A film review by Craig J. Koban October 23, 2015


2015, PG, 87 mins.


A documentary directed by Dana Nachman

BATKID BEGINS is an awfully nice documentary about awfully nice people doing awfully nice things to make one cancer survivor’s day one to remember.  

There’s absolutely no denying the simple power of Dana Nachman’s noble minded film – a chronicle of basic human decency featuring people doing completely selfless acts of kindness to make a child’s wish come true – and it certainly is sprinkled with feel-good sentiment and cheer all the way through its brisk 87 minute running time.  As a modest portrait of everyday people – and a whole city, for that matter – engaging in tireless displays of compassion for someone sick and in need, BATKID BEGINS succeeds.  As a thoroughly compelling documentary, though, it doesn’t venture beyond its aggressively heart-tugging façade. 

The poor soul at the heart of this documentary is, oddly enough, not really the focal point of it.  Miles Scott is a young 5-year-old American boy that was diagnosed at a depressingly young age with leukemia.  While battling with the disease, Miles made a wish to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (a non-profit organization that arranges “experiences” or “wishes” to come true for sick children) that he wanted, simply put, to be his favorite super hero for one day: Batman.  Yes, that one.  What began as a rather modest request from Miles began to balloon into a massive citywide undertaking for San Francisco.  When all was said and done, the Make-A-Wish Foundation turned San Francisco into Gotham City for a day on November 15, 2013, enlisting in the help of not only Miles’ parents and the organization’s workers, but of the mayor, police chief, and other civic workers.  25,000 people swarmed the San Francisco streets to greet and cheer on little Miles, adorned in an adorable version of the same Batman armor in THE DARK KNIGHT.  It would prove to be the largest Make-A-Wish project ever conceived and executed.



Nachman’s doc is an agreeable – if not somewhat rudimentary – combination of footage shot during the event itself alongside news reports, some re-enactments (some featuring some nifty comic book inspired animations) alongside talking head interview segments featuring Miles, his family, and just about anyone else either associated to or touched by the event.  One of the main problems with the film is that Miles – the real epicenter of attention here – gets somewhat upstaged by the menagerie of very, very well-meaning adults and their own self-congratulatory back patting for a job very deservedly well done.  More often than not, BATKID BEGINS seems to more fully explore adults having fun with their concocted Make-A-Wish project than the child at the heart of it.  There is no doubt that these tireless volunteers merit accolades for their completely altruistic actions in terms of making Mile’s dream come true…but the child himself almost seems to become a mascot to the foundation’s epically staged event in the film.  All in all, we learn relatively little about Miles, his condition, his mother and father, and how dealing with his illness was like back home in small town California. 

The actual Make-A-Wish undertaking still remains remarkably awe-inspiring in pure hindsight...without question.  And it most definitely is quite inspiring to see the wellspring of good will and charity that people from all over the country expressed towards Miles (some flew in to San Francisco from thousands of miles away to be a part of the festivities…and even President Obama took to Twitter to lend his nurturing support of Miles).  BATKID BEGINS shines a crucial light on what a gargantuan undertaking it was to make Miles Batman for a day in one of America’s prominent cities.  Originally, 200 extras were required by the foundation in hopes of making Miles' planned event a success, but when thousands of people began lining up the streets it soon became apparent what a sensation Miles’ day was becoming.  Viral marketing on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only helped fuel the positive flames of “Batkid” and once live posts were being retweeted and shared…it became an unstoppable feel-good social media force in its own right. 

And, to be fair, the foundation did make incredible efforts to allow Miles to really feel like the Caped Crusader.  They not only got him a costume, but they paired him up with stuntman/acrobat Eric Johnston, whom also sported his own custom made Batman costume and guided Miles around (on foot and in a black, Batman symbol decorated Lamborghini) across the city in a wonderfully elaborate series of missions to stop and capture iconic Batman super villains.  Throughout his adventures, Miles and Eric came face-to-face with The Penguin and Riddler and, at one point, they even rescued a damsel in distress that was tied to a ticking bomb in the middle of a street.  Even the city’s police chief and local news stations got in on the act, televising faux reports of Batman villains running afoul throughout San Francisco and desperately pleading to Batkid for help.  I mean, it’s hard not to be taken in with how such a vast and busy city stopped everything to make Miles feel like a comic book hero…right down to many meticulous details.  BATKID BEGINS is a thoroughly uplifting salute to the whole overriding spirit of volunteerism; these people deserve mad props. 

But again, my main problem with this film is that Miles isn’t the star here.  The more I watched BATKID BEGINS the more I began to wonder if the child himself was actually enjoying himself as much as every adult interviewed in the film emphasized that he was.  Initially, it’s pretty apparent that Miles and his parents were most assuredly excited by the prospect of the foundation’s plan, but by the time the day comes and the sheer volume of people began to litter the streets it also becomes clear that Miles grew increasingly overwhelmed by it all.  By the time he and Eric dispatched with the Riddler by midday there’s a scene showing Miles – while taking a much needed lunch break – verbally requesting to end his day at that point, mostly out of pure exhaustion (it was only when his father agreed to ride with him in the Batmobile that Miles agreed to venture onward).  Beyond that, there are an ever increasing number of scenes going forward in the doc that stresses that Miles was indeed having a good time when it was abundantly clear that he…sort of…wasn’t.  The (at the time) in-remission lad (along with his parents) seems to grow more beleaguered by the sheer media and spectator presence, not to mention the seemingly uncomfortable and hot looking Batman suit he wore.  By the end of it all, Miles was even granted the key to the city by the Mayor…something that I highly doubt was a gesture that even he could comprehend in terms of its significance.  There are times in BATKID BEGINS when I simply felt sorry for Miles as he was trying to acclimatize himself and understand the magnitude of what was happening around him. 

Ultimately and regrettably, it really appears that the adults at the core of implementing the extraordinary Make-A-Wish event for Miles were deriving more giddy enjoyment from it than Miles was as a participant in it.  BATKID BEGINS is a well oiled, cheerily upbeat and heart string tugging effort that paradoxically makes you to think that Mile’s wish actually did and meant less for him than it did for the foundation’s team members, all of whom revel in a collective euphoric wave of lovingly recalling the event.  These people are heroes, to be sure, and what they achieved was extraordinary for all intents and purposes.  Sadly, BATKID BEGINS is a well intentioned documentary that celebrates them too much and neatly packages the Make-A-Wish’s event as a stirringly positive phenomenon that Miles benefited from.  But as to the questions of the event’s tangible benefits for the boy and his family…the doc sort of naively distances itself from pondering and answering such queries.    

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