After the mess that was Batman & Robin, I don't think anyone was too upset when they announced they would reboot the Batman franchise. It had been eight years, and the previous series of films had shown that changing directors and actors and yet trying to continue on really wasn't the best route.
I remember enjoying this film quite a bit the first time I saw it, but strangely I never actually owned this film until I went to do this marathon. Watching it again, I think I know why. It's a very serious film and it takes a while to really get started. It jumps around a lot in time, which while never confusing, does slow down the story a bit. And while his origins and training are essential to the plot, we technically don't even see Batman until one hour into the film.
I like that unlike the previous films, we actually get to know Thomas Wayne and what kind of man he was before he's murdered. Though I can't help but be frustrated by the fact that Bruce's mother Martha doesn't seem to have any significance beyond the pearls she wears. She's even portrayed in a slightly negative light as she seems to be a little annoyed when Bruce's fear of bats causes them to leave the opera early. It's a strange choice for a woman whose murder is about to scar our protagonist for life. Even as the movie goes on, it's always "your father" or "your parents" being referenced as a whole. I suppose given the time period we're supposed to figure that Martha couldn't play a large role in the politics of the city or maybe even have a steady job, but still, it bugs me quite a bit.
Beyond that, the scenes of Bruce's early life are touching and heartbreaking, and I love seeing Alfred with young Bruce. I'm a bit divided on their relationship in this and the later films though, as Alfred seems very much against Batman from the start. It makes perfect sense that he's worried about Bruce's well being, but you would think he could also appreciate what he's trying to do for the city.
Katie Holmes is perfectly average as love interest Rachel Dawes. She's not a particularly interesting character, but she's not annoying or offensive either. The only complaint I have is that I don't really see her and Christian Bale of being around the same age, which is odd because they're only four years apart in real life. She just has a very young look to her, I guess.
Gary Oldman's part as Sergeant Gordon is fairly small, but I love that we also get to see his beginnings in the police force alongside Batman's development. Seeing him get to drive the Batmobile (or Tumbler, if you prefer) and play such a large role in saving the city is also great.
Cillian Murphy's portrayal of the Scarecrow is fantastic. He's just this perfect mix of smarmy and wicked that I really enjoy. The effect they used on his mask when people are under the effects of the gas is also great. Once again, I would have liked to see him play a bigger role and to see more of what he's doing at Arkham, but fortunately this isn't the last we'll see of him.
The reason why we don't get to see too much of the two above characters is because the focus is largely on Ducard/ Ra's al Ghul. I'll admit I was genuinely surprised when the reveal happened the first time I watched it. Liam Neeson's performance also reminds me a lot of the Ra's al Ghul I'm familiar with from the animated series, so I enjoy it. But I still feel like we spend an awful lot of time on it than maybe we need to.
Perhaps the best thing about this version of Batman is that we're finally seeing a Bruce Wayne who is drastically different from Batman. This is essential if we're going to believe that no one will figure out Batman's identity. There were glimpses of this in the 1949 serial, where that Bruce acted generally lazy and didn't care about what was going on around him, but this Bruce goes all out. He's a tabloid headline mess of a celebrity, a male version of Paris Hilton. It brings some much needed comic relief to the film's otherwise serious story, and it's just plain believable. We also get to see the pain Bruce experiences when playing that role doesn't allow him to keep friends and has people generally regard him as a failure compared to his father. It's the classic device of doing all the work but getting none of the credit.
One thing I feel I need to bring up is that people always stress about how Nolan's Batman films are heavily grounded in reality. While they're certainly more realistic than the previous films, they're not that realistic. The most obvious moment in this film is when Batman presses a button on his boot that somehow summons bats to his current location. Does anyone think that is a real thing you could actually do?
Regardless, I do really enjoy this approach as it reminds me greatly of the animated series' style. It's also the first that I feel really seems to respect the original comic source material and adapts those into something that really reflects the spirit of those storylines while also creating something new. Was there any better way to end this movie than to tease us with that Joker card? I think not!