Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Batman Begins: Birth of a Hero

Some people are snobs. They assume because a story is told in a movie theater is only entertainment and/or action. I completely disagree. Some of the greatest works of literature were penned for the stage. If Shakespeare’s plays can go down in history as great literature, I believe that there are some movies that deserve a place in the same category. One of those is Batman Begins.

This story grabs your attention with incredible action and cool gadgets, but more important than that, the dialogue, characters, and story not only delve into the soul but also unravel part of the Gordian Knot of human struggles.

Batman Begins, at its core, is a movie about Bruce Wayne. No other Batman movie has come half as close to being a story about the title character. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, we walk with the lead from his childhood to his young adult life and finally into the fullness of Batman.

As we walk with him we discover the same lessons that he learns. We learn that fear is something that we must all face. We learn that life is hard, but we have a choice as to what we are going to do with it. We also learn with Bruce that mercy is what defines good from bad.

As I watched the movie again last night I was reminded of why this movie is so powerful. When Bruce Wayne is struggling with understanding who is to blame for his parents murder, he struggles with guilt because he was the one who asks them to leave early exiting the building into a quiet alley. But Alfred reminds him that the killer is the only one to blame. Then later Henri Ducard (the movie’s dark Obi-Wan Kenobi) tries to coldly blame the deaths on Bruce’s father for failing to protect his wife. Finally, Bruce is forced to face someone who round claims 
about credit for their deaths by causing the economic downfall of the city. This was a deliberate action done in hope of creating people like the murderer to tear the city apart.

Because of its nuance, complexity, and realism (an uncommon description for a Super Hero movie), Batman Begins redefines the “character origins” film. Clearly the entire story is about the beginning of Batman, but what makes it amazing is the little things like the incredible supporting characters. 

Michael Caine is inspired as Alfred, the wise support that seems to hold the Bruce Wayne’s world together. The other characters Rachel Dawes, Lucius Fox, Jim Gordan, and even the homeless Russian play key roles in Bruce’s life making him better and inspiring him to fight for true justice. 

These supporting characters stand in sharp contrast with the bad guys who also each play a key role in making Batman who he is. First there is Falcone, a mob boss who “owns the town.” He shows Batman power that money cannot buy and that corruption obscures justice, sending Bruce into a tailspin leading him to a prison in Asia. Then we have Dr. Crane, who says “I respect the mind's power over the body. It's why I do what I do.” In a real way he is the linchpin of the plot against the city. He is no match for Batman’s strength but his mask and weaponized drugs disable Batman for two painful days. Dr. Crane is someone that isn’t beaten by power or strength. That is a new lesson one for Batman, that he must learn because strength is not enough to save the city. 

Now, let’s talk about Henri Ducard. He cannot be fully placed with the villains who stand in Bruce’s way or with the supporting characters who build him up to be the hero he needs to be. I mentioned it earlier that he is a dark Obi-Wan Kenobi character. He finds our hero and takes him in. Ducard trains Bruce giving him the skills he needs to fight evil. He reinforces Bruce’s desire to see justice and helps him to face his fears. But it is all because he wants to use the Prince of Gotham to take down the city.

Ducard is complex and clearly hides behind many layers of deception and is driven by a desire for revenge that he perversely conflates with justice. He is a mentor whose training is not lost on his prize student. In the end, however, when the choice comes Bruce chooses to reject his master's plan and returns home having learned a new lesson: justice must be carried out in the right way and through the right channel.

Batman Begins is the new standard for origin stories. It pulls you from the very roots of what makes the hero who he is into the relationships that shape him. Finally it launches you into a world where the person the hero has become is able to overcome and turn back evil.

Post by Jeremiah Lorrig

Check back tomorrow for Daniel’s retrospective review of The Dark Knight.
Check back Friday for our review of The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises opens in theaters everywhere Friday, July 20th.

Click here for more movie reviews.
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