Batman Begins ★★★★

I have a sincere affection for Nolan’s first foray into Gotham City. His choice to build up Bruce Wayne as a character is one that pays dividends for the rest of the series and makes Christian Bale’s first “I’m Batman,” land like a leather-clad punch to the gut. The choice of Ra’s Al Ghul is also a bold choice for a villain—one yet to be featured as a live action foe for Batman.

Chris Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader (as realistic as a take on the billionaire vigilante ever could be) walks the line that David Mazzucchelli writes about in his post-mortem on Batman: Year One, perhaps the seminal origin of realistic Batman, and a comic that surely influenced Begins.

Once a depiction veers toward realism, each new detail releases a torrent of questions that exposes the absurdity at the heart of the genre. The more “realistic” superheroes become, the less believable they are. It’s a delicate balance. but this much I know: Superheroes are real when they’re drawn in ink.

Mazzuchelli’s sentiment not only taps into why we love our heroes so much, but how they became box office juggernauts, reaching far beyond the nerds hanging around comic shops (simultaneously spawning new nerds, like me). Superheroes are real when they’re drawn in ink, yes, but aren’t they just as real when they’re projected in light and shadow?

For me, that answer is yes.

Not everything in Begins succeeds. The League of Shadows’ notions of justice feel completely bonkers and outdated, and the third act suffers for it. And, we can’t forget that Katie Holmes didn’t make it to The Dark Knight (to be fair, she turned it down), but she got nominated for a Razzie for this movie. She doesn’t come remotely close to deserving that nomination, but she’s not a particularly compelling love interest.

Regardless, almost everything else is a rousing success, from Walt Pfister’s cinematography to Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard’s score to the casting of Gary Oldman Batman Begins is a win, and it sets up the other two Dark Knight films well. Nolan’s made better movies, but even his weakest Batman entry is better than most of the others.