by Michael B. Hock
Batman has a… let’s call it a complicated history. Although he’s known for being dark, gritty, and talking with a low whisper growl, he started out even darker, killing bad guys without much remorse. At some point, he got a moral code and then got wackier, including a side-kick. Then he got dark again. Then he was dark in the comics, but wacky on television. Then there were the Joel Schumacher movies. I could keep going, but Batman is seems to be everyone’s favorite superhero to play with.
So it makes sense that at some point to make him Lego, because why not?
The Lego Batman movies followed the adventures of… well, Lego Batman (Will Arnett), fresh from stealing every scene in the Lego Movie. This version of Batman is still growly with somewhat of a moral code, but a bit of a jerk. I mean… in all versions he’s kind of a jerk, but in this one, he’s really a jerk. The movie opens with him taking down most of his Rogue’s Gallery (And the writers of this movie dug deep. Like… DEEP into Batman canon to pull out some older, more insane enemies) and shutting down the Joker (Zack Galifinakas) by proclaiming that he likes to “fight around” in a nice moment that makes you think about the deep Joker/Batman connection. From there he manages to accidentally adopt a young orphan, steal the Phantom Zone Projector, and unleash an army of other bad guys in Gotham that include Voldemort and Daleks.
This is still a Lego movie.
Lego Batman really shines when it does examine what it means to be the Batman. He really is a contradiction: an orphan who dedicates himself to stopping crime, but stops himself before doing what it really takes to stop crime. He’s a loner, but over the years he has surrounded himself with a multitude of Robins, Batgirls, Bat-women, and for a while even had a series of comics called “Batman,Inc” where he set up other Batmen across the world. We want to see the grim and gritty Christian Bale/Michael Keaton/Ben Affleck Batman, but some of our fondest memories have Adam West dancing the Bat-toosie. This was a film made by people who weren’t just out to cash in on Lego Batman’s popularity, but wanted to explore a lot of what made Batman who he was in his core: someone who fights because he’s that scared kid in an alleyway.
The movie really picks up in the moments where Michael Cera’s Robin and Will Arnett’s Batman have screen time. Some of it is funny yes… no one does annoyed quite like Arnett… but they draw some interesting moments from the scenes. One particular one has Batman guiding Robin on a dangerous mission, presumably so Batman won’t be killed by the spinning lasers of death in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. The scene could have come across as self-serving, but Batman’s enthusiasm for ensuring Robin doesn’t die gives the scene some depth, and helps build to these moments where they are forming their makeshift family.
There are little touches as well that make the film better than good and into “great”. Certainly Galifinakas is a wonderful Joker, and little touches, such as all of the guns being fired with someone saying “pew, pew” and Arnett’s laughter at the end scene in Jerry McGuire certainly elevate things. There’s also a few wonderful moments with Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) deciding that she doesn’t want to just “push the Bat-signal” to save the day, and she wants to reign in the man who dresses in a giant bat-suit.
The movie does have some flaws, mostly the second half which is lighter on the jokes and tends to push the Robin/Batman pairing a little more than it needs to. This one is veers more from the Batman/Rogue/Family dynamic, and almost seems a little bit more like they were running short on time and wanted to include a caper. The movie itself, too, seems to exist in a middle ground, not really a part of the whole Lego Movie that proceeded it, but not not part of it either. There’s a moment where they reference the Master Builder thing, then it’s just sort of dropped. It’s a little distracting, and that middle third could have been built up a little bit more to match the tone of the first. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot they could have done with the movie, particularly how the whole thing is basically how a little kid might feel about his favorite superhero, so it really could have tied in to what we’ve seen before a little better.
This is minor. Overall it’s still hilarious, still filled with some wonderful, rapid fire jokes, and probably one of the better Batman movies we’ve seen. It’s one of the better toy-based movies we’ve seen. And, in a year that has a few superhero movies coming out, it certainly starts off on the right foot.
Hamlet T. Wondercat Says…