Archives in the Movies: Batman Begins
Happy National Superhero Day for all those who celebrate! Today we're looking at the movie that walked so Matt Reeves' The Batman could run! Let's talk about Batman Begins!
This might be new information to many readers (because when does it really come up?), but I'm a huge fan of Batman and the DC Comics canon of heroes, villains, and the like. I grew up watching the old Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward as well as the Bruce Timm animated universe of Batman, Superman, Static Shock, and the Justice League. Hell, I have Big Barda tattooed on my arm! And if you don't know Big Barda, then you'd best look her up!
The first live action Batman movie I ever saw in theaters, however, was Batman Forever, which means I missed the Tim Burton-era Michael Keaton fanaticism of the late 80s and early 90s and started with the much better of the two late Joel Schumacher films. But we can't talk about the history of Batman on film without touching on Batman and Robin because it kind of ruined the profitability of superhero movies for over a decade. Schumacher's and even Burton's Batman films aren't entirely divorced from the 60s Batman legacy. Yes, everything's darker and more violent in Burton's films, but there are plenty of cartoonish, even campy moments that are either deliberate callbacks or an unconscious channeling of the old television show. I mean, Bruce Wayne sleeps upside down! Ya know, like a bat, I guess?
Anyway, Schumacher gets a lot of flack for ruining Batman at the box office, which is only slightly warranted because Batman and Robin is an atrociously awful movie. But, really, Schumacher was just leaning harder into the camp that already existed in the bones of the franchise. His version of Gotham City was still dark-ish but there was more neon paint and black light and butt shots. Unfortunately, the viewing public wasn't as enamored with what became the final installment of the 90s-era Bat-flicks and even though Blade, the first Marvel movie to find box office success, was released the following year, the superhero genre of films wouldn't find its footing again until the release of Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005.
So, if we're follow the line of succession here, Batman Begins was truly a gamble as far as the film industry and the viewing audience were concerned. People were skeptical, to say the least. Nobody could have predicted that the Nolan-era films would set the tone for the DC Cinematic Universe - for better or for worse. And what set Nolan's Batman apart from his predecessors? Well, Nolan and his fellow screenwriters asked a simple question: How would Batman exist and operate in the real world?
It's not exactly a novel concept, but given the Batman films that had come before and after the Nolan trilogy it was downright revelatory. The writers even dared to pull and adapt from the comics to flesh out the story. Brilliant! Plus, of the DC Comics trinity (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), Batman was the easiest to adapt using practical effects, stunts, and filming locations. No Fortress of Solitude or Themyscira to scout for, just good old downtown Chicago or Vancouver.
So, in crafting Nolan's "grounded" take on Batman (Christian Bale), where then is a young billionaire set on theatricality and vengeance going to get all of his wonderful toys? That would be in the Wayne Enterprises Applied Sciences Division under the purview of Mr. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)!
I guess some plot summary is needed for Batman Begins. In the wake of his parent's death, young adult Bruce Wayne tries to take revenge on Joe Chill but is beaten to the punch by mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Bruce then abandons Gotham City and seeks to understand the criminal element, spending some years away before being trained by Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), supposedly burning down the League of Shadows, and returning to Gotham after Alfred (Michael Caine) declared him dead. In his return, Bruce seeks to begin becoming Batman by playing the fool and allowing the Wayne Enterprises Board of Directors to shunt him away in Applied Sciences with Lucius Fox. In befriending Lucius, Bruce is able to utilize the all but forgotten archives of military contracted weapons, armor, and vehicles to don the cape and cowl.
In truth, Applied Sciences is never referred to as an archives, but it operates as such with Lucius acting as its archivist. It's essentially a department where Wayne Enterprises sends its defunct projects that were deemed unprofitable. When Bruce is sent to meet Lucius, he finds him in a warehouse environment, tucked away at his desk, surrounded by filing cabinets and storage units. If that doesn't scream "ARCHIVIST," then I don't know what does. Lucius is considered a relic of the company, someone who still believes in the optimism and charity of the late Thomas Wayne, so the Board sidelines him and all of his institutional knowledge to make a quick buck. In doing so, they allow room for Bruce to utilize Lucius' knowledge to better his understanding of the company holdings and Gotham City's history. And all of the Bat-gear!
Fortunately, for Bruce, Lucius is well on board to support him in his nighttime crime fighting activities as long as they both understand that he's no fool but can also claim plausible deniability. It ends up becoming a significant plot point in The Dark Knight when Lucius is confronted by a lawyer, Coleman Reese, who discovers the plans for the Tumbler (aka the Batmobile) in the corporate archives, leading him to conclude that Bruce Wayne is Batman and that Lucius has been aiding in his efforts.
It's a great moment that shows how important archival records are in protecting the identity of billionaire playboy vigilantes. It also speaks to the fact that even Bruce and Lucius didn't learn from previous experience. They assumed no one would notice, that no one would go digging in the archives, but someone did and they have to deal with that on top of the Joker running amok!
So there's your Batman on film history lesson and some archival knowledge to boot! Happy National Superhero Day indeed!