The film is presented in a nonlinear narrative, jumping between the present and past. This is a linear summary of the plot.
As a child, Bruce Wayne falls down into a dry well and is attacked by a swarm of bats, subsequently developing a phobia of the creatures. While watching an opera with his parents, Thomas and Martha, Bruce becomes frightened by performers masquerading as bats and asks to leave. Outside, mugger Joe Chill murders Bruce’s parents in front of him. Orphaned, Bruce is raised by the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
Fourteen years later, Chill is freed in exchange for testifying against Gotham City mafia boss Carmine Falcone. Bruce intends to murder Chill, but one of Falcone’s assassins does so first. Bruce’s childhood friend, assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, berates him for attempting to undermine the justice system, saying that his father would be ashamed. Bruce confronts Falcone, who tells him that real power comes from being feared. Bruce decides to travel the world and learn how to confront injustice. While serving a prison sentence for theft in Bhutan, he meets Henri Ducard, who trains him as a member of the League of Shadows, led by Ra’s al Ghul. After completing his training and purging his fears, Bruce learns that the League intends to destroy Gotham, believing it to be corrupt and beyond saving. Bruce rejects the League’s cause and burns down their temple during his escape. Ra’s is killed by falling debris, while Bruce saves the unconscious Ducard.
Bruce returns to Gotham intent on fighting crime. Inspired by his childhood fear, he takes up the vigilante identity of “the Batman” and sets up a base in the caves beneath Wayne Manor. He takes an interest in his family’s company, Wayne Enterprises, now run by the unscrupulous William Earle. Company archivist Lucius Fox allows Bruce access to prototype defense technologies including a protective bodysuit and a heavily armored car called the Tumbler. Bruce poses as a shallow playboy to allay suspicion.