Right from the start, when the title character interjects to make comments on corporate logos, “The LEGO Batman Movie” makes one thing very clear: the only person that Batman thinks is worth listening to is Batman. Building on his role from 2014’s “The LEGO Movie,” Will Arnett gives us an interpretation of the character that is defined by two main attributes: his loneliness and his narcissism. The result of this is a film that works as both a satire of DC’s storied legacy, and a Batman story that features more in the way of character development for Bruce Wayne than even the last 10 years of live-action Batman movies have been able to provide.
In many ways, the reason that a comedy set to the backdrop of a Batman narrative is able to work in the first place is because of how this Batman differs from most of the well-known interpretations of the character. Here, Batman is still driven, in part, by the tragic death of his parents. However, he’s also a egomaniacal loner. Granted, some may not consider this to be out of the ordinary, given that Batman is, ultimately, a billionaire with a cave under his house that jumps between rooftops in a bat costume.
The twist here is that Will Arnett takes this idea and pushes it to its logical limits. Christian Bale’s Batman didn’t laugh out loud at romantic comedies in solitude. Ben Affleck’s Batman didn’t carry a “good-idea counter” in his utility belt just to win arguments. Adam West’s Batman didn’t call himself a “heavy metal rap machine.” And we can safely assume that Michael Keaton’s Batman never embezzled Michael Jackson lyrics (even though the 80s must have made that tempting). By contrast, LEGO Batman does all of these things; if that wasn’t enough, the aftermath of the film’s first big action scene makes it clear that this Batman’s ego feeds off of the fame and recognition that comes with the territory of being Gotham’s savior, yet again, another break from typical conventions.
Additionally, he’s determined to keep his distance from others at every opportunity. This extends to other superheroes, the Gotham City Police Department, and even The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). The latter, in particular, gets quite bent out of shape about this, and acts in a manner similar to that of a jilted spouse (resulting in some humorous back-and-forth moments between the two). Beyond giving Joker motivation to justify his latest evil scheme, this dichotomy serves as a hilarious commentary of the long-running “Batman and Joker complete each other” cliche that has underpinned a myriad of Batman stories across various mediums.
Nonetheless, Batman’s lone wolf mentality is challenged when Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) convinces Bruce to start raising his newly adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), and to take him under his wing as his sidekick, Robin. This addition to the story works for a number of reasons, for one, Cera’s Robin is a well done, piercing take on the character (he’s basically a stereotypical “whiny” Robin mixed with an excited 5-year-old child). But beyond that, the results of their collaboration take the story in an interesting direction, where Batman is forced to wrestle with the fear of emotional attachment that he has spent so much time suppressing. Additionally, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) doesn’t make this any easier for him (and needless to say, she may or may not wear a cape at some point in this movie).
Speaking of which, Barbara’s introduction and later appearances can’t help but t come off as somewhat cheap to people familiar with the character. Upon seeing her for the first time at an event, Wayne goes into the stereotypical “love trance”, complete with Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” playing in the background. And this isn’t the only scene like this in the movie. Beyond being a lazy gag with no narrative significance (those actually hoping to see the two together had best not hold their breath), it can’t help but feel like a strange choice on the part of the writers to hint at a romance between two characters commonly considered to have a “father-daughter” relationship. But at the very least, I suppose that, given this is a comedy aimed at young kids, this sort of “joke” isn’t exactly the kind of “killing” blow it would be in a Batman film with a darker tone (not that I’m pointing fingers).
Taken as a whole, “The LEGO Batman Movie” delivers as both a charming tale of sentient plastic figurines that both children and adults can find value in, and as a satirical exploration of what makes Batman tick. While it may not have the strong thematic underpinnings of “The LEGO Movie,” this spinoff manages to hit a lot of the right notes, in spite of having a few strings out of tune. Still, it does start with a black screen, and all important movies start with a black screen.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Photo: Batman Lego Movie