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The movie Batman Returns is a typical example of how Christopher Vogler’s structures rings true in storytelling. Nonetheless, the director and production team took liberties with the sequences of these occurrences as well as the nature of characters that belong to those categories. In certain circumstances, one may be fooled into thinking that a character is an ally only to realize that he is an adversary. It was these twists and turns that make the movie breathtaking.
The hero in Batman begins
Batman begins has all the twelve elements of the Hero’s journey. The story is intertwined by a series of distant and close flashbacks which help to provide a background to the goings in the story. These flashbacks are what reveal the first component of the Hero’s journey; the ordinary world.
Audiences can get a glimpse of Bruce’s earlier life. He seemed happy and fulfilled as a child with both parents until their death. Thereafter, the young man develops a great degree of animosity and hatred towards his parents’ murderer – Joe Chill. One also gets a glimpse of the influential people in his life, such as Alfred Pennyworth and Rachel.
The call to adventure occurs at an early point in the film. During the trial of his parent’s killer, Bruce decides to carry a gun with him into trial. His intention is to shoot the perpetrator if he is acquitted. However, another assassin learns of the wrong and prevents him from this great misdeed. It is at this point that the call to adventure occurs. Rachel tells him that Joe Chill had critical information about Gotham City’s worst drug baron – Carmine Falcone.
He, alongside other hardcore drug lords, was terrorizing the city. They were the real problem, and if Bruce only killed Chill then he would be exerting revenge. Rachel asserted that true justice occurred when hardcore criminal elements like Falcone were captured. Bruce thus realized that Falcone was responsible for the city’s decay. He needed to deal with this man and others like him in order to restore sanity in Gotham (IMBD 18).
In most films, the refusal to call occurs shortly after the call, and Batman Begins is not an exception (Vogler 7). Bruce confronts Falcone at his underground bar and gets beaten by his employees. At this point, he escapes into China where he steals and infiltrates into the criminal underworld. It seems as though the last place one would fight Gotham’s ills would be in China, which was miles away from his home place. Furthermore, he appeared lost and confused when he made this escape.
Bruce then enters the fourth phase of the hero’s journey by meeting with his mentor. This happens when he goes back home and gets introduced to Lucius Fox. The latter individual gives him insights about the goings-on of Wayne Enterprises, and is the one who introduces him to a series of special weapons.
Fox’s ideas lead to formation of the Batman persona since it is his technological inventions that facilitate this transition. It should be noted that at the beginning of the movie, Henri Ducard appears to be the mentor since he teaches Bruce valuable fighting and life lessons. However, later on in the film, one realizes that he was an evil man bent on destroying Gotham city.
The fifth phase of Vogler’s hero’s journey is crossing the threshold. This occurs when Bruce modifies the battle suit, ski mask and other devices from Wayne Enterprises to create a disguise. However, when he first confronts Sergeant Jim Gordon, the story begins to take off from there. Shortly after this phase, Mr. Wayne then enters into the tests and allies stage of the hero’s journey. This occurs when he does his first heroic deed.
Falcone is unloading his drug shipments from a cargo ship; Bruce causes his allies to disappear, ties up Falcone, and disarms the thugs (IMBD 23). At this point, one learns that the hero’s key enemies are the drug dealers, with Falcone as the key suspect. Corrupt police officers such as Arnold Flass are also his adversaries. Conversely, Officer Gordon is his key ally in law enforcement as he is a just officer.
Batman Begins’ sixth phase of the hero’s journey takes place much earlier than one would anticipate (Vogler 20). Batman’s biggest fear is that of bats. It reminds him of his parents’ death and the depression that followed thereafter. When he is back in the League of Shadows, Bruce inhales smoke that causes him to have delusions about bats.
It was at this point that the individual overcomes the phobia, fights Ducard. and wins the sword fight. When he gets back home, he chooses the bat symbol in order to reflect this inner fear. He wanted his enemies to experience the same terror that the bats elicited in him.
The Supreme Ordeal occurs when Ra’s plans on destroying the city using the microwave transmitter. Batman tries to stop him by engaging with him in the train.
There are four League of Shadows members who seem to outnumber and beat Bruce. However, he manages to overcome them but has to deal with the paranoid residents of the city. As Batman enters into the train where Ra’s is located, one gets the sense that things are only going downhill from there. Ra’s even despises Batman by calling him an ‘ordinary man in a cape’ (IMBD 35).
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However, the hero proves the audience wrong when he uses a clever tactic to cut off one section of the train. Since the microwave emitter was the prime problem, its destruction through a train explosion marks the emergence of the hero from the near-death experience. This explosion also got rid of Ra’s who had become a source of turmoil in the film. Batman’s ability to come out of this situation proved that he was a hero worth his salt.
The ninth phase of the journey, which is seizing the sword, occurs shortly after beating Ra’s. Bruce talks to Rachel and reconciles with her. She has now learnt that Bruce and Batman are one and the same. Furthermore, she realizes that she had misjudged Bruce’s character on the basis of his drunken escapades (IMBD 41).
This scene ends with the promise of a reunion that could occur when Batman seizes to exist. Vogler explains that a kiss and some wise words are typical in this case. This was true for Batman Begins because she stresses how Batman’s cowl is Bruce’s real identity.
When some evil forces pursue the hero after the seizing-the-sword phase, then this becomes the road back. One may argue that no such phase took place in the film. After Bruce destroyed his adversaries, he only meets with members of Wayne Enterprises as well as Alfred and Sergeant Gordon.
No high-octane action scene follows after his victory (Vogler 26). However, one may also argue that the road-back phase occurs in a mild form through the person of William Earle. He shows up at the Enterprise ready to take on leadership of the corporation. Nonetheless, this chase ends as soon as it begins when William Earle learns that Bruce bought most of the stocks on offer and he has majority control over the enterprise.
The eleventh phase of the hero’s journey is the transformation, which Vogler called the resurrection phase. At this point, Bruce realizes that he is pertinent to the success of Gotham City. He has also learnt about staying true to himself as well as the need to believe in himself. At the beginning of his adventure, Bruce was not sure he could take down such a powerful force as the drug underworld, but through cooperation with his friends, he proved that he could.
In Batman Begins, the last part of the film, which is the return phase, occurs when Bruce uses the experiences he encountered with Ra’s and Falcone to become a better superhero. He knows that criminals are not to be underestimated as they can use as much technology as he does. Gordon highlights this aspect, but Batman seems unfettered by it. He knows that restoring safety in Gotham is an achievable endeavor.
The production team of Batman Begins played cleverly with the twelve steps of the hero’s journey. Some steps like the ‘road back’ were almost nonexistent while others were intermingled. For instance, approach to the inmost cave occurs before meeting with the mentor or crossing the threshold.
Perhaps more importantly, the most critical phase of the hero’s journey fulfills all expectations of a Supreme Ordeal; it is tension-filled, spirited and full of action. This film has all the phases of the hero’s journey without drawing attention to the structure. The production team had thus perfected their skill.
IMBD. Batman Begins (2005) synopsis. 2005. Web. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372784/plotsummary#synopsis
Vogler, Christopher. A practical guide to Joseph Campbell’s the hero with a thousand faces. 1985. Web.