"You see only one end to your journey. Sometimes, a man rises from the darkness." So the trusty butler Alfred encourages Bruce Wayne in the new Batman film, which was released on July 20.
With "The Dark Knight Rises," director Christopher Nolan concludes his darker, more thoughtful interpretation of the iconic superhero, when Batman is called upon to save Gotham City from a frightening terrorist known as Bane. In Nolan's vision, Bruce is also called to rise above his own personal demons, which include a great anger and seething pain at the untimely death of his parents.
Although I was quite excited to see this ambitious cap on an excellent trilogy, I had more than a little pause when I discovered something interesting: unlike the two preceding films, Rises depicts Bruce behaving immorally with a woman.
My father then reminded me that a superhero should be a model for virtue. For instance, who could forget Superman's mission to secure 'truth, justice and the American way'? In our modern culture, however, the albeit campy but kid-friendly films of yesterday are being replaced with films showcasing a darker, more adult mindset – and the superhero characters are suffering as a result.
Our heroes now are more relatable, which means they're more flawed. Far from being ideal, some "heroes" like Iron Man and the Green Lantern are shown as selfish, egotistical young men who treat women as objects. They only become virtuous as a result of their new powers, which force them to start thinking about others.
The problem with such imperfect heroes is that they promote sin as being attractive, relatable and good. This message is like a clever ploy to make people feel better about their own promiscuity... after all, if Batman and Iron Man do it, why can't I?
Aren't these extraordinary men supposed to be role models for us, especially kids? And yet we live in an age where brutal violence and moral doubt are sneaking into our iconic superheroes. Are there any good figures these days for kids to imitate? Do real-life heroes even exist?
The answer, based on our Christian faith, is clearly "yes." The real heroes – the ones who embody excellence, selflessness and virtue – are known as saints. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was savagely persecuted for being a Christian virgin, but remained firm in her true love for Christ. St. Maria Goretti died a cruel and bloody death just for valuing her God-given chastity. St. Thomas More was kind and open with all those he met, but held so firm to his moral principles that he was martyred for refusing to put King Henry VIII above the Catholic Church.
My aim here is not to entirely condemn modern superhero films. On the contrary, it's clear that Batman and the others still fight for what is good, true and just despite their personal faults. Moreover, these movies have a good number of lessons to teach us, besides being fun to watch. But we need to be cautious with who and what we choose to support. No matter how selfless and virtuous these fictional heroes may be, they can't begin to compare with Jesus Christ, our true Model and Savior, who literally gave everything for our sake. May we all continue striving to follow Him more closely each day, with the welcome help of our saints and heroes.
Joseph Bruck is a parishioner of St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte.