Lets’ face it, a story about a guy driven to fight crime by the memory of his parents being killed in a random robbery is very probably going to have a certain amount of darkness in it. But over the past couple of decades, the Batman franchise, first in comics and more recently in film, has been getting progressively more grim as time has marched on. That is until The Lego Batman Movie comes along and pops the franchise’s balloon of self-importance grittiness with some razor sharp wit.
The Lego Batman Movie is not the Batman movie we deserve, but it is the Batman movie we need.
It seems to be pretty awesome to be Batman (voiced by Will Arnett). He captures bad guys and the citizens of Gotham City love him for it. The villains of Gotham? Not so much and so, following the Joker’s lead, throw the crimefighter for a loop by surrendering en masse as part of a larger scheme. Upset that Gotham suddenly doesn’t need him, Batman, along with the accidentally adopted Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), sets out on a hare-brained scheme to get rid of the Joker once and for all. Unfortunately, it backfires, releasing a deluge of bad guys that the loner Batman can not defeat alone.
The Lego Batman Movie isn’t so much a Batman adventure as it is a joyous celebration of the character’s nearly eight decades existence. Sharp-eyed fans will catch numerous references both visual and in dialogue, to the may different eras of the character, from his pulp-informed vigilante origins to the campiness of his 1950s comic incarnation to the grittiness of the 1980s Frank Miller comic reimagining. His various live action incarnations from the 1940s serials all the way up to the Christopher Nolan films also get multiple nods. But don’t worry if you don’t who a goofy villain like Condiment King is or that he first appeared in the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series, the movie is far more than the sum of its homages.
Where the film really excels as a Batman film is how well it plays with some of the standard tropes of the franchise. From the film’s self-aware opening (“All important movies begin with a black screen.”) to its end credits, the film lovingly pokes fun at its subject in a way not seen in a genre comedy since Galaxy Quest. Much has been explored in the relationship between Batman and the Joker. But the movie finds a new angle, Batman just flat out refusing to acknowledge that the Joker is his greatest enemy, and it is that casual dismissal that drives the Joker through the film. The Joker isn’t just a deranged psychopath here, he is some whose ego and heart have been bruised and whose every subsequent action is informed by that hurt. Fairly complex emotional stuff for what could have been just a quickie, cash-in children’s film.
So, is the movie a sequel to 2014’s The Lego Movie? Strictly speaking, no. It doesn’t really reference the original’s third act live action reveal, though I suppose that the film’s climactic Phantom Zone prison break’s casual disregard for fictional universes’ boundaries could be seen as indicative of child’s play. And while the movie itself offers no evidence for it, Batman’s character arc could be seen as a child working out issues of their own.