Why yes, it's another movie review! This time, we went to see Batman Begins, which has gotten very good reviews.
And deservedly so - it's a very fun film, and much better than the previous generation of Batman films. To be fair, I only saw the two Tim Burton-directed films, but I didn't think very much of them and by most reports the other two were worse.
Batman Begins is directed by Christopher Nolan, who directed Memento, a film which I thought was pretty darned good. It's also co-written by David S. Goyer, who also writes comic books, notably the fan-favorite JSA. So this was a pretty good sign going in.
One of the fellows at the comic book store said it's not so much a Batman film as a film about Bruce Wayne, who also happens to be Batman. That's not quite true, but it does delve far more into Wayne's character than the Burton films did, and actually does so with more finesse than most Batman comics I've read.
A quick synopsis: Growing up after his parents are murdered, Wayne (Christian Bale) abandons Gotham City to find out how he can best bring justice to the world. His rage at his parents' deaths threatens to consume him, and he's found in a prison in an Asian country by the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), who trains him to join the Order of Shadows, ruled by the even more mysterious Ra's Al Ghul. Wayne manages to overcome his anger and becomes a seeker for justice - forcing him to leave the League when the degree of mayhem they're willing to inflict becomes clear.
Returning to Gotham, he takes up residence in Wayne Manor with his trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine). He becomes involved in Wayne Enterprises, and befriends Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who oversees the tech division. He uses this equipment to become Batman, while getting tangled up (as Wayne) with his one-time love Rachel (Katie Holmes, a.k.a. Tom Cruise's fiancee) and (as Batman) with the crime lord Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and the villainous Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who are embroiled in an even larger plot than Bruce suspects.
I liked several things about this film right off the bat (so to speak): First, Bale is almost exactly how I envision Bruce Wayne looking, and he does a good job acting in the role. To be sure he is somewhat overshadowed by Michael Caine, who as Alfred manages to chew the scenery out from under almost everyone he plays with (and not in a bad way), but that's the way it goes. I also think the look of Gotham City in the film is terrific; I was never won over with the Metropolis-like look of the Burton films, and the more modern and realistic look here is much more to my taste. And the attention to Wayne's motivations and character were very much welcome, especially since it preserved the "random act of violence" nature of his origin rather than tying it in to the later story.
The story is a little overbusy, as some characters such as Rachel and Falcone don't have a lot to do. But since Freeman and Caine completely smoke them in both role and acting talent, the focus is at least placed on the right characters. (Full disclosure: I'm a big Morgan Freeman fan.) Murphy is also extremely good as Dr. Crane, which a creepily boyish face but the range to seem like a true criminal lunatic. The hidden plot is a bit too silly, but I'd almost have been disappointed had it not been.
The script almost always manages to be fun but meaningful without spilling over into either goofy humor (aside from a couple of lines from Alfred, who's generally entitled) or being too much of a downer. It never loses sight of the fact that it's an adventure film, albeit with strong character elements.
The action is pretty nifty, although the fight scenes could have been more clearly choreographed at times (what my friend Bill referred to in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith as the "flying muppet, hidden Yoda trick"). But many of the action scenes don't involve direct combat, which is both refreshing and sidesteps this issue.
So overall, sure, it's not going to win any Oscars, but it's a solid and plenty entertaining adventure film, ultimately better than either of the X-Men films (which themselves were not bad, especially the second one). What do they do for an encore?