NOTE: Originally published in The Superhero Gospels (2017). Photos added.
"It's not who I am underneath
but what I do that defines me.”
Scripture Reading: James 2:14-26
After 1997's universally panned Batman & Robin, things looked bleak for the Dark Knight. Nearly a decade later, Batman Begins debuted to much praise; the film not only reinvigorated faith in the Bat-brand with its thoughtful and intense portrayal of the source material but also proved once again that superhero movies could be dramatic. We see the process of Batman training and creating his dual identity for the first time in live action form as he battles Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul, also making their big screen debut.
As heavy on drama as it is with flashbacks, Batman Begins is the serious approach to the character that fans had always wanted. I remember the chills I felt at the scene when Batman scoops dirty cop Flass up to interrogate him, or as the Batmobile (called the Tumbler) vaults on rooftops. It was refreshing to meet a more dynamic Alfred, one with whom Bruce has a strained relationship, and it was thrilling to see nods to other adaptations. Scarecrow poisoning Gotham's water and seeing Batman as a demon after being exposed to his own fear toxin, for example, was pulled straight out of Batman: The Animated Series. I was also surprised that the film had a message.
After the success of Spider-Man, it was common for superhero films to shoehorn a 'moral' that wasn't otherwise there. Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and Man of Steel are all prime examples, and today's film is no exception. Were filmmakers so moved by Spider-Man's line that “with great power comes great responsibility” that they demanded every other hero get a 'Spider-Man,' too? Batman wasn't immune, either. In fact, there are so many 'Spider-Mans' in today's film that it's hard to choose. Apparently, the only thing director Christopher Nolan likes more than landscape shots and choppy edits is reincorporating moralizing dialogue. But for our purposes, I think Batman's assertion that it isn't who he is underneath but what he does that defines him is the main 'Spider-Man' of the movie.
Batman didn't come up with it on his own, though. His childhood friend (and current Assistant D.A.) Rachael says it when she sees him frolic with supermodels at a hotel restaurant. Bruce's public life as a playboy is an act. He tries to convince Rachael that there's more to him inside, but she says that what we do is more important than inner qualities.
James concurs in today's verse, his famous treatise on the distinction between faith and works. He is speaking to two groups: those who don't do any good works but absolve themselves by saying they don't need to because they have faith, and legalistic believers who cling to the Law and boast of their works as if it were a means of salvation.
To James, faith without works is dead, which is to say stagnant and ineffective. His book is misunderstood. Even Martin Luther wanted to cut it out of the bible, because he wrongfully believed it advocated a works-based theology. In reality, what James means is that our works are the outward sign of inward faith. Anyone can say they have faith, but our works confirm it. On the other hand, one can use works as a distraction from the vulnerability that comes from faith, like the unyielding villain of the film, Ra's Al Ghul. He's the leader of the League of Shadows, the guild of assassins that trains Bruce. His heart is hard and lacks empathy. As part of Bruce's initiation, Ra's, demands that he execute a prisoner to prove his resolve. For Ra's, words are meaningless. Bruce escapes, but learns that you can become more than yourself if you are devoted to an ideal. That requires doing.
Our actions don't just define us; they define Christ. The world judges Jesus by his followers. If, like Bruce Wayne training to be Batman, we devote ourselves to Christ's ideals, then our actions will point back to Him as vibrantly as the bat signal. There are times when all we can offer are words; give them. But there are also times when we can take action; do so. Give a buck to a hungry stranger. Help someone fix a flat. Volunteer at a food pantry. And don't fear that it is a waste of time if you don't talk about the gospel; you won't have to say a word about your faith, because you will be too busy showing it.
- Does your faith journey emphasize faith or works more?
- Based on your works, would others recognize your faith?
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Producers: Charles Rovan, Emma Thomas, Larry Franco
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher and David S. Goyer
Runtime: 140 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements
If you enjoyed this look at Batman Begins, you might like The Superhero Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 25 of the best superhero movies ever made. Get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.