Batman as Christ-figure?

(Contains Dark Knight spoiler.)

In an earlier post, I reflected on the differences between Batman, Superman, and Spider-man. At that time, I was of the opinion that Superman most vividly reminded me of Jesus and that Spider-man was the strongest of the three because he most clearly embodied the tensions of being human. However, after seeing the Dark Knight, I realize that Batman exemplifies aspects of Christ in ways that Clark Kent never could.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a multitude of ways in which Bruce Wayne is not like Jesus: violence, ruthlessness, willingness to lie, moral ambiguity, and such. But in his chosen calling, in his self-sacrifice, and in his humanity, Batman is much like Christ.

Batman was born as a sort of reverse incarnation. Rather than God becoming man, a man becomes more than a mere mortal by virtue of his choice and the actions that choice necessitates. His commitment to his calling overrides all of his other rights and needs. He became a legend. [That was the point of Batman Begins.] If Batman is the greatest of the superheroes, it is because he is super not by chance but by choice.

Likewise, Batman’s sacrifice of himself which defines him and makes him Christ-like. Beyond sacrificing his own personal safety, comfort, and well-being, Batman in the Dark Knightsacrifices his reputation. By defining himself as legend and nonetheless sacrificing his reputation, Batman has sacrificed his very self. Rather than allow the name of justice to be smudged and the hope for peace to be darkened, Batman took upon himself blame for actions that were not his. He became the ultimate superhero as a scapegoat.

Like Christ, “He was despised and rejected by men…. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Simply because Batman has not yet physically sacrificed himself to the point of death does not mean that he wouldn’t… or that he won’t. (Side-note: The Dark Knight provides the perfect set-up for a sequel to capture the essence of The Dark Knight Returns, storytelling genius Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel.)

Superman has often carried with him a certain stoicism. Batman, too, could often be accused of the same. However, in Christopher Nolan’s latest contribution to the Batman story, he struggles, cries, and nearly gives up. (There’s a man I can relate to!) But he goes on anyway. (Now there’s a man I can praise!) He will do whatever it takes to save Gotham, whatever the price, whether for criminals or for himself.

So what?

Do all great stories mirror the greatest story? Do we need reminders of who we are and of who we should be? Or is this merely for entertainment’s sake?

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Hellboy vs. Spawn vs. Ghostrider vs. Batman

hellboy 2

Includes a review of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” without blatant spoilers.

There have been other heroes who are caught between heaven and hell. Spawn: “Born in darkness. Sworn to justice.” Ghostrider: “He’s the only one that can walk on both worlds.” Batman, in a less literal sense, is equally torn between the forces of light and of darkness. But they have a way of taking themselves way too seriously, to the point of being silly (Ghostrider), or lame (Spawn – there’s a reason there hasn’t been a sequel). But not Hellboy.

It’s not just that he knows how to crack a good joke. It’s that he integrates action, comedy, and supernatural suspense, while wrestling with his own humanity (or lack-therof). Batman has become super by becoming more than merely human.

Yesterday, I finished reading Frank Miller’s graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” In the introduction, he describes a bar far beneath the streets of Gotham, a place where the old heroes go to tell there stories. They laugh and drink and reminisce. But there is one hero whose name they never mention, the thought of whom makes them all shudder, who in sheer force of will bested them all: Batman. But his glory came at a price: the sacrifice of his humanity.

Hellboy, on the other hand, has become great by becoming human. Sure, he struggles to find acceptance and to embrace humanity. He is a demon. But not in the biblical sense.

He’s a bumbling sort of hero. When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, his favorite catchphrase: “Oh, crap.” He gets into trouble, makes a big mess, and usually only manages to get out with the help of his friends.

He’s a bad boyfriend/husband type. “I would die for her… but she wants me to do the dishes!”

Yet, somehow, in the midst of such ineptitude, his dedication and wit shine through, and he reminds me of what it means to become a better man.

Don’t get me wrong. Hellboy II is no Schindler’s List. It’s a great movie, but not a deep movie. Fun has always been Hellboy’s strong suit. Nonetheless, there are moments of depth (why has magic faded from the world?) and, paired with Del Toro’s stunning visuals (creatures galore!), this should be the new summer blockbuster to beat.

But I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen a movie in the theater since April. Then again, I haven’t wanted to. This might be the first movie in the summer so far truly worth seeing.

Top 10 Running Movies (That Aren’t “Chariots of Fire”)

All of us who love to run – or at least the idea of running – know the uncontested place that “Chariots of Fire” holds in the hearts of fellow run-folk.  I do not wager to contest it’s place on that pedestal, but I do hope to suggest some lesser known movies that may equally inspire us to move.

10.  Troy.  Even if Orlando Bloom is an epic pansy, I have a lot of respect for Brad Pitt sprinting into a flying javelin lunge into the jugular of the enemy.  Hate the man, but love his movies.  (Have you not seen SnatchTwelve MonkeysLegends of the Fall?)

9.  Forrest Gump.  We all remember Tom Hanks sitting on the bench or fighting in ‘Nam.  But it’s easy to forget him spending most of the 1980s on the road, running, coast to coast, offering wisdom, searching for meaning, and finding something.  I’m not saying that the movie makes sense or that it’s a great movie, but if it is and if it does, it has something to do with the running.

8.  300.  More ancient, epic sprinting into battle.  More stylized slow-motion.  What does 300 have that Troy doesn’t?  About ten times more awesome.  The story, the writing (Frank Miller!), the odds.  The acting might even be better.  Or it’s least people you’ve never heard of being slightly okay (as opposed to Eric Bana and Peter O’Toole being less good than you know they should be, maybe because the writing was terrible).

7.  Braveheart.  Let’s face it, if your life isn’t in danger or your not threatening someone else’s life, who really needs to run?  Ah, for the good old days….

6.  The Children of Men.  …or a future so dangerous that the last hour of the movie is non-stop go-go-go, without decent footwear, to save the first last newborn of humanity.  Perhaps the most intense movie of all time and thoughtful sci-fi at its best.  And you were beginning to think that only historical war films made the list….

5.  Die Hard.  Speaking of footwear, how about barefoot?  Sure, he’s indoors, but let us not forget Bruce Willis’s original heart-breaking, heart-rending, hard-dying tour-d’awesome.  This is the film that started it all (didn’t it?).  No, not the franchise, but the action-for-the-masses with one-liners galore.

4.  Run, Lola, Run.  (A.k.a.  “Lola Rennt” auf deutsch).  Franka Potente breaks land-speed records and violates the space-time continuum as she sprints across Berlin in real-time to save her semi-loser boyfriend.  The tagline says it all – “Crazy love.  Crazy fate.”   She has twenty minutes to find 100,000 DM.  We see her fate unfold in three different paths.  Crazy fast.

3.  Apocalypto.  Warning: this is not a great movie.  Yet it is a great running movie.  Our hero escapes from nearly getting his heart cut out by the Mayan high priest, only to sprint through the jungle chased by a dozen enemy warriors, a jaguar, and a couple of conquistadors on his way to rescue his son and wife who is in labor.  Dang!   Don’t let Mel Gibson’s lack of PR keep you from this one.  Unless you hate reading subtitles.

2.  The Bourne Ultimatum.  Conceivably, all three Bourne films could have made the list, but I chose to reserve a place for what I considered the most running-intensive.  Let’s face it, 1 (The B. Identity) had the small car chase in Paris, 2 (The B. Supremacy) had the drunken car chase in Moscow, but 3 (The B. Ultimatum) had Damon spending more time on his feet, jumping off roof tops, through windows, etc.  Okay, so the beginning and end were less runny, but the middle….  Dang!

1.  The Last of the Mohicans.  I know that a lot of people don’t love this movie.  Maybe it’s that I hit puberty in the early 1990s.  This movie rocks.  It has it all: hiking, jogging, walking silently at night, and sprinting uphill, guns and axes in hand, for the whole last 30 minutes of the movie, Daniel Day Lewis (before he became evil – There Will Be Blood! – but still an artistic genius) on his way to rescue Madeline Stowe (before she dropped off the face of the earth) from certain death.  Bonus: making fun of the French and the British, with plenty of pre-revolutionary fervor, and a glimpse of lacrosse back when it was a game for Native Americans and red necks.

Published in: on July 5, 2008 at 10:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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X-Men vs. Heroes

I’m sure this has been done to death elsewhere, but what the heck.  It hasn’t been done by me.  Now that there have been three X-Men movies, with a slew of prequels on the way, and now that the second season of Heroes is very done, I think we can step back and assess.

(*I rely both on the X-Men movies and on my reading in late 1980s/early 1990s of The Uncanny X-Men, issues #201-301; I ignore the recent Heroes spin-off comic.)

Which is better, the X-Men or the t.v. show Heroes?  Let me count the reasons.

In the X-Men‘s favor: they were first, they have solid leadership (especially under Professor X), Magneto is a compelling villian, Wolverine captures better than any other the wild side of the male soul, Storm makes a solid heir to the Professor’s throne and makes Hallie Berry look like a decent actress again, and only this franchise could pull together Patrick Stewark vs. Ian McKellan.

In Heroes‘s favor: Noah Bennett might be the most-bad-ass-dad of all time, the show has brought non-initiates (i.e., non-nerds) to the superhero table, the first season  was amazing, Hiro Nakamura  is like the best-Japanese-friend I never had, and the show is just plain fun.

To the X-Men’s discredit: the third movie was terrible, the uniforms are silly, and — maybe it’s the school — but teen angst keeps peeing on my fun-fire.

To Heroes‘s discredit: Peter Petrelli is a dumb-ass many times over, Mohinder Suresh waffles more than a bad senator, the little girl (what’s her name?) is creepy, Alejandro, and — let’s face it — much of the cast is very annoying much of the time, when you stop to think about it.  Claire!  Monica!  Nathan!  Can’t y’all get your act together?  Plus, the second season was only so-so.

What they have in common: a grasp of moral ambiguity, the importance of teamwork, and of “family” in all its forms.  Oh yeah, and good and evil mutants with superpowers.

The Verdict:  More heroes = more fun.  I’m glad we have both franchises, but, at the end of the day, I’m happy saying that Stan Lee is a genius.  Kring has yet to prove himself.  Go X-Men.

27 Ways to Lose your Balls

Few movies promise to be as utterly emasculating as this year’s 27 Dresses. As the title and trailer indicate, this movie ought to contain nothing that appeals to the typical male viewer. It’s refreshing, really, to see a major studio sending out a big #$&* you to their primary demographic.

“But it’s got Katherine Heigl,” some might argue. “She’s supposed to be hot.”

So was Princess Diana. Do you see me reading the biography?

What baffles me is that they’re not even trying for cross-over appeal. This isn’t a date movie. This is a cut-off-your-balls-for-a-few-hours-and-sew-them-back-on kind of movie. (Don’t ask me how they get sewed back on; I’m not a doctor; and yes, it’s “sewn.”)

In short: the title says it all. If your girlfriend/wife/signif-oth drags you to this one, she owes you big time. You just surrendered your manhood.

Pride Comes Before Redemption… Sometimes

Bad things have a way of being twisted versions of something good.  Take pride, for example.  There’s good pride, and then there’s bad pride.

 Good pride is the opposite of shame.  “I’m proud of you!” says your mother.  “I take pride in my work,” says an earnest student.  “You should be proud of your roots,” says your grandfather.  Such pride is rooted in self-respect and self-confidence.  I wish we all had pride like that.

 Then there’s bad pride, which is the opposite of humility.  As in “I am a proud person” and “pride comes before a fall.”  She’s “prideful.”  Such pride is like vanity in both senses: it’s useless (old sense of vanity), and it’s self-absorbed (as in “you’re so vain”).  Such pride destroys because in it we elevate our own identities and contributions to the expense of others.  Aloof, too proud to ask for help, too proud to care.

For all of it’s predictable cheesiness, the film Pride vividly depicts almost all of the characters transitioning from the latter to the former.  Plus, when was the last time someone made a decent movie about swimming?

“Hung-over” with Hilarity… in a Jaded Sort of Way

My Arrested Development binge has coincided with my Scrosese binge.  I’m half-way through AR season two, and I’ve watched Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed.  If I were a drinking man — which I can’t be, because of my bipolar meds — I’d say it was something like mixing strawberry daquiris with tequila shots.

(Incidentally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with other people drinking, just with being drunk.)

This could be more disorienting than the Christmas when I read nothing but Flannery O’Connor short stories and stopped trusting anything that strangers said for the next month.  Even the dude at the airport who claimed to be the kid from Problem Child.

Life is funny right now.  I can’t take myself too seriously.  Not with Ron Howard’s 3rd person narration running through my head, describing my every move.  And I’m somehow expecting everyone to get screwed in the end.  But that’s Scorsese, not me, and not God talking.  I’ve got to be careful who I listen to.

The Black Godfather

Denzel Washington – Jerry Bruckheimer + Ridley Scott = awesome?

There has long been an empty slot on my DVD shelf waiting for Denzel’s best movie.  It’s not that he hasn’t made some great ones.  But Man on Fire was too jumpy and Deja Vu was too cheesy and superficial.  Maybe my problem is Denzel’s directors.

Ridley Scott could change all that.  He is best known for his work on Gladiator and Alien.  In November, he will release American Gangster, starring Washington and based on a true story.  Hollywood has given us plenty of high profile examples of the Italian-American alpha male ruling the streets of America.  In recent memory, there have even been a few Irish-American stand-outs (Boondock Saints, The Departed).  But we Black folk have had a while to wait.  Until now.

Don’t get me wrong.  Heroin is bad business.  Or it’s good business, but for the wrong reasons.  Crime is bad, but if I’m going to see it on screen, I want to see it done right.  This time, I think the recipe is just right.

Plus, the script is by the man who wrote the script for Schindler’s List.

Published in: on August 15, 2007 at 9:05 pm  Comments (2)  

Lonely Matinee

On Going to the Movies Alone

The theater was as dark as the day was bright, and as eerie, empty, and old.  The walls inside and out were the color of old toothpaste but smooth as marble, as if the paint had been chosen thirty years ago and purchased in bulk, a fresh coat for every year for a century.  A handful of high schoolers, retirees, and I settled down for our blockbuster of choice.  The momentary embarassment and awkwardness were a small price to pay, as was the $6.50.

What’s Wrong with “Bobby”?

Writer/director Emilio Estevez has done his best work yet in Bobby (2006).  The film isn’t as much about Robert F. Kennedy, or even RFK’s assassination, as much as it is about the hopes and dreams of a dozen people as the relate to RFK. 

The cast features a mind-boggling array of heavy-hitters (Hopkins, Fishburne, Sheen), has-beens (Moore, Hunt, Stone), mid-career (Wood, Macy, Graham) and up-and-coming stars (Lohan, Cannon, LaBoeuf, Rodriguez).  I would be amiss to overlook Ashton Kutscher’s convincing cameo as a tripped-out hippy, which provides some of the film’s best comic relief. 

The music, the clothes, the racial tensions, and anti-war sentiments in the film are all very right and very 1968.

As a period piece and series of character portraits, the film works well.  It’s even an okay anti-war piece.  But as a story?  Not so much.  Estevez shows us before with no after.  The film ends two minutes after the assassination.  Plus, other than the assassination, the plot has little discernible direction.

But that’s okay.  If this film does nothing other than serve as a reminder of what might have been, it is a welcome one.  Estevez gives us a portrait of RFK, patched together from various speeches and indirectly via his characters.  Maybe this is a hopelessly idealistic portrait of a hopelessly idealistic presidential hopeful, but some of us could use a little more of that these days.  When was the last time we had an idealist in the Oval Office?

Published in: on August 14, 2007 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment