Holy Lego Bricks, Batman

Everyone has their own favourite take on the Batman character (and they will talk a lot about why their favourite is the ‘right’ one, ignoring every other Batman presented before them.) So it’s quite rewarding to watch a film that brings the best of every Batman together, clicking the pieces into one functional and enjoyable whole.

Just like Lego really.

Well…that was an easy segue.

The glum, gravel-voiced Batman of The Lego Movie very nearly stole the show (there were a lot of highlights vying for that crown, and my own favourite was Benny the astronaut and his cries of ‘SPACESHIP.’) With no real market for a full-length vehicle featuring Charlie Day’s character, it seemed inevitable that we would return to some of the other characters in a world of bricks and…well, more bricks.

The Lego Batman Movie has been everywhere for the last few weeks: ad campaigns anywhere that will take them, Will Arnett (the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne) appearing to market the film and various other advertisers using the Batman character (and Arnett’s voice) to co-market their own product.

With so much marketing, you’d nearly think they were expecting the film to be really bad and need a lot of marketing to make sure people watch it.

What, you can’t blame me for being cynical?

The Lego Batman Movie is, instead, one of the perfect films for Batman-fans of all ages and eras. Just like The Lego Movie, it’s marketed towards a younger audience, but includes a level of humour and narrative for adults and only adults. We’re talking about the type of jokes that the adults understand and can relate to, as opposed to the kids who’ll laugh just because they heard a funny-sounding word.

Those same kids are probably unlikely to be aware of the film’s meta-narrative. As with The Lego Movie, viewers are meant to be aware that this is, ultimately, a film about plastic bricks: there is a narrative there, but the film’s success is based entirely on the audience’s willingness to accept that narrative, alongside its silly jokes and its acknowledgement of other worlds.

Case in point: as the opening vanity cards run with production titles, Batnett (I’m merging their names together here, just go with it) sucks us into his world before the film has even started. We’re treated to a speedy take-down of his rogue’s gallery, both well-known and forgettable (many of them identifiable from the 60s TV series), before Batman returns to the Batcave to microwave his dinner.

The jokes come thick and fast, operating on levels that’ll entertain the kids while operating on a level that both ridicules and worships the conceit of superheroes and the media they appear in: Batnett’s security password references a billionaire philanthropist from a rival comic-book company while a casual conversation with Alfred (voiced here by Ralph Fiennes) reminds Batman and viewers that the hero is nearly eighty years old, at the same time referencing the nine different films that Batman has appeared in over the last fifty years.

The film is a fantastic celebration of that cinematic history, a journey that adults and kids have travelled through: this takes the form of audio-cues (like the classic Batman TV series), the over-the-top set-design from the Joel Schumacher movies (it’s an animated film, but I’m still calling it a set) and the laboured misanthropy that Christian Bale served under Christopher Nolan.

That grim atmosphere carries over here as well, and Batnett is forced to labour with his own…well, can we come straight out here and call it depression? He watched his parents die in front of him, and now dresses all in black punching the bad guys and pushing the good guys away.

It’s a standard take on Batman these days, but leaning so heavily on these points in an animated family picture is unusual.

But maybe that’s because there’s method in the madness: because Batnett needs help, and everything works better with his Bat-family around him, even if that means teaming up with his own enemies to defeat a bigger threat.

You could say, everything is cool when you’re part of a team…

Nope, I don’t know why The Lego Batman Movie continued with that theme from The Lego Movie, but didn’t hammer it home by including that song here as well…even if just a throwaway joke.

Unfortunately, the film leans a bit too heavy on the Lego-element by the finale, summoning monsters from other universes for Batman and his friends to fight. And nope, these aren’t just any other monsters: we get Daleks, Voldemort, the Eye Of Sauron, the Wicked Witch Of The East (and her flying monkeys) and a Kraken to boot.

These new enemies are a fun inclusion in the film, but they take something small from the celebration of Batman that we’ve had up until now, and leave some missed opportunities for the film. Batman finds a connection with his core supporting characters, but fails to make any connection at all with the rest of the Justice League. Seriously, if you’re going to hire Channing Tatum to be Superman, give him something to do in the third act. And similarly, it’s nearly criminal having Ralph Fiennes in the film only to allow someone else to do Voldemort…even if that is Eddie Izzard.

That said, I’d have been happy with a film that was nothing but Batman/Joker riffs. Arnett is hilarious in this incarnation of Batman, while Zach Galifianakis plays a brilliant Joker that is somehow cruel and maniacal at the same time as he is vulnerable. The dynamic between the two plays out like a bad breakup, delivering many laughs for the adult audience. But maybe wanting to see an entire film with this dynamic would have flown too high and ultimately boring for a film aimed at all the family…especially the kids.

But hey, Lego dudes, keep making movies. And Galifianakis and Arnett: do me a favour and make us a Funny Or Die video going full-hog on this, yeah?

 


Also published on Medium.

  • Sarah Fitzgerald

    Ken, I am not a Batman fan, but your review has made me want to go and see the film. Glad you enjoyed it. Really excellent writing here by the way: the kind you’d expect from someone with an M.A. in English.

    • kenmooney

      Ah, don’t lie: everyone is a Batman fan. On some level anyway. Some day, I might get the power back to not take nearly a whole day just to pull together a thousand words