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Review: Batkid Begins (2015)

Batkid Begins (2015)

Directed by: Dana Nachman

Premise: A documentary about Miles Scott, a five year old leukemia patient. The Make-A-Wish Foundation fulfilled his dream of being Batman for a day and all of San Francisco got in on the act.

What Works: Superheroes are very hot at the moment with movies like The Avengers and Batman v Superman as well as ongoing series like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some of these movies are great (and some of them aren’t) but in the attempt to please an older fan base and in an effort to duplicate the box office successes of gritty action movies, the superhero genre has gradually drifted away from its more kid-friendly origins. There’s nothing wrong with dark comic book adaptations but there ought to be room in the world for a wider variety of superhero stories, including those that still appeal to children. Ironically, the documentary Batkid Begins captures the heroic spirit of these characters much better than a lot of overproduced tent pole event pictures. Batkid Begins tells the story of Miles Scott, a boy who was coping with leukemia treatments. His family got in touch with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills the fantasies of ill children. In 2013 the San Francisco chapter put on an elaborate wish for Miles, who wanted to be Batman for a day. It was initially planned to be a modest stunt in which Miles would dress up as the Caped Crusader and foil a “crime” in progress. Word spread through social media about what the foundation was planning and soon it became a citywide event and an international news story. Individuals and companies pledged their support and Batman fans and others moved by the event gathered in San Francisco to cheer on Miles as he lived out his Batman fantasy. Batkid Begins documents what happened, from Miles’ diagnosis and treatment through the events of that day. The filmmakers document the effort put into planning this event through a combination of interviews and footage taken at the time. Batkid Begins also includes a superhero flavor with comic book art inserted into some of the expository scenes. Amid all of this, the filmmakers don’t lose sight of Miles himself. The enormity of the event actually put a lot of pressure on the kid and that’s not lost in the course of the movie. But the other thing that’s impressive about Batkid Begins and why this story resonated with so many people, is that it taps into exactly what makes superheroes popular in the first place. Characters like Batman represent ideals of strength, heroism, and justice and Batkid Begins captures that in a way that a lot of Hollywood’s recent superhero productions haven’t.

What Doesn’t: Those who followed Miles Scott’s story when he was in the news in 2013 won’t find much new information in Batkid Begins. The movie does a good job of collecting the facts, interviewing the relevant people, and presenting all of it in a single package, but for the most part this is the story that played out in news outlets three years ago. It’s no surprise to find that Batkid Begins is sentimental. It’s a story about a community rallying around an ill child; if this were a dramatic film instead of a documentary it would probably be insufferable. Batkid Begins is specifically designed to be inspirational and to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings and it certainly accomplishes that. But at some level this is a feature length human interest story, the kind of puff piece that a local television station would put at the end of its newscast. It’s also fair to say that Batkid Begins is an eighty-seven minute commercial for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Neither of those is a bad thing to be but that’s what this is and the filmmakers have no illusions about what kind of movie they’ve made. The earnestness of Batkid Begins is rather endearing.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: Batkid Begins is a feel-good story. The film presents a humanity-affirming event in a way that is refreshingly earnest and without cynicism. The movie also captures what it is we want from our superheroes and shows us what Hollywood has been missing.

Episode: #589 (April 3, 2016)