The Lego Batman Movie Offers Both Celebration & Satire
Overview: When the Joker unleashes a dastardly new plot to destroy Gotham City, the emotionally ill-equipped Batman must learn the value of his relationships with his allies, villains, and the city he’s sworn to protect. Warner Bros.; 2017; Rated PG; 104 minutes.
The Brick Knight: In his 78-year history, we’ve seen nearly every variety of tone and take imaginable for the caped-crusader. He’s been a medieval knight, a Cold War revolutionary, a vampire, an alien, a Western hero, and a grounded vigilante, and he’s survived through all of it. Yes, he’s even been George Clooney, and he survived that, too. The elasticity of Batman is largely what has given him such a lasting appeal over the decades. The Lego Batman Movie builds its foundation upon that appeal, easily winning over those who cite the goofy Batman of the ’60s as their favorite, those who lean towards the grim, meanness of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, and everything in between. While the internet’s war about which depiction of comic book characters is the “right” depiction still rages on, The Lego Batman Movie triumphantly embraces them all in a wildly funny tribute. In what may be the best coalescence of Batman’s extensive history since Grant Morrison’s lengthy run on the Bat-books, The Lego Batman Movie is a treasure trove of lore that brick by brick, offers a satirical reconstruction of what makes Batman such an enduring character.
Holy Legos, Batman: Within the film’s opening minutes we’re treated to a sequence in which Batman takes down his entire rogues gallery. And we do mean entire, with everyone from Orca, Egghead, and Condiment King showing up alongside all the familiar faces like the Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Bane, etc. There’s a surprising amount of detail to the references at work here, matched with the impressive, and rule-defined physicality and world-building that made The Lego Movie such a pleasure to watch. Nothing featured in the film feels out of reach for the creative mind of a master-builder, and the toy box mentality that plays across the film is just as much a love-letter to Batman and Warner Bros. as it is to any creative mind whose managed to build worlds out of the things they love. It’s clear that director Chris McKay and the host of screenwriters who worked on the film, had far more in mind than making a kid’s movie to act as a holdover until The Lego Movie Sequel. While the film is of course satirizing these characters, and poking fun at some of the conventions of Batman films and superhero movies in general, there’s an authenticity to the comic book allusions that are being made and the way the characters are used within this world. The Lego Batman Movie may be built on the intent to sell toys to children, but this is a blockbuster-sized movie that’s operating with a comedic assuredly found in the likes of our best satires and parodies.
The film’s comedic nature wouldn’t work nearly as well if it wasn’t for the talented assemblage of voice-acting that bring these characters to life. Will Arnett’s take on Batman showcases him as the overcompensating ego-maniac he’s undoubtedly been characterized as over the years. As a case of arrested development, this Batman is a child who hides from the adult world in a cowl and a cave of bat-themed toys. It’s funny, but it’s also a fascinating character insight for the film’s younger audiences who may not have considered him in that light yet. As Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawnson) points out, Batman is a figure who’s decided that the best way he can help Gotham is by punching poor people in the face, rather than working alongside the police and using their methods of “statistics and compassion.” This is played for laughs of course, but there’s also reflective examination rarely seen in the context of kids-aimed movies featuring iconic characters. The same examination is also seen in Batman’s feud with Joker (Zack Galifianakis), with Batman’s refusal to admit that anyone has any importance in his life leading the Joker to come at Batman through new threats. This whole notion of their hate for each other, stemming from a deeper love is nothing new, but here it’s made strangely poignant by the inherently cute nature of Lego faces and the snarky bickering voiced by two formidable comedic talents.
Bat-Family: Batman’s adoption of Richard Grayson (Michael Cera), who becomes both a partner and a son to Batman as Robin, is the driving heart of the film. Their relationship, prodded forward by the ever-watchful eye of Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), becomes a means to defeat the notion that Batman works alone but also to reflect on the nature of loneliness. While so many films and comics focusing on the character have found success in taking Batman out of his familiar elements in order to look at him deconstructed, The Lego Batman Movie surrounds him with everything we’ve ever come to associate with Batman, in order to build him up and display him as a piece of something larger that’s ever-changing and still instantly recognizable. While the film will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary comparisons between it and previous/ongoing Batman incarnations, The Lego Batman Movie acknowledges the fact that it couldn’t exist without those other takes. Even the takes on Batman that are less celebrated have led to his place in our public consciousness. These vast and conflicting takes are the Bat-family, an endless reference guide that all have merit, because there is merit in Batman.
Overall: The Lego Batman Movie takes everything we love about The Lego Movie and Batman and brings them together in a fitting celebration of pure joy.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures