Anyway, Ellen got us tickets to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at APT a little later in the month, and Tom and Keith got me a DVD of Better Off Dead, which means I can stop deciding to buy it later every time I go to Best Buy (this happens more often than you'd expect). They also got me a shirt which says "Trust me, I do this all the time." I'm not sure which of my frequently performed actions it's in reference to, but I'm making a long list of inappropriate situations in which to wear it. Add to this the plush shoggoth evil_jim gave me a couple of weeks ago, and I made out with a pretty good haul.
After dinner I wanted to go home and get some things done, but Tom, Keith and Ellen (April too, for awhile) wanted to keep hanging out, so after repeated attempts on my part to go home, I resigned myself to killing time with them prior to the 12:01 showing of Batman Begins. We drank coffee and got mad at the IQ Tester games (the ones with the pegs) while we talked about nothing in particular. It was fun. Eventually I resigned myself to going to see Batman with them, and Ellen went home. Batman was sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I was cranky by the time 12:01 AM rolled around. I tried hard not to like it very much, but it won me over anyway.
As suggested by its title, Batman Begins gives us the origins of Bruce Wayne's transformation into Batman, starting with his childhood phobia of bats and the murder of his parents. As a young man Wayne (Christian Bale) travels to the far East where he trains as part of a secret ninja society under the leadership of Ra's Al-Ghul (Ken Watanbe) who wants him to destroy the degenerate Gotham City. Wayne refuses and returns home only to find his city being crushed by the grip of organized crime led by mafia don Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). With the help of his butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), and Wayne Enterprises Applied Sciences head Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Wayne makes himself a superhuman vigilante with the power to combat Falcone and the emerging Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). Oh yeah, Gary Oldman plays Sergeant (soon to be commissioner) Gordon. Rutger Hauer, Liam Neeson, and Katie Holmes are all in it too and play really important parts which I don't feel like describing here. This is why Leonard Maltin is a movie critic, and I'm just a guy with a livejournal.
Speaking purely as somebody who doesn't know who these characters are in the comic, the casting is unbelievably good, even with a couple of actors whom I actively dislike. Christian Bale is one, and his Bruce Wayne is a far cry from Michael Keaton's who would have been totally out of place in this story. Michael Caine (whom I do like) plays a much warmer Alfred than Michael Gough did. He's sharp, but not condescendingly so.
Director Christopher Nolan's previous work (Memento, Insomnia) has been very spotty in the past, and while I had issues with Batman Begins, none of them (at least, none of the big ones) are his fault. The tone of the movie is too dark and too serious, which is my problem, not Nolan's. I simply don't care enough about the franchise to know what to expect going into a Batman movie. I've still never seen Batman and Robin or Batman Forever, and I don't know which one came first. Regardless, Batman Begins is definitely not a movie for little kids (although the theater was crawling with them).
Laying aside my preconceptions of what a Batman movie is though, it's great. Any idiot with studio backing and a good effects team can make an action film where (as evil_jim said of Terminator 3) the climax happens ten minutes into the movie and never lets up. Nolan works an actual, genuine plot into the story without creating lags or tipping the balance. It's not a complex plot, but it's an emotional one so his victory is no small feat. Also on the subject of flow, the cuts between scenes are very nice. Normally this wouldn't even register, but I just watched The Wizard of Speed and Time, and the cuts in that movie are noticably bad. Batman Begins utilizes much less CGI than most summer blockbusters, which was not necessary but makes the film look better overall.
Hanz Zimmer and James Newton Howard composed the score, and it's effective, but I found myself missing Danny Elfman's themes very badly.
Anyway, it's fast and it's fun while being emotionally weighty. It lacks the "happy" element that made previous Batman movies accessible. It's almost 2 1/2 hours long, and I drank six cups of coffee beforehand and sat through the whole thing without getting up once. That's about the highest praise I can give a long movie -- especially one I didn't really want to see.