After a long and torturous string of slanderous adaptations that included three actors in four movies and the infamous nipples on the Batsuit in movie number four, the caped crusader finally got a well-deserved fresh start in 2005 with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
The outcome, while overlooked in light of its earth-shattering successors, redefined Batman for the next generation, and presents the most Biblical worldview of perhaps all film adaptations of America’s comic book champions.
Allow me to explain.
The movie, skillfully weaving Bruce Wayne’s childhood, exploration of the criminal underworld, and return to Gotham in the film’s first third or so, makes some very strong statements about what a hero truly does. Bruce, returning home after being away for college, attends the hearing for the man who killed his parents. He planned to kill the man himself, but one of Falconi’s (the mob boss this time around) fiends beats him to it. When his childhood friend Rachel, now a prosecutor, learns of his attempt, she slaps him and says “Your father would be ashamed of you.” Thus begins Bruce’s exploration of the criminal underworld. He travels with them, learns how they tick, but “never becomes one of them.” Indeed, he is arrested for “stealing” from his own company, Wayne Enterprises. Eventually Ra’s al Ghul finds him and trains him to become part of the League of Shadows, an underground organization dedicated to justice, albeit through vigilante means. When he is charged to kill a man taken for murder, he rebels, becoming a renegade and coming back to Gotham.
The man who had once wanted to kill his parents’ killer, calling it justice, refuses to punish a murderer, saying “I’m no executioner.” Wouldn’t Bruce feel for the victim’s family? Wouldn’t Bruce see better than most why this man had to pay? Why he deserved death? Why didn’t he kill the man?
Humility. “I am no executioner” says “This is not my place.” He did not presume to act as God among men. He had no authority, no right to hasten the man’s death. Instead he goes back and fights crime as Batman. Outside of the law, though, right? Well, sort of.
The worldviews of comics and comic adaptations is extremely broad. In this case, I invite a comparison with Marvel’s Daredevil. At one moment in the film, the titular hero, in his “day job” as a prosecutor tells a man “For your sake I hope justice is served here today, before justice finds you.” Sure enough, he goes outside of the criminal justice system to punish the man for his crimes. Batman, on the other hand, does the opposite. He works with Gordon, as well as Rachel, to bring hard proof against the criminal underground. That’s exactly why it doesn’t bother me that he’s a “vigilante.” He does not presume to punish them himself, but rather to stop them. That may seem like a small distinction, but it is an extremely important one. He sees the importance of working through the law instead of outside of it, even though he once told Rachel “Your system is broken.”
This is a much needed message in an era when many Christians are ignoring our Lord’s wish in Romans 13 to remain in submission to the governing authorities and instead are promoting ideas of anarchy and rebellion because of the infringement of their rights. It’s a kind of veiled selfishness that is becoming more dangerous by the minute. I’m not suggesting we stay silent, I’m only suggesting that we work within the system to reform, much akin to the way our beloved Dark Knight stops criminals instead of taking vengeance upon them.
The focus on the legal aspect, and fighting corruption, continues with the supporting cast. While I am not normally a big Katie Holmes fan, I loved her portrayal as Rachel in this film (and she will always be Rachel to me. Sorry Maggie, it’s nothing personal). She’s a very devoted and intelligent woman, intent on ending Gotham’s corruption. Alfred is portrayed brilliantly by Michael Caine. Morgan Freeman graces the film with his appearance as well. All of those, however, barely compare with Gary Oldman’s performance.
Granted, it takes a lot for me to dislike Gary Oldman. He’s one of my favorite actors of all time, but his performance is superb. If you read the comic Batman: Year One, you get an even better feel for the kind of virtue Gordon has (although that comic does add a near affair that is obviously a serious issue. I’m referring here to his fight against corruption in Gotham’s police force, which is even more blatant in Year One, matched better in The Dark Knight). But again, corruption is not fought outside of the law, but rather through it. It pays off for Gordon to be one of the good guys, and Batman helps him set things right. A friend of mine often says about films “And the real hero is…” referring to a supporting character who displayed even more virtue or made more of a difference than the protagonist. I don’t know that I would pick anyone above Batman, but if I were to pick a secondary hero, Gordon takes the cake.
The villain in this film is somewhat subtle; there’s no tights, no name adapted until nearly the end of the film, and no gratuitous battle destroying an entire metropolis (*cough cough* Man of Steel *cough cough*). It’s more believable, encompassing a Scarecrow of sorts, serving Ra’s al Ghul. His true power is given only in the form of a fear-inducing toxin, which gives way to the film’s main message.
The biggest aspect of the film is glaringly obvious: fear. Bruce is afraid of bats. So are his adversaries, as it turns out. He dons his own fear to strike terror into his opponents. The focus in this is more on Bruce than the criminals, however, especially the first time he’s poisoned by Crane’s (Scarecrow’s) fear toxin. It’s especially prevalent in his training, when he is told “If you devote yourself to an idea, you become more than just a man.” IF YOU DEVOTE YOURSELF TO AN IDEA. Is that not what we are called to do? As Paul said in Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In being devoted to an idea, Bruce is equipped to face his fear with courage, even in the face of Scarecrow, who preys on the fearful (much like Satan does). Batman is not a Jesus figure, but he is a role model for us in a sense: we must devote ourselves to an idea (Christianity) and face our fears of rejection and failure if we are to be successful in our lives as Christians.
Because as afraid as we are of failure, Satan is afraid of our success; for with God’s guidance there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.