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Monday, July 7, 2014

Batman Begins to Make Sense

From where I stand, the genre can't surprise me anymore. Superhero stories follow that basic pattern that my favorite antihero, Megamind, wrestles with so much.

You know it.  The one where the man with muscles ends up with the gorgeous girl after an epic battle with the nemesis, a battle that costs him very little because, after all, he is (Insert Epic Name Here)-man and he has the astonishing ability to blow things up by biting his fingernails....

I haven't seen the Avengers yet.  My students tell me that I would appreciate the humor of one "Loki of Asgard," but I haven't made time for it yet, because in my premature judgment I'm pretty sure that doing so will result in that pattern...a lot of explosions instigated by people wearing really tight costumes and yelling insults at monsters while trying to save innocent people.  
And if I'm going to watch a movie, I prefer a gut-wrenching drama like Becoming Jane (an all time favorite with a horrifyingly beautiful ending) or a thought-provoking science-fiction/action drama like Inception (wherein Leo references Greek mythology and a plot twist blows my mind several times per scene.)

Still, I know that superhero stories satisfy some craving within us.  Rather I should say that they open up the wound of our craving, which is even better since that will hopefully send us looking, and in looking we might end up in the best place.  There are small, but tangible, echoes of Eden and Calvary even here, as we yearn for the Super-Man who can save us from our fears.  So, to defend it from my own attack, I know it isn't the surprise that producers go for.  I think they actually market to the "of course...yes...I saw that coming" crowd.  Which is perfectly fine.  Just not my go-to.

All of this is a long, unnecessary self-justification for the three or so hours I spent last Friday watching Batman Begins for the second time in my life.  The first time I saw it, I enjoyed watching those scenic mountain training sessions right next to the exciting technological weaponry scenes, but I didn't really understand what was going on. Thankfully, this time around my brother patiently allowed me to ask questions throughout the film so that I wouldn't get lost in the non-linear storytelling.  After a weekend to think it over and a bit of time with a pen, I've come to a concise takeaway in two parts. 

When Good conquers its fears, then Evil should be afraid.  Where there is goodness, there is hope. 

The great thing about Batman is his lack of any inherently supernatural qualities.  Bruce Wayne is just a human whose training makes him really tough and whose inheritance makes him really rich.  Excellent qualities in a crime fighter. Add to that his voluntary six years of vagabond living and a Rachel-motivated heart of compassion, and you have the ideal vigilante. He isn't just promoting "the ends justifies the means";  he's actually providing a blueprint for worse-case-scenario decision making that advocates courage and love. When forced to choose between the rigid justice of the League of Shadows and the lawless bureaucracy of Gotham, Wayne doesn't fall into the trap of false dichotomy. Instead he makes the decision to live an isolated, misunderstood, self-sacrificing life to give hope to the people of the city.
But to do so, he has to reconcile with his past.
Batman chooses bats as his symbol because it is his greatest fear.  When he overcomes that fear, he becomes a force to be reckoned with on the streets of Gotham. Criminals cower in terror at the mention of his name, and the people begin to think that their city can be something beautiful again.

Batman isn't about a guy with special abilities who wants to flex his biceps before an adoring crowd. It's a spoiled rich kid who matures into a man who loves goodness.
As soon as I comprehended that, Batman began to make sense.
(Also, I really actually enjoyed it.)

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