Batman Begins as a Traditional Hero’s Journey

Last Updated on April 15, 2023 by Lil Ginge

One of my favorite things about the way Christopher Nolan developed his glorious Dark Knight trilogy was his use of genre to craft each film. Each of the three films in the trilogy was keyed off of a particular and distinct genre. In the case of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan played with the crime thriller genre. In The Dark Knight Rises, he focused on the war film and the historical epic. 

But for Nolan, Batman Begins was a traditional hero’s journey as well as a superhero origin story. In many ways, he modeled the concept on the first great superhero film, Superman: The Movie. To understand how Batman Begins fits both the superhero origin and hero’s journey genres, let’s take a closer look at what a hero’s journey actually is.

Defining and Understanding The Hero’s Journey

The hero’s journey is a common story template or narrative archetype of tales that involves a hero. The hero goes on an adventure, faces a crisis, wins a decisive victory, and then returns home a transformed person.

The hero’s journey is not a genre in and of itself, but as a narrative archetype it can be can be found across many different genres. A genre is a category of artistic creation characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. It can be found in genres like 

  • fantasy 
  • science fiction 
  • adventure 
  • action 
  • super hero movies 
  • and even romances.

The Structure of the Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell, who explains the hero’s journey in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, says this narrative archetype consists of 17 stages grouped into three main categories: 

  1. Departure 
  2. Initiation and 
  3. Return

According to Campbell, in the hero’s journey: 

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

A hero’s journey won’t always feature all 17 stages and they may occur in differen orders. But, these are the loose structure and form of the narrative style. 

In addition to Batman Begins, many of my favorite films, and other very famous films, can be characterized as hero’s journeys. These include:

  • Spider-Man
  • Superman: The Movie
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • The Matrix
  • Star Wars
  • The Lion King
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Main Genres of Batman Begins

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins mainly fits into the traditional superhero genre. The film has also been characterized as a superhero film by Wikipedia, an action / fantasy film by Google, an action / fantasy / adventure by Rotten Tomatoes, and an action / crime / drama by IMDB.

These all seem like accurate descriptops of Batman Begins’s main genre. But Christopher Nolan also added some elements of horror in the character and actions of Dr. Jonathan “Scarecrow” Crane, Arkham Asylum’s resident mad scientist. As well as romance in the blossoming courtship of Rachel Dawes by Bruce Wayne.

Batman Begins as a Hero’s Journey

In covering Batman’s superhero origin story in Batman Begins, which had never been deeply explored on film before, screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer’s modeled their plot on the traditional hero’s journey

The Departure

Batman Begins tells the story of our hero in question, Bruce Wayne, and his journey to becoming Batman. Although told somewhat non-chronologically, the story begins with Bruce Wayne suffering a horrible tragedy with the murder of both his parents after watching an opera. 

Failing to get his desired revenge on the killer as a young college dropout, Wayne learns that justice is about far more than revenge. At this point we see the departure. Wayne leaves his home of Gotham City and ventures into the world to learn how to understand and fight criminals and the corrupt. 

The Initiation

Bruce Wayne travels far abroad to study the criminal element and learn how to fight them. But he becomes lost on the path and doesn’t know how to engage his mission. At the point, he’s found fighting common thugs in a Nepalese prison by ninja warrior Ras al Ghul and his agent and steward, a man merely named Ducard. 

On behalf of Ras al Ghul, Ducard invites Wayne to train with them and their shadowy ninja organization, the League of Shadows. Bruce accepts the invitation and ventures to their mountain castle, where Wayne begins the initiation phase of his journey and learns to transform into the world’s foremost crimefighter. 

The Return

Unfortuantely, Bruce runs into some unpleasantness during his training sessions with the League. Nevertheless, he completes his training and soon returns to Gotham City after being off on his adventures for seven years. 

When Bruce arrives back in Gotham, a bat flying around his study, reminding him of his lifelong fear of bats, inspires Bruce to use all of his training and knowledge of criminology to transform himself into the hero known as The Batman. At this stage, his hero’s journey is complete. In the second half of the film, Bruce confronts a new quest to protect his city from suffering a horrible fate at the hands of… well, nevermind that for now.

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