back at the manor, Bruce follows a bat and discovers a large cave underneath the foundation of the house. He stands in the center of a swirl of bats. Then, he walks into Wayne Enterprises, surprising the CEO. He’s fine with things for now, though he wants a job so he can learn about the company his family built. He joins Lucius Fox in Applied Sciences. Lucius knows it’s a dead end, but Bruce is surprised to find out considering all of the useful prototypes that are sitting there. Which will help him with his “spelunking.” He gains his black suit and utility belt. He and Alfred make arrangements to put the cowl together. And Bruce picks out his first ally; Jim Gordon, one of the few good cops left.
Meanwhile, Rachel is facing off against Dr. Crane, who gets Falconi’s men out of jail and into his asylum. Crane is working with Falconi; though it’s more like Falconi is working with Crane, who is working for someone else. They agree that Rachel Dawes needs stopped before she ends their criminal activities.
Bruce gains a few more gadgets, like memory cloth to make his cape, and the “Tumbler” as his Batmobile. Lucius may be suspicious, but he tells Bruce that everything is his anyways as a Wayne and the less that Bruce actually tells him, the less he’ll have to lie when asked. Just don’t treat Lucius like an idiot. Batman’s first foray is at the docks, where drug shipments are coming in for Falconi. But part of them get diverted to the Narrows. Batman easily handles the goons and declares “I’m Batman” when asked. He also grabs Falconi. He then quickly tracks down Rachel in order to save her from a mugging. She got a few good moves in and even is armed with a taser, which does nothing to Batman’s suit. He gives her evidence to leverage the corrupt judge and get the ball rolling on putting the mob in jail. His first Batsignal is made from Falconi on a light.
Commissioner Loeb is not pleased with the Batman; “no one takes the law into their own hands in my city,” nor is he impressed when Gordon points out that Batman was the one to capture Falconi for them. Falconi requests Crane visits and tries to leverage his partner to get him out. He also wants in on the deal Crane has with his overseer. Crane gasses him with his toxin and Falconi loses his mind.
Bruce also has to develop his playboy lifestyle in order to throw suspicion off him and to potentially explain bruises and such. Rachel is not impressed when she sees her old friend and tells him “it’s what you do that defines you.” And things look better for a moment. Gordon believes that Batman is trying to help. Rachel’s boss insists on seeing one of Falconi’s crates and discovers it has something from Wayne Enterprises inside. Then he’s shot and we find out that Wayne Enterprises developed a weapon that is now missing. Batman visits the Narrows and manages to find Crane’s stash, but Crane comes in and gasses Batman, then lights him on fire. Alfred has to pick up Bruce and Lucius gets involved to develop an antidote to the weaponized hallucinogen.
Crane manages to capture Rachel at his asylum and gasses her with a stronger dose. He’s been dumping the toxin into the city water supply, but it needs one more thing in order to work. The police surround the asylum, but that’s to capture Batman. Gordon goes in alone and Batman sends him out with Rachel under the cover of bats. Batman manages to gas Crane and discovers that he is working for Ra’s Al Ghul. At the Batcave, Batman uses an antidote on Rachel, then tasks her with finding Gordon and inoculating him. Soon that gas will be all over Gotham.
Bruce Wayne has to make an appearance at his thirtieth birthday party even though he wants everyone to leave; they’re all in danger and he needs to be Batman to save them. Alfred encourages him to keep up appearances at least and yes, he cares about the Wayne name because two people charged him with their most precious treasure. Bruce gives Fox his task, then is pulled over to meet someone. A Ra’s Al Ghul. The man standing there is certainly not the man Bruce killed. But Ducard comes up behind him. Ducard is Ra’s. So Bruce has to act like a jerk to get everyone to leave. Then Ducard starts a fire, like Bruce did to his home. The League of Shadows has existed for thousands of years and whenever a civilization reaches the pinnacle of decadence, they are the ones to restore balance. They sacked Rome, let loose the plague ships, burnt London. Bruce asks for more time, but Ducard has decreed that it is Gotham’s time. Bruce had been his greatest student, but Bruce now puts himself between Ducard and the people of Gotham. And Ducard and the League were behind Bruce’s parents’ death; create enough hunger and criminals emerge. A falling beam knocks Bruce out, but Alfred comes along and comments “what’s the use of all those push ups if you can’t lift a bloody log.” They escape into the cave, Alfred encouraging Bruce once again that he’s never given up on him and “why do we fall?” Bruce suits up.
Arkham Asylum is emptied into the Narrows (by the League) and the police go in force to clean things up. But that’s where the gas is first vaporized, using the Wayne Enterprises weapon. Ducard and his men load it onto the train, intending to run it over the water supply and hit Wayne Tower, causing an explosion and the gas to spread citywide. Rachel gets to Gordon, then protects a boy (the same one Batman met earlier). She uses her taser on Crane, who is trying to imitate the Headless Horseman. Batman arrives to help Gotham. He has Gordon drive the Batmobile, then manages to save Rachel before heading off after Ducard. Rachel insists that Batman tells her his name; he could die. His response is to echo her words to Bruce earlier, “what I do that defines me.”
Ducard’s remark to seeing Batman is that Bruce took his advice on theatricality a bit literally. The two opponents fight inside the train, while Gordon shoots out the support structure, causing the train to crash. Ducard asks if Bruce has finally learned to do what is necessary, when Batman has him pinned. Batman won’t kill him, but he doesn’t have to save him either. The train and weapon both explode after Batman flies out.
A new day dawns. Fox now has the CEO job at Wayne Enterprises, per Bruce, who bought most of the public shares through various foundations and such. His company is in good hands. Rachel visits Bruce at the charred remains of the Wayne manor. She tries to apologize for what she said to him seven years ago, but Bruce points out that what she said was true. She kisses Bruce, then sadly tells him that Bruce Wayne is the mask. His true face is what he shows Gotham’s criminals and the man she truly loved never returned from abroad. But maybe someday, when Gotham doesn’t need Batman anymore, they can be together. Bruce tells Alfred he will rebuild the manor brick by brick (when he was an angry younger man, he had declared he would tear down the manor brick by brick). Alfred suggests improvements be made to the foundation.
Gordon has a new Batsignal and meets with his ally. While Batman is doing good, he is causing escalation. Like there’s a new threat in town, calling himself the Joker. Batman will look into it. Gordon tries to thank Batman. Batman assures the cop he never has to say thank you.
Our core cast is back in The Dark Knight, though Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes and Aaron Eckhart (he was fairly decent in No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones) joins as Harvey Dent. Heath Ledger (A Knight’s Tale) won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor posthumously as the Joker in this film and is practically unrecognizable [I stayed up that Oscars night to specifically watch and see if Leger won the award].
Men in clown masks hit a bank, and then have been instructed to kill the other members as their parts are finished. At the end, only one man is left, wearing creepy make-up under his mask, declaring that “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stranger.” He then drives a school bus with all the cash out a building and into a line of other buses. Things haven’t changed too much from the end of the previous movies; Gordon still uses the Batsignal, though now he’s head of Major Crimes Unit, and the Scarecrow is still in business. And now there are copycat Batman out there, trying to take down the drug dealers, but the real Batman is not happy to see them. And the Scarecrow even knows they are phonies when they use guns. The real Batman rounds them up along with the drug dealers, his parting comment is that at least his armor isn’t hockey pads. Back at the new cave, since Wayne Manor is not yet complete, Alfred is worried about Bruce. While Batman has no limits, Bruce as a man does, but replies that he can’t know them.
We meet Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, who happens to be dating Rachel. Harvey meets up with Gordon; the two men don’t entirely trust each other, Dent knowing there are corrupt cops in Gordon’s unit, but Gordon doesn’t really have a choice. And Gordon doesn’t share all of the details of his plan with Batman with Harvey. Bruce later runs into Harvey and Rachel at a restaurant and talk turns to Batman. Harvey actually likes Batman and even comments that Batman won’t want to do the job of protecting Gotham forever. He will want someone to pass the mantle on to. And Harvey’s comment is that the people of Gotham elected Batman as their protector when they stood by and did nothing and they’re accepting his help right now. Rachel tries to get her boyfriend to see sense and he comes back with “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Bruce decides that he likes Harvey and offers to throw a fundraiser for him.
The criminals of Gotham are banding together, trying to protect their assets from being seized. Then the Joker walks in. He has a plan to kill Batman, because everything changed when the Batman showed up. But, if you’re good at something, don’t do it for free; he wants half of all the mob’s money.
Harvey uses the Batsignal to get Batman, then he and Gordon argue over how Lau escaped. Batman has to get him back. Bruce takes the Russian ballet away as an excuse to get near China so Batman can capture Lau. With Lau and his accounting (he holds all the mob’s money), Harvey can get the whole mob off the street. But the Joker kills one of the pretender Batman and delivers the message that Batman must take off his mask and reveal himself or people will die. The video ends with maniacal laughter.
Bruce continues with his fundraiser and publicly announces his support for Harvey Dent. He is the face of Gotham’s bright future. Afterwards, he talks to Rachel about the day when the Batsuit can be hung up. Gotham needs a hero with a face; they need their White Knight. But the Joker has announced his next victims, with their DNA on his calling card. He blows up the judge who put the mob away, and poisons the police commissioner. He personally shows up at Wayne’s party to get Harvey, but Bruce hides him away. (After Harvey has a similar conversation with Rachel about spending their lives together). Batman shows up at the party to take on the Joker, who has found Rachel to threaten. He starts to tell her to story of how he got his scars (after telling a crook that it was his father putting a smile on his face, demanding “why so serious?”) Now, it’s his wife who got in trouble and he just wanted to see her smile. The Joker demands that Batman take his masks off and Batman times his demand of the Joker to let go of Rachel badly; the Joker drops her and Batman dives after her.
At Wayne Enterprises, an accountant has been running the company’s numbers and found some discrepancies and finally took a look at Applied Sciences. He realizes that many of the gadgets Batman uses are from Wayne Enterprises. And he tries to blackmail Lucius Fox. Lucius points out that Reese is attempting to blackmail a very wealthy man who may very well get his kicks out of beating up bag guys; does he really think this is a good idea? Reese lets the matter drop, for the moment.
The Joker threatens the mayor at the funeral for Commissioner Loeb. Bruce goes to investigate, but he can’t stop the Joker from taking a shot at the mayor and Gordon stepping in the way. In the aftermath, Harvey calls Rachel and tells her to go somewhere safe. She goes to Bruce’s penthouse. Meanwhile, Harvey has captured one of the Joker’s henchmen and threatens to shoot him for information (and if the creep looks familiar, that’s David Dastmalchian, who plays Murdoc in the recent MacGyver series). Batman stops him. Harvey is the symbol of hope that Batman can never be. And Batman’s made up his mind; no one else will die because of him, he’ll turn himself in at a press conference.
Alfred tries to help Bruce. Nothing good will come of Bruce turning himself in. The Joker is not a man who can be reasoned with; some men just want to watch the world burn. As Batman, Bruce can endure. Batman is the symbol that can be hated, more than a hero, but Bruce is set. At the press conference, Harvey even tries to get people to see reason, but they still call for Batman’s head. Bruce steps forward, but Harvey announces himself as the Batman first. The Joker hits the convoy carrying Harvey, chuckling at the mayhem and destruction. Batman comes out to stop him. When the Batmobile takes a hit, the Batpod is released from it (which is super cool!). And Batman has the chance to hit the Joker, the Joker is begging him to do it. Because the Batman has rules, and the Joker doesn’t. The Joker wants Batman to break his one rule. Batman swerves to avoid the Joker. And he is saved by Gordon. The mayor gives him the commissioner job and Gordon doesn’t even get to relax that long because the Joker wants to talk to him.
Gordon ends up leaving the Joker with Batman, who gets a good hit in on him. And the Joker doesn’t really want the Batman dead; “you complete me.” In their conversation, the Joker reveals that he has both Rachel and Harvey Dent tied up somewhere and the Batman has to choose who to save. Batman attempts to beat the answers out of the Joker, but all the painted criminal does is laugh. Batman has nothing to do with all his strength. He finally reveals the locations and Batman goes after Rachel, Gordon and his men will go after Harvey. The couple are tied up amidst oil barrels rigged to explode. Rachel gives her answer to Harvey (the same answer she left Alfred to give to Bruce, that she would marry Harvey because Bruce will never not need Batman). But the Joker told them the opposite locations, so Batman drags Harvey out, whose face is half drenched in oil from his escape attempt and the police are seconds too late to save Rachel.
Harvey’s face is terribly burned, but he’s furious at Gordon. Now his nickname, Two-Face, from Internal Affairs is very true. “Why should I hide who I am?” Bruce is depressed at Rachel’s death, then Reese announces he will reveal the identity of Batman. While the Joker burns his half of the mob’s money, along with Lau, he calls to tell Reese that he’s changed his mind about Batman. A world without Batman would be boring. So, if Reese is not dead soon, the Joker will blow up a hospital. So now all the people who were calling for Batman to reveal himself, want that secret to stay secret to protect their loved ones. Bruce takes the Lamborghini and stops a truck from hitting the van carrying Reese. Of course, he blows the situation off.
The Joker visits Harvey Dent at the hospital, dressed as a nurse. His plea is that it was nothing personal against Harvey or Rachel. He doesn’t have plans; he doesn’t make schemes. He’s a wild dog chasing a car, he wouldn’t know what to do if he caught one. Gordon and the rest make plans. When things go “according to plan,” no one panics. But throw that plan off, introduce a little anarchy, and everyone goes mad. But anarchy, the Joker points out, is fair, showing Harvey his scarred coin that he flipped to make decisions. Once the Joker leaves, he blows the hospital, punching the button a few times when it is slow to finish. And he continues to rule the city. Now he announces that everyone who wants out and get out, but maybe don’t take the tunnel or bridge. Leaving the ferries. Which he’s actually rigged to explode and given the opposing ferry the detonator. One is filled with normal civilians. The other is filled with criminals because you really don’t want to leave them behind.
Batman and Gordon try to separately track down the Joker before either ferry blows, but Gordon is angry with Batman, even pulling a gun on him. Because Gordon has to save Harvey. Batman is forced to fight the SWAT teams before they rush in and kill the wrong people; the hostages the Joker has are dressed to look like clowns, while the doctors are the real threat. SWAT eventually realizes it, but Batman has to go after the Joker. They fight and look on as the ferries don’t explode. It just proves that there are good people out there. Batman throws the Joker off the building, but still drops a line to catch him. “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets and immovable object.” Batman is truly incorruptible and the Joker can’t kill him; he’s too much fun. But Harvey Dent wasn’t. All he needed was a little push in the wrong direction.
Harvey has capture Jim Gordon’s family and threatens to shoot his son. He wants Gordon to lie to his son, like Harvey and Rachel lied to each other that everything was going to be okay. Batman of course tries to stop Harvey. Aim the gun at the one responsible. Harvey does, and shoots Batman. Gordon begs for his son’s life and Batman gets up to tackle the pair. He catches the boy, but Harvey falls. Gordon grabs his son and Batman falls. He gets up and again insists that Gordon doesn’t have to thank him. And they can’t let the Joker win; no one can know what Harvey Dent really did his last day. Batman can be the fall guy. Let Harvey remain Gotham’s hero. “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Batman will be the villain, he begs Gordon. Let him be hunted. Gordon gives in and consoles his son that Batman can take it. Because Batman is the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. Batman is Gotham’s Dark Knight.
The trilogy is finished with Dark Knight Rises and as stated, it’s a depressing movie. I’ve watched it once and there’s a reason I don’t own it. Everything just falls apart in the middle. Yes, it ends relatively well, but Bruce Wayne and Batman have to die in order to have a better life. Batman is ultimately remembered as a hero, and Bruce Wayne runs off with Selena Kyle, but to Gotham, they’re dead. Bruce passes the mantle onto a young man (whose given name happens to be Robin) and gifts Gordon a new Batsignal and a hint to his true identity, recalling the coat incident from decades prior. Alfred catches a glimpse of his former charge, which alleviates his guilt a little, but the rest of the movie is just depressing.
So I focused more on the first two films. I like Batman Begins because it gives us a reasonable explanation. How Batman became who he is; the fighting, dressing in a suit, and pummeling bad guys. How he gets his tech and where it was logically developed. I find the movie to be well written and well-acted. Gary Oldman of course is excellent. Christian Bale is a believable Batman; yes, the growly voice is a bit much, but the idea is to a) scare bad guys and b) disguise his voice so he’s not recognized. And it technically works. Just maybe not the best thought out. Michael Caine is a caring Alfred. I prefer Katie Holmes as Rachel because she’s got a bit more sweetness to her than Maggie Gyllenhaal. And Liam Neeson is very believable in the beginning as a kind mentor. Not terribly fuzzy, but he’s not meant to; he’s meant to shape an angry young man into a keen weapon. And the first time viewing, I was very surprised to discover he was truly Ra’s Al Ghul.
While The Dark Knight is a dark movie, there’s a line of hope running through it and ultimately, it is an excellent movie. Well written again and Heath Ledger’s performance was stunning. He’s unrecognizable and yes, he’s a truly creepy Joker that no, you don’t want to meet. But that’s the point. This is why he’s Batman greatest enemy. I really don’t think that there needed to be another movie.
However…after watching my Batman collection in short succession, I realize that as much as I like the two Nolan movies, I do miss some of the comedy. Schumacher’s films are too comedic, while Nolan’s are too dark. Out of my collection, the best balance is Batman Beyond. There are dramatic storylines; Batman almost has to sacrifice himself for the city. But there’s also truly funny bits, like anytime a hero backhands a bad guy trying to sneak up on them. Of course, Mark Hammill’s Joker is a great combo of menacing laughter and actually wanting to hurt someone. Heath Ledger’s Joker really just wants the world to burn.
As for fanfiction recommendations; it’s been a while since I’ve visited this fandom, so I’m checking out what there is. I will update when I’ve found some good stories.
Up Next: Wonder Woman