The Make-A-Wish Foundation's globally viral Batman-themed happening, on behalf of a 5-year-old leukemia survivor, recently became a crowdfunded independent-film documentary, then got picked up by Warner Brothers for distribution, and is now scheduled for a dramatic remake starring and produced by Julia Roberts. Inevitably, Dana Nachman's film "Batkid Begins" has become part of the true story it documents, one defined at least as much by exponentially expanding media and corporate hoopla as by a boy's Make-A-Wish experience.
Los Altos resident Nachman formed a dynamic duo with her co-writer and editor Kurt Kuenne to graft the official Make-A-Wish footage shot in 2013 by John Crane Films onto newly created interviews, resulting in a reasonably definitive, if company-line-toeing, recounting of Miles Scott's wish "to be Batman" for a day. Nachman's approach lays out a mostly plain, just-the-heartwarming-facts account of the grand efforts made to transform San Francisco into Batman's Gotham City complete with Batman villains the Riddler (Philip Watt) and the Penguin (Mike Jutan) to thwart.
Nachman steps us through Miles' leukemia history (briefly and by way of a cheeringly superheroic comic-strip animation), the origins of Miles' wish, Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area Executive Director Patricia Wilson's leadership, and the ballooning show of community support before, during and after the event. In all, tens of thousands of people participated by preparing and/or attending the event, which constituted Batman (video-game engineer and stunt gymnast Eric Johnston) calling Scott's "Batkid" into action: a rescue of a "damsel in distress" (Johnston's wife Sue Graham Johnston) and showdowns with the two Bat-villains, with a lunch break in between and a mayoral key-to-the-city send-off at City Hall.
"Batkid Begins" does a good job of inspiring faith in humanity and deflating cynicism, though die-hard pessimists will have cause to ask the implicit philosophical questions that Nachman all but brushes aside. At what point does charity become more self-serving than altruistic? Why should one child be lavished with such a sui generis one-off, and why won't people mobilize for more impactful social change? And what does it say about world culture that it takes a cosplaying Batman to draw our attention to children's suffering? Taking the (literally) short view of a cancer fighter's crime-fighting adventure, Nachman sees only the urban throng's milk of human kindness where others might see shallow spectating and an insanely out-of-proportion use of time, energy and resources.
But even this skeptic has two words for you: lighten up. Yes, Nachman's doc (distributed under the auspices of Batman owner Time Warner) unavoidably serves as an invaluable advertisement for contributors and sponsors intrinsic to the behind-the-scenes story of the event. But more importantly "Batkid Begins" celebrates a city united for fun and goodwill, and the rare, pronounced sense of play and energy adults are capable of rediscovering, as do those who toil excitedly and hopefully to give Miles "a little bit of his childhood back."
Rated PG for some mild thematic material. 1 hour, 27 minutes.