Part One: How I Felt During the Movie
I only loosely paid attention to Batkid in November 2013, when he was a social-media phenom and pictures on Twitter showed part of San Francisco shutting down to stage his superhero fantasy for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But what I didn't get was the insane scope of the undertaking. Batkid Begins fills in the gaps.
Even if the documentary were bad, the story is so great that I'd still love it. As luck would have it, the film is a genuine tearjerker that never feels cynical or manipulative.
Miles Scott, who was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia at 18 months old, just wanted to be a superhero. So Make-A-Wish planned to have Miles run around San Francisco fighting crime in costume with an adult dressed as Batman. But the plan snowballed on social media, and by the time the event took place there were 12,000-plus volunteers. San Francisco Opera made the costumes, Apple volunteered its communications team to handle the press, and San Francisco's mayor and chief of police enthusiastically acted as if they were running Gotham City.
The doc is full of incredible shots, like Miles glowing as he locks up a pretend Riddler in a pretend jail, saluting throngs of adoring fans and then smiling while he's put into his car seat. "Who are you?" "I am Batman." It melted my goddamn heart.
Part Two: Nagging Doubts That Have Since Crept In
I cried almost the entire movie. Even though Batkid Begins resisted myriad opportunities to ask us to donate, I left feeling like I should immediately sign all my checks over to Make-A-Wish.
But the more Iâve thought about it, the more tiny doubts have festered. Like, did this really help Miles? The moments where it seemed to have a big impact on him hardly seemed deeper than if youâd given him a surprise milkshake. Make-A-Wish said, âWeâre giving him a bit of his childhood back.â Whose childhood is this? And wonât everybody start demanding bigger and bigger wishes? The next time a kid gets to be a superhero, do we all take time off work, or was once enough for everybody? Then thereâs the money. San Francisco slated $100,000 in city funds for crowd control. It wouldâve been a great marketing investment for the city, but it was moot because a private donor stepped up. So thatâs not a city marketing decision, itâs $100,000 that could have gone to other charities (like cancer research or 20 Disneyland Make-A-Wishes).
I realized this wasn't a Make-A-Wish for Miles Scott. It was for us. He would have gotten more of his childhood back getting a high-five from Mickey. It was the adults who wanted to play heroes. We wanted to feel like we were making a huge difference in this kid's life.
None of this is the fault of Batkid Begins. It tells the story in a powerful and uncomplicated way, and that's for the best. Nobody wants to watch the movie Batkid 2: Nagging Doubts About Adult Egoism.
Batkid Begins is the closing-night film of the Portland Film Festival, screening at Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., on Sunday, Sept. 6. 7:30 pm. $15. portlandfilmfestival.com. GRADE A-