The Deep Dive Review: Batman Begins vs. Casino Royale

Written by: Evan Wessman – March 12th 2020, 4:40pm pst

PTN CONCEPT CLASH: BATAMAN BEGINS vs. CASINO ROYALE

The mid-00’s. A time before we were flooded with reboots. Two of the best franchise reboots of all time, Batman Begins and Casino Royale, came out during this time. These gritty, dark takes can rightly be called iconic 15 years later. So let’s look back and see who wore it better.

credit: Warner Brothers


credit: Columbia/UA/SONY

IMDb
Batman Begins: 8.2
Casino Royale: 8.0

Rotten Tomatoes
Batman Begins: 84%
Casino Royale: 95%

Metacritic
Batman Begins: 70
Casino Royale: 80

Worldwide Gross
Batman Begins: $ 373,413,297
Casino Royale: $ 616,501,619

Action

This category goes to Casino Royale. Batman Begins has good action, for sure. The climax is somewhat lacking, but we get two good tumbler chases and some above-average martial arts scenes. However, there is nothing in Begins that compares to the visceral feel and expert pacing of the construction site chase at the opening of Royale. Royale doesn’t stop there, giving us a smart, exciting sequence at the Miami airport, a brutal stairwell brawl, and a record-breaking barrel roll stunt. Daniel Craig’s Bond wins his battles by intelligence and brute force rather than gadgets like other Bonds. His tenacity shows how determined he is to satisfy his ego and prove himself to his superiors. To be fair, Batman Begins shows off some cool Batman abilities and makes them feel like something a real human could do, albeit with help from military grade technology. However, I see Casino Royale as the clear winner in terms of action.

credit: Columbia/UA/SONY

Rebooting an Iconic Character

Let me start by saying that Daniel Craig will always be my Bond and Christian Bale my Batman. Batman Begins may not give us some of the more iconic Batman moments, but it delivers on depth. Begins goes deep into the psychology of Bruce Wayne and develops him as a conflicted man dealing with grief and confusion about his identity that carries over into his quest for justice. This Batman is a hero, but above all he is human and flawed at that. He exists in a world that feels pretty grounded in reality, a world that will try to prevent him from bringing about the kind of justice that he strives for in more ways than just giving him villains to punch out.

Casino Royale also gives more depth to James Bond. Bond films of old rarely feature any kind of character change for Bond, which is where Casino Royale takes its most significant departure from Bond tradition. Like Begins, we see the pain that Bond has to go through to become the man we know. He grapples with trusting those around him, allowing himself to get emotionally attached, and the violent lifestyle he has chosen. There is much more to this Bond than cool cars, shaken martinis, fly suits, and one-liners, as the events of Royale show that this “ideal man” isn’t all he’s hyped up to be.
I don’t think there’s a winner here. Both films are worthy of their respective characters, while taking them to places that they hadn’t been before.

credit: Warner Brothers

Protagonists’ Arcs

Batman Begins is an interesting case in terms of character arcs. In a way, Bruce Wayne completes his arc in the first half of the movie, and much of the progression of this is shown in flashbacks. He overcomes his fear and turns it into the symbol of his fight against injustice. At the same time, he is solidifying his definition of justice. Both of these positive change arcs are basically complete halfway through the movie. However, he has other flaws that are unresolved at the end. Bruce is constantly struggling with his identity, and it is made clear that he identifies as Batman and feels out of place as Bruce Wayne. A major motif of the movie is that the man is sacrificed for the hero to be born. This part of Batman’s psychology is developed, but as an arc it is far from complete.

I think this elevates the movie, because his backstory doesn’t seem to be included to set up any change, it’s just to make us understand who Batman is. The only arc that really feels like it is developed from start to end is Bruce living up to his father’s example of using his resources for the good of Gotham. Again, much of this arc is developed in flashbacks, but it isn’t completed until the end when Bruce decides to rebuild Wayne manor “just the way it was.” Overall, I think Bruce’s arcs are solid, maybe the strongest aspect of the movie.

Like Begins, Casino Royale shows us the pain that Bond goes through to become the iconic character we know. Unlike Begins however, it contains Bond’s arc to his first mission as a 00 without using flashbacks. Bond has two major arcs in this movie: trust and ego. For most of the movie, Bond is obsessed with satisfying his ego and backing up the swagger he carries himself with.

Throughout the first two acts, every action he takes shows how he values his ego over everything: his mission, sex, his job, others’ opinions of him, even staying alive. It’s subtle, but the evidence of Bond’s priorities are shown in his actions. However, these priorities shift as he develops feelings for Vesper Lynd. This is where Bond’s arc goes from good to great.

By the end of act two, Bond commits to Vesper and throws away his career as an MI6 agent. Vesper’s betrayal and death at the end of the movie is a shocking reversal that completes Bond’s arc in the most devastating way. Just when he finally allows himself to love and be vulnerable, he gets his heart shattered. The result is a permanent reversion to his emotionally guarded and distrusting self. As with Batman, the man must be destroyed for the spy to be born.

I’m going to call this a tie. They both do so well with their heroes’ arcs that it feels wrong to have one lose.

credit: Warner Brothers

Minor Characters

I’ll try not to throw shade at any of the Batman minor characters because they are all really good. Unfortunately, they don’t have much to do here. Gordon helps Batman in the climax, and has an excellent flashback moment where he consoles a young Bruce Wayne. For the most part however, he is sidelined. Alfred gets a stellar performance from Michael Caine, but he gets little more than a supportive callback line in this film. Lucius Fox has some of his best moments in this first movie as he helps Batman and his ride look fly as hell. Like the other characters though, his role is mostly as a plot device. Rachel is the best minor character in this movie. She does a lot to progress Bruce’s arc, and challenges his perspectives about justice effectively. Bruce doesn’t take all her advice, but the arguments she presents for how justice can be achieved in Gotham elevate the themes of the movie. Batman Begins doesn’t do anything wrong with its minor characters, but it spends so much time outside Gotham that it doesn’t leave much time for them to be developed.

Casino Royale’s minor characters aren’t as iconic as those in Begins, but they serve strong functions. M, played brilliantly by Judi Dench, does her best to keep Bond’s focus on his mission rather than overpowering his opponents. She calls Bond out every time he screws up, but underneath her criticism and threats is a maternal care for bond. Mathis develops the theme of trust with a red herring betrayal that sets Bond up wonderfully for the eventual betrayal from Vesper. Felix Leiter appears briefly, but his presence and Jeffrey Wright’s performance add a nice touch. The best minor character in this movie is of course Vesper Lynd. She is the character that is best able to challenge Bond’s beliefs and convince him to change. She brings out Bond’s humanity and forces him to see her as a whole person in a way that no one else has ever done, and stands up to him by refusing to allow him to re-enter the poker game after he screws up. Her betrayal is what she is best remembered for, but I believe that this is only the case because there is enough character work done with her prior to her betrayal for us to believe she would do what she does while also being blindsided by it.

As a franchise, I acknowledge that Batman has better minor characters. However, for these specific movies, Casino Royale does a better job using its minor characters.

credit: Columbia/UA/SONY

Villains

Batman Begins features the weakest villain of the Dark Knight trilogy in Scarecrow. However, Ra’s Al Ghul is vital in setting the tone for the series. He proves to Batman that the limitations he places on himself are just that: limitations. However, the League of Shadows’ plan essentially boils down to the “destroying the world to save it” BS that has been done to death by now. I buy it more from the League of Shadows, but it’s still irritating. Carmine Falcone, the mob boss is a decent antagonist to Bruce Wayne, and his presence makes the conflicts Batman faces feel more realistic. So the villains in Begins are a bit spotty but still above average.

Le Chiffre is pretty restrained for a Bond villain. Although he is a banker for terrorists, he is not directly trying to bring about any kind of destruction in this movie. In fact, Le Chiffre is just a pawn and is ultimately killed by his employers rather than Bond. This is a departure from the all-powerful Bond villain trope the past movies recycled. Despite this, Le Chiffre is a worthy opponent for Bond. His torture of Bond is among the most iconic Bond moments ever. The high stakes poker game makes for some excellent scenes where the two match wits, egos, and perceptive abilities. He beats Bond fairly, despite trying to kill Bond during the game, and uses Bond’s ego against him. I think the relatively low external stakes of the movie make Le Chiffre better as a villain because it allows him to attack and belittle Bond on a personal level. Also, credit must be given to Mads Mikkelsen’s brilliant performance that solidifies LeChiffre as one of the best Bond villains ever.

I am giving this category to Casino Royale, but it’s close. I think it’s fair to say that neither features the most iconic villain for their respective heroes. However, I would argue that these villains are the perfect antagonists for who these heroes are in these specific movies.

credit: MGM/Columbia/UA/SONY

Themes

This is where the two movies deviate most significantly. Batman Begins puts its themes right on the surface and talks about them a lot, whereas Casino Royale takes a more subtle approach. Batman Begins deals a lot with heroism and what a hero should be. He and the League of Shadows emphasize how symbols can be immortalized and pure whereas humans are fallible, no matter how influential their actions are.

The idea of what being a hero means is played with as well, as we see Thomas Wayne, Gordon, and Rachel working for the betterment of Gotham without hiding behind masks. This theme is tied closely to that of justice. The movie doesn’t really take a final stance on this so much as it presents a lot of points. There is an implication that the failure of institutions and Gotham’s infrastructure are major reasons that Batman must resort to such extreme measures to combat crime and corruption. Ra’s Al Ghul, Rachel, and Batman all present different takes on what justice is, all of which are proven right to an extent.

Additionally, there are two repeated thematic lines: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” And: “Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” The meaning of these lines is clear enough, but I’m hesitant to call them effective. However, they do relate to the larger themes of the movie, and at the very least hold some wisdom. Overall, I commend the way Batman Begins uses its themes. It clearly wants viewers to think about the ethical implications of Batman’s goals and identity, and presents its themes in thought-provoking ways.

Bond movies have never been known for powerful messages, and Casino Royale is no exception, but that does not stop it from developing the themes of trust and ego and tying them together elegantly. Bond is obsessed with satisfying his ego, and the trials of his mission test this ego, both elevating and injuring it. Where things really get interesting is when he begins to care for Vesper more than himself and stops trying to satisfy his ego in favor of being with her. For a brief time, we get to see Bond escape his obsession, but when Vesper dies, he falls back on his ego even harder than he did before. This is closely tied to the theme of trust.

Bond lives in a world where trust is rarely given to anyone. The opening scene shows Bond killing an untrustworthy MI6 agent, and during the mission Bond is betrayed by his ally Mathis. So on an intellectual level, Bond understands that he shouldn’t trust people. Vesper isn’t someone he immediately sees as trustworthy, but by the time they have finished their mission together, he is ready to trust her. Vesper’s betrayal at the end is a complete disillusionment for him, and teaches him that, in the world he lives in, it is truly every man for himself. These themes aren’t incorporated in ways that you necessarily notice on first viewing, but they are used to shape the story and infuse it with meaning, even if it doesn’t have any specific message.

These differences are a testament to how these two movies understand what they are. Batman is largely defined by his moral code, so it makes sense for the themes to be openly discussed in Batman Begins. James Bond is a cool man of action who doesn’t stop to think about why he does what he does, so it makes sense for the themes of the film to come up, but not too much. I’m calling this a tie because neither is better, it’s just a question of what you prefer movies to do with themes.

credit: Warner Brothers

Conclusion
After this extensive analysis, I am declaring Casino Royale the winner. Many of these categories ended in a tie, but Casino Royale has better villains, minor characters, and action than Batman Begins. To be fair, Begins isn’t the best of Batman movies, whereas Royale might be the best of Bond. However, Begins doesn’t function as well on its own. I feel secure in my conclusion here, but with the right argument I could be persuaded otherwise. So hit me up on twitter @davoswatson to let me know any points I might have forgotten, and send suggestions for more movies you want me to compare. Thanks for reading.

credit: MGM/Columbia/UA/SONY

About The Author:

Evan Wessman is a screenwriting and playwriting major at Drexel University and the creator of the screenplay analysis podcast “Interior Analysis.”

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