When I offered my Top 5 list of the best movies of 2004, one of the films on the list was Spider-Man 2. I declared it the best superhero movie ever, and noted that “One is left with the notion that the world needs more Peter Parkers, rather than more Spider-Mans, and that is the film’s greatness.”
I’ve yet to decide if Batman Begins has eclipsed Spider-Man 2 as the best superhero movie ever (a tough call made tougher by Spidey’s always having been my favorite), and I don’t know if such a decision even needs to be made. The truth is, Batman Begins is simply fantastic, and allows Bruce Wayne to be as much a hero as his alter ego, much like Spider-Man 2 did the same for the endearing Peter Parker, letting the superhero genre serve once again as an extraordinary backdrop for an ordinary story of struggling to be one’s best self.
For those who prefer their superheroes on a pedestal, to be admired and regarded as having broken the bounds of mere mortaldom, the opportunity is left intact, but as those of us who were raised on the flawed and fallible, inimitably human, heroes populating a galaxy far, far away are coming into their own as filmmakers, we are given the chance to relate to our heroes as well. Far from taking anything away from our heroes, instead behind this door left ajar for those who want to venture inside, we find that seeing ourselves in our heroes elevates us all, and encourages us to be our best selves, too.
There is a time for perfect heroes who are handed powers of someone else’s design and never doubt their destinies, but this is not it. This is a time of self-made heroes who take on more than they might have been meant, and who do the right thing not because it is easy, or because there is glory to be had, but because we are defined by what we do, and so doing nothing is not an option.
I like these new superheroes of ours. They are quite different from their previous incarnations and yet seem accessible, familiar, in their very humanness. As I recently noted to someone who resists acknowledging his own ability to be a hero, being familiar is not insignificant, even if it sounds so. It's rare in heroes, even ones without a cape, and thus awe-inspiring in its own way.