The cynical film critic in me feels obliged to point out that “Batkid Begins,” the documentary about a young cancer survivor who wanted to be a superhero for a day, is about as deep as a lunch tray. But as I type those words it’s through tired eyes, my peepers watery and bleary as a result of the documentary’s feel good emotional rollercoaster.
At the center of the story is Miles Scott, a northern Californian boy still in diapers when he was diagnosed with leukemia. The lively little boy underwent daily, then weekly chemotherapy and by the time he was five was in remission. Enter the San Francisco Make-A-Wish Foundation who asked Miles what he wanted to make himself feel better. “I wish I could be Batkid.”
Before you could say, “Holy make-a-wish Batman,” Miles’s request ballooned into a city wide event that saw San Fran become Gotham by the Bay as Batkid, accompanied by Batman (acrobat and all round swell guy Eric Johnston) rescued a damsel in distress (Sue Graham Johnston), threw the Riddler (Philip Watt) in jail and saved Lou Seal, the Mascot of the San Francisco Giants, from the grips of Criminal Mastermind the Penguin (Mike Jutan). In what became the most elaborate Make-A-Wish stunt ever, the Batkid drew crowds in the tens of thousands, earned a twitter message from President Obama and was given the key to the city by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.
“Batkid Begins” isn’t a hard-hitting documentary from a news point of view. Occasionally it plays like an ad for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, given the good work they do is fine by me. It is, however, hard hitting on an emotional level. It’s one of those stories that shows people at their best and reaffirms your faith in humanity. Don’t expect an in-depth look into why tens of thousands of people took the day off work to support Miles—the movie suggests it was an out of control social media campaign—or anything much about what happened to Miles when the crowds went home. Instead director Kurt Kuenne lays out the story via a minute-by-minute timeline, by and large following the action in a linear way. Could there have been a deeper, more meaningful movie made about San Francisco’s outpouring of love for Batkid? Absolutely. Would the emotional impact of the story been heightened? Probably not.