Before becoming attached as director of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) told Warner Bros. that if he was going to make a Dark Knight movie, it wouldn’t be sweepingly gothic like Tim Burton’s or cartoonishly campy like Joel Schumacher’s. His Batman would be grounded in the real world and play to the twisted psychology of Bruce Wayne. It would be an original story that would answer the question: What kind of man puts on a bat costume and goes around fighting crime?
”I mean, he’s just a regular guy who does a lot of press-ups,” says Nolan, 34. ”He makes himself extraordinary through force of will. I talked to the studio about what they wanted to do with Batman and what I wanted to do, and the two things coincided.”
The script for Batman Begins, written by David Goyer (Dark City, Blade), ended up as ambitious as it was polished — a story that follows a young Bruce Wayne from his early training at the hands of a shadowy organization to his return to Gotham and battles with classic Batvillains the Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul. Along the way, all kinds of juicy secrets are revealed, from the origin of the Batmobile to how Batman first met Commissioner Gordon to who exactly killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. ”The script actually leaked on the Internet,” sighs Goyer. ”The studio. Was. Nervous! But it was met with almost unanimous praise by the fanboys. Their response was ‘Wow! This is great! Warner’s will never let Nolan make it!”’
The casting of Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader met with equal approval. Though not an obvious choice, Bale (who was signed to a three-picture contract as Batman) had a huge Internet following from movies like Empire of the Sun and American Psycho, and he won over Nolan despite showing up to the screen test obscenely underweight, having lost more than 60 pounds to star in the psychological thriller The Machinist. ”I walked in looking like a ghost and told Chris that I genuinely did not want to be involved in doing another Batman that was the same as the others,” he says. ”It may not have been the most brilliant tactical move on my part, but hey, it was honest.”
A torrent of prestige names quickly filled out the cast: The Last Samurai’s Ken Watanabe as Ra’s al Ghul; Michael Caine as butler Alfred; Gary Oldman as a young Lieutenant Gordon; Liam Neeson as Wayne’s mysterious mentor Henri Ducard; Morgan Freeman as his friend, inventor Lucius Fox; Katie Holmes as Wayne’s childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dodson; Cillian Murphy as villain Scarecrow; and Tom Wilkinson as crime boss Carmine Falcone. ”The experience was exciting and petrifying, because the cast was so good,” says Murphy. ”[But Chris] created a calm and mellow atmosphere. There was no pressure and no sense of the immensity of the project.”
Well, sometimes. The massive sets built for the $150 million production were intricate and often overwhelming. All kinds of aesthetic decisions had to be made, from the look of Gotham (roughly based on the now-demolished slums in Kowloon, Hong Kong) to the Batmobile (a strange Humvee/tank hybrid, which reportedly cost over $1 million per car) to the Batsuit (which starts out as see-through body armor). ”It was strange to go into work every day,” says Bale. ”I frankly felt like a fool just standing there in a Batsuit, chatting and having coffee with somebody. You look like a drunken partygoer on Halloween or something. And the cowl was so damn tight. It gives you headaches and puts you in a foul mood. You’re in a rage after an hour.”
(This is an online-only excerpt of a feature appearing Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Movie Preview 2005 issue.)