Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
2014’s The Lego Movie might just be the best animated film of all time. The story had so many layers to it for both adults and kids to enjoy, while revitalizing interest in a brand that seems to be as old as time, and also cashing in on the nostalgia craze that has plagued films for the later half of the 2010’s. Following in the footsteps, The Lego Batman Movie, takes much of what made The Lego Movie so successful while also building on the mythos established in The Lego Movie and deconstructing (see what I did there?) Batman as a character. The Lego Batman Movie takes everyones favorite superhero (voiced by Will Arnett) from The Lego Movie and gives him his own Lego version of Gotham to play in, with his own new set of supporting characters including: Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Dick Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera), and of course, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis). The film also takes advantage of Batman’s incredibly rich history and diverse rogues gallery by including many B and C-list villains, some of which don’t even sound real, but I assure you they are, to craft a story that is funny and enjoyable.
When Batman refuses to acknowledge the Joker is his greatest enemy, the Joker takes matters into his own hands and tries to prove to Batman how villainous he can be. In Batman’s words, he doesn’t “do ships” (ships being short for relationships), even if they’re with his arch-nemesis. While Joker forms his latest plan, Gotham city welcomes Barbara Gordon as the new police commissioner. An idealistic woman who wants to partner with Batman and force him to work within the law and with the police to stop crime. When Joker turns himself in to the police, which turns out to be the beginning of Joker’s latest dastardly plan, Batman must learn to work with others in order to stop what the Joker has in store for Gotham.
Batman has historically been a loner. He grew up with no one but Alfred, and throughout his time fighting crime, he has amassed a large assortment of similarly skilled heroes to work alongside him. The most famous of which being the Dick Grayson Robin, who eventually became Nightwing (which the film slyly jokes at during one scene). But since then, Batman has had three other kids step into the role of Robin. Each of which, over time, have adopted their own personas after Batman’s rigorous training. Don’t even get me started on Batman’s other sidekicks like Batgirl and Batwoman and Spoiler and Bluebird and Lark and the several others who currently work with Batman in DC’s current continuity. Going into the film knowing all of this, I had a difficult time buying into the cocky, self-reliant version of Batman the film tries to promote. It was almost irritating in certain scenes. Compared to the Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan, and Zack Snyder versions of Batman, the Lego Batman is significantly more arrogant about his crime fighting abilities. This aspect of Batman’s character has always been present to varying degrees, but this film hyperbolizes it to make it easier for kids to understand. Since it is a kids film, this eventually turns into the films message about the importance of family and friends. By the end of the film, Batman is able to form his own Lego version of the Bat-Family, and is able to defeat the massive hoard of villains Joker releases from the phantom zone. The Lego Batman Movie finds ways of hyperbolizing aspects of the Batman character in the same way a child would, and builds on them as a way of deconstructing who the character is and why he does what he does.
The best part of The Lego Batman is its insertion of jokes about previous incarnations of the caped crusader. The film opens in a similar fashion to one of the Christopher Nolan Batman films. The screen starts completely black and fades to the blue Warner Bros. logo with the over-excited string orchestra playing in the background. All of this is narrated by Batman who points out how cool the opening is. The film then transitions to Joker hijacking an airplane full of bombs over Gotham with the help of Batman’s other enemies. The entire scene captures the same feeling of watching the Joker rob a mob bank or watching Bane pull a plane out of the air in order to kidnap a scientist onboard. All of this happens while jokes are added to point out how overly dark and serious Batman is now. There are several references sprinkled throughout the rest of the film that makes fun of other on screen versions of Batman that few kids will understand or catch, but many adults will enjoy.
Something to keep in mind when watching this film is the implications placed on the story by the revelation at the end of The Lego Movie. At the end of The Lego Movie it is revealed that the entire story is from the imagination of a kid. The bad guy in the film is a metaphor for the way the kid’s father treats the different lego sets. It’s a surprising twist to the story, but it gives the entire film new perspective. It’s not just a clash between creativity and conformity, but a clash between a kid and his dad. In the same way The Lego Batman Movie clearly takes place in the same universe. At the beginning of the film it is established that Gotham City is built overtop of the same infinite abyss that the world of The Lego Movie is built overtop of. It’s never clear whether this film is a story imagined by the same kid from The Lego Movie or not, but there are aspects of the story that indicate it is still from the mind of a kid. A common theme throughout the film is the loneliness of being an orphan. I don’t think its unreasonable to think that this entire Batman story is from the mind of a child going through a foster or adoption process. During the film, Robin calls Batman/Bruce Wayne, “Padre,” which is similar to dad, but don’t hold the same connotation. This similar association is something foster kids will do until they can build a solid relationship with their new parent. The film also shows how Dick Grayson (an orphan) and Batman (also an orphan) dealt with their childhoods, and grew to appreciate family in different ways, which is the exact thing an orphan might think about if he is playing with Legos to work out his thoughts and emotions.
Does The Lego Batman Movie succeed in the same way that The Lego Movie does? I’d say no. The film itself was hilarious, and the story was heartwarming, but the message the film was trying to convey was layered on very thick throughout the entire story. Compared to The Lego Movie, I’d say the message was overly simplified, and while the film was full of imaginative moments, it lacked that special something that The Lego Movie had. The end credits even attempt to recreate the successful ear worm that was “Everything is Awesome,” but after a night of sleep, I still can’t remember any part of the new song. The film was significantly better than most animated films I’ve seen recently, but I was disappointed that it failed to capture me the same way The Lego Movie did, which is a shame because it combines two of my favorite things, Lego and Batman.