“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
So I chose this one film over the whole spectrum of Batman films for two reasons. The first is that I find the Bale/Nolan interpretation of the character to be far more human and realistic than any other version of the character. The second is that because this version of the film includes not one person to admire, but two.
The first is of course Bruce Wayne. Yeah a little off in the early parts of the movie, but once he finds his calling for his life—“I’m gonna show the people of Gotham their city doesn’t belong to the criminals and the corrupt.” It’s a very conservative/libertarian idea—I’m going to show people that they can stand up for themselves, I’m going to show them their problems aren’t so big that individuals can’t face them, and, as he says in a later film, “A hero can be anyone.” And this is what makes him better than the other visions of Batman which at their best seem to only be driven by revenge or guilt at their core (or campiness) and have merely sublimated it into something more productive…but rather someone who has moved beyond his need for revenge and self-pity to actually do something productive with his life.
Honestly, the argument for Bruce Wayne kind of gets made on its own…or you’ve really been living in a cave.
But there is another nice thing about Batman Begins: Thomas Wayne.
This film gives us a look at the virtues of the Wayne family that are often ignored just a little in the whole of films.
“In the depression, your father nearly bankrupted Wayne Enterprises combating poverty. He believed that his example could inspire the wealthy of Gotham to save their city.”
Thomas Wayne shows all the virtues of all those robber barons of the 19th century who used their earned wealth to build infrastructure, charities, fund churches and reform movements, who brought cheaper goods at greater quantities. Those evil bastards. They understood the call of the now overly forgotten virtue of noblesse oblige*–that with the wealth you have earned and inherited one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do with that wealth is help others fulfill their potential as well. Wayne especially in his building a transportation system rather than just giving out the dole understands that it is systems and tools that help people more than just handouts.
“Gotham’s been good to our family, but the city’s been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times. So we built a new, cheap, public transportation system to unite the city.”
Of course also this is the kind of man who through his superior actions as a parent also shows himself to be worthy of complete admiration. Even his dying words, “Don’t be afraid,” are concerned with the not just the physical well being of his son, but the mental and spiritual well being as well (yeah, it took Bruce awhile to internalize them, but he’s only human).
The Nolan series of Dark Knight movies as a whole is a wonderful depiction of human virtue and the good that people are capable of, but this movie also doesn’t give into the knee jerk ability to just portray the rich as vapid and pointless. (Notice also how offended even the rich are when Bruce starts to pretend acting like most Hollywood writers think the rich actually are).
*Yes I realize that the term has numerous definitions from the derogatory to the chivalrous, I’m going to use it here to more or less mean: To whom much is given, much is expected… or, if you prefer I keep in the comic book parlance for the blog, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” You might also look to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Book 4 Chapter 2 for a further discussion on this virtue.
Honorable Mentions in Film
I would be remiss to not mention two other rich people in film in conjunction with the Dark Knight films.
The first is Zorro. And I will say the best version of Zorro is still the The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power. Like Wayne, and in most versions of the Batman story the inspiration for Batman, Don Diego de la Vega is rich but cannot turn aside from the injustice he sees. So he dons a mask and becomes the Fox, Zorro. Now granted the wealth of a Spanish noble in Spanish California is probably not as ethically gotten as a modern industrialist, but it’s not as relevant to the story.
And of course, since most of Marvel’s stable of heroes are merely rip offs of DC characters we have to mention, Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr.’s Ironman starts off as a bit more immature than Bruce Wayne, but over the last three films (and soon Iron Man 3) we have certainly come to love Tony, if not still finding him a bit egocentric.
These are highly entertaining films, albeit maybe not as deep as the Dark Knight films.