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Batman Begins

“Why do we fall, Bruce?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Bats.  Ever since he was attacked by bats as a child, Bruce Wayne has been afraid of the creatures.  When actors dressed as bats appear on-stage at an opera, Bruce begs his parents to leave early.  They exit through a back door into the alley–where Bruce’s parents are robbed and murdered by a thug.  Driven by guilt and anger, Bruce waits for 14 years for his chance to kill his parent’s murderer, but someone else gets there first.

Broken and shamed, Bruce abandons his estate and wanders the world, studying the criminal mind.  But “The world is too small a place for someone like Bruce Wayne to disappear,” and Bruce is discovered by a mystical group that offers to train him to fight crime.  But when Bruce learns that the group’s plan for abolishing evil involves destroying Gothem City, he must decide for himself what is the right way to achieve justice–and determine just how far he’ll go to protect his hometown.

Batman Begins tells the enthralling tale of how the Dark Knight embarked on his journey to fight evil.  It was the first “grown up” superhero movie I ever watched, and my mind is still spinning from the onslaught of this new action-packed world.  Batman Begins is a complicated film on many levels–but in a good way.  Here’s why.

The Just

The story of how Bruce was inspired to join the fight against evil is not only engaging–with a realistic set-up and a very endearing young Bruce–it’s thought-provoking.  Bruce’s family is portrayed as loving and stable; Bruce’s father, in particular, is kind, caring, and generous.  It’s Bruce’s devotion to his father that plays perfectly into his transformation into Batman, making his character transition realistic and engaging–and it also incites a lot of questions about the nature of justice.  Throughout the film, the theme of justice is expounded–and contrasted with revenge–on many levels.  Although I didn’t necessarily agree with every thought presented, the film shed light on many angles of the subject and gave me much to ponder.  It’s a film that makes you think, which makes it an excellent piece for discerning audiences.

One particularly interesting element regarding the theme of justice is Bruce’s resistance to killing his enemies.  He staunchly refuses on several occasions, instead leaving them for the police to arrest and try lawfully.  While Bruce isn’t entirely consistent with this ideal, as I’ll discuss below, it does motivate him to make on crucial and very admirable decision.  [spoiler!]  When the mystical group reveals that they want to destroy Gothem City, a rat’s nest of evil, Bruce refuses.  No matter how much evil there is in the city, the people are still worth fighting for.  (Gen. 18:32)

Aside from the main plot of Bruce and his search for justice, there is a delightful cast of secondary characters, and I found several of them to be very endearing–and admirable.  Alfred is a wonderful example of loyalty; even though he is only a butler, he watches over Bruce like a father.  He doesn’t give up on Bruce, despite his mistakes, and he challenges Bruce to do something with his future–and begs him not to destroy the family name in the process.  Gordon, the police officer that Batman wins as an ally, shines as a just soul who is willing to go against an unjust system.  And Rachel, the district attorney and long-time friend of Bruce’s, is a rare and lovely example of femininity.  She fights for what is right and isn’t afraid to stand up to bad guys or Bruce.  She takes action and challenges Bruce to achieve a higher standard, yet she doesn’t run into danger or try to save the world on her own.  Her primary role in the final climactic battle is defending and comforting a small child, a very endearing and feminine moment.

On a related note, the developing romance between Rachel and Bruce is very subtle and tame.  For most of the film, their attraction manifests itself in their desire to take care of each other–Bruce protects Rachel, and Rachel supports and challenges Bruce (and Batman).  Near the end of the film they do exchange some romantic words and one kiss, but there is no flirting or sexual overtones.  In fact, Rachel is never shown flaunting herself or wearing noticeably immodest clothing, a very refreshing portrayal.

The Unjust

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the two girls Bruce takes out on a date.  In an attempt to conceal his secret identity, Bruce tries to fill the role of a millionaire playboy.  This results in a decadent evening out that ends with Bruce in a pool with two women who have evidently undressed.  While very little skin is shown, it is still worth noting.  What’s also worth noting, however, is that this behavior is not condoned.  Bruce runs into Rachel shortly after and feels the need to explain that “all this” is “not the real Bruce.”  Rachel replies with, “It’s not who you are underneath that defines you, but your actions.”  Although the scene was unnecessary, and certainly isn’t appropriate for children, I do think Rachel’s response shows good character.

Aside from that one scene, the adult content in the film is very mild.  A few men are shown shirtless briefly, but there is no other overt immodesty or sexual content.  There is a fairly generous dose of moderate language, in addition to at least one swear word and direct misuse of God’s name.  The mystical group has some quasi-religious rituals and claims to have supernatural influence; it mostly comes off as bizarre and is not explained in detail.

The main content concern is, of course, violence.  As is to be expected with an action movie, there’s ample amounts of flashy violence–explosions, car chases, etc.  There is also a substantial amount of gang violence and several gun/fistfights.  Gore is not excessive, but there is a moderate horror element to one bad guy’s methodology–he uses a toxin to induce panic in his victims, causing them to imagine the people around them as horrid creatures.  The disturbing nature of this, and the psychological implications of his weapon, provides interesting material for adults but may be a concern for younger audiences.

Interestingly, while Batman claims to be against killing his enemies, he does not appear to have any qualms against causing destruction and chaos.  He blows up the monastery where the mystical group resides, supposedly killing many of them.  He wreaks havoc during some of his escapades, damaging buildings and crashing police cars.  And during the climax [spoiler!] he intentionally leaves the villain in a doomed train.  He’s statement of “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” makes one wonder just how deep his devotion to saving lives really is.

In the end

The superhero genre was a new experience for me, and I’m still trying to process my reaction to the film.  I was expecting ample violence and also hoping for deep themes to ponder.  I got both, and thankfully the objectionable content in the film was not high enough to muddy it.  I’m not sure yet whether Batman Begins will be a film I enjoy watching repeatedly, or whether it will be a film I watch only a few times and ponder.  But I have decided on one thing–superhero movies may just be worth my time.

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