Granted, the Caped Crusader made his mark with Adam West’s groovy turn in the 1960’s, and going back even farther to the serials of the 1940’s, but “Bat-Mania” found its mark for many an ‘80’s kid, setting a tone already established by the Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke, and Year One.
Since then, we’ve been treated to Prince musical numbers, mutant Penguins, two groan-worthy Schumacher films, a realistic take on the character, an overdramatic Bane, and two guys slugging it out with the only thing in common is their Martha’s. That’s nothing to say of a brilliant animated series, multiple story arcs, multiple Robins, and on and on. It’s what happens with over 75 years of character history.
Fortunately, he hasn’t been entirely lost with a love letter to DC Comics in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and even Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar lent their voices to the marvelous Return of the Caped Crusaders. But we still haven’t had a lot of questions answered about Batman himself in all of these cinematic and televised depictions.
That’s where The Lego Batman Movie comes in.
A spin-off of 2014’s appropriately “awesome” The Lego Movie, Lego Batman actually gets to the heart of the character himself, by asking some real questions about a man who dresses as a bat in his free time.
It’s an interesting concept that hasn’t been done for the character, and in true Lego fashion, it’s all addressed in a humorous way.
Like the original Lego Movie, there are some surprising and poignant observations and revelations. Unlike other Batman films, this movie isn’t afraid to do a character study of how dysfunctional and isolated Batman really is as a person. For starters: Does Batman enjoy what he’s doing? Are the problems inherit to Gotham City a direct result of Batman?
After receiving adulation from the crowds, this movie sees our hero sitting isolated at home, clothed in a bathrobe, and not bothering to take his mask off. His life is eating lobster thermidor and watching rom-coms like Jerry McGuire. Is it hilarious? Absolutely. But his being alone is amplified more than ever here.
The film depicts how Batman relates to other people, and how his past won’t allow him to let people in. This is surprisingly executed to include his complex relationship with the Joker. Their comic book adversary has always been more than “good guy versus bad guy”. Their relationship is two halves of a whole, part obsessive, part the closest thing the Joker has ever had to a friend. And even that can be deeper read into.
Indeed it is. Within the first two minutes of the film, its delivery of a Michael Jackson lyric (which pops up throughout the film in the strangest of places), elicited a belly laugh of out of me. Lego Batman excels in observational comedy, from its situations, to its referencing practically every major Bat-moment of both paper and screen. The film particularly skewers how serious Batman has become in recent years. Will Arnett plays the jerkishly self-absorbed (but heroic) Batman, while Michael Cera plays a version of Robin that plays the character with such an earnest sincerity that what should be the annoying token kid sidekick, yet you can’t help but chuckle as his good natured positivity. This pairing is also sweetened by the fact that Arnett and Cera are reunited for this Arrested Development moment while we wait for that perpetually in-development fifth season or movie.
If you are an all-encompassing Batman fan, this film is absolutely for you. There are dozens of “blink or you’ll miss it” moments and references scattered throughout, and while this is every bit a Batman movie, it is also every bit a Lego movie. The movie pulls from its Lego Dimensions video game concept to…. Well, you won’t believe some of the cameos that appear in this film, opening up yet another slew of sub-references.
The film is fun. The voice acting is well done with a lot of solid performances. The animation looks great, bright bright, colorful, and flashy. And after being besieged by a quarter century of nonstop Batman movies that have been all over the place in quality, it’s genuinely refreshing to find that that they still have uncharted territory to cover with the character, while staying true to the character. Who knew it would be found in a movie about building blocks?
The Lego Batman Movie is absolutely a Batman movie that gets into the heart of the character and his deeper motivations and idiosyncrasies. After being tired of seeing the too serious and all-knowing and prepared Batman for the last few years, it’s nice to see him returned to the roots where he allowed himself to have a little fun.