Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder
The Lego Batman Movie: Chuckles with Infinite Batmans
Written Review by David Carter
One of the cool things about superhero comics is that every artist and writer can pen their own version of a character, even within the same continuity. It’s why you can have Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Peter Parker be a little more socially awkward than Todd Macfarlane’s dorky-but-cool take on the character. Or even have the interpretations be miles apart to tell specific stories. Grant Morrison’s “personification of good” All-Star Superman is very different from Frank Miller’s fascist puppet in The Dark Knight Returns. What few writers and artists (there are exceptions) rarely ever attempt to do is reconcile all of these different versions as the same character. That’s what makes The Lego Batman Movie feel so unique in our modern cinematic superhero landscape: Its ability to lampoon, honor, and embrace all of Batman’s depictions. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is great follow-up to 2014’s The Lego Movie and also a hoot and a half.
The Lego Batman Movie sees the return of the The Lego Movie’s breakout character, Batman (a gravelly voiced Will Arnett), and this time we’re on his turf. Gotham City, where the superstitious and cowardly run rampant. They’re headed up by the jagged toothed, yet hilariously co-dependent Joker (Zach Galifianakis channeling Cesar Romero) who’s plan is to, predictably, blow up the city, but with help of what is seemingly Batman’s entire rogues gallery which includes everybody from Mr Freeze to…Gentleman Ghost? The Caped Crusader swoops in and stops the evil deeds of the Clown Prince of Crime, all while singing his own theme song he makes up on the spot. The real story begins when we see Batman go back to the Batcave after a job well done. He takes off his Bat-suit (but not his cowl) puts on a robe and sits and eats his microwaved Lobster Thermidor alone. He watches Jerry Maguire alone. He plays guitar on a floaty toy in the middle of his Bat-pond alone. He looks at a picture of his dead parents on the fateful night of their murder alone. Oh so very alone. Sure, he has his computer (which he adorably calls “Puter”) and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes continuing his hot streak) is there, but even Alfred sees and worries about his surrogate son’s well being and encourages him to get out of the cave and mingle. So Batman (begrudgingly in Bruce Wayne mode) goes to a gala honoring the retirement of police commissioner Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo). There, he meets an energetic young orphan named Dick Grayson (MVP Michael Cera). Dick idolizes Bruce (he refers to Bruce as “the world’s greatest orphan”) and wants nothing more than to be adopted, which Bruce does only because he’s too distracted gawking at a beautiful red headed woman named Barbara Gordon (an authoritative Rosario Dawson). Little does Bruce know, Barbara is set to take her father’s mantle as police commissioner of Gotham and she’s all about reform, namely the reform of Batman vigilante methods. She wants Batman to work with Gotham PD, and not go all “lone wolf” every time trouble strikes (mostly by pointing out that his methods of “beating up poor people” haven’t really been effective anyway). With the conflict of a new power dynamic with Gotham PD, a new boy orphan in his life and the Joker up to a scheme that involves The Phantom Zone (an extra-dimensional prison for villains) Batman finds himself trying balance a lot on his plate, yet still stubbornly and childishly trying to do it all by himself.
This look at Batman’s thick headed drive to do things his away in solitude is where The Lego Batman Movie‘s thematic core lies. One of the things about Batman history that’s always mischaracterized or willfully ignored is that Batman is a hermit. Which is barely true. Batman, in most reads, tops out at loner. He needs his alone time, but Batman has had a makeshift family for a while. Alfred is a surrogate father and Dick is his adopted son. Barbara is usually like a daughter but sometimes she’s portrayed as older and becomes closer to a friend (and uncomfortably, a lover). While he never really shows him his true identity, Jim Gordon is Batman’s best friend. Hell ,Dick Grayson/Robin was introduced in Detective Comics in April 1940, which is less than a year after Batman’s own debut (May 1939). This mischaracterization that Batman’s modern day portrayal as a brooding genius with the emotional capacity of a teenage boy, was somehow baked into the character’s identity from the beginning is patently false. That’s what makes Batman’s lego counterpart so much fun. It’s taking a shot at the portrayals made popular by The Dark Knight Returns, Death in the Family, and The Killing Joke. The Lego Batman Movie is putting it in a light that says “Yes the lonely, brooding grimdark Batman is as mature as the Lincoln Park and Limp Bizkit you listened to in the 00’s”, which is to say “not at all”. But, it’s also showing us how different Batman has been throughout every era of the characters existence on the screen. Every on screen, landmark incarnation of The World’s Greatest Detective gets referenced in someway (Sorry Beware the Batman fans, no dice) with special attention to the more recent portrayals (Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder) and the wholly underrated Adam West Batman 66’ . This is shorthand on the filmmakers part to show us that these two wildly different takes on the character can co-exist in the same space. There’s no one definitive take on Batman. The only other piece of media that does this as gracefully is Grant Morrison’s 7 year run on the character where he reconciled all these different sides of the character (The father, the loner, the wacky/ silly detective) and created a character with so much more dimensionality. The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t quite pull off what it took Morrison 7 years to do, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t come close in the 104 minutes it’s given.
On top of all that examination and love of the character is just a great movie. Id say it is pretty much as good as The Lego Movie. The jokes come so fast that it’s going to take at least 2 or 3 viewings just to catch the visual gags alone, but if one of your movies problem is that the jokes are so good that people laugh over the next good one, you’ve got other things to worry about. Everyone is bringing a great voice game, including the heaps of people who only have one or two lines. My favorite is having the perpetually smooth Billy Dee Williams voice Two-Face, which is an in joke for people who remember that he only ever got to play Harvey Dent in the Burton’s Batman movies. Michael Cera’s an eager to please but not grating Dick/Robin that you can’t help but smile every time he has a line. The script is simple and gets straight to what the movie is about without abandoning the themes it wants to get across. I mentioned up top that it’s sometimes uncomfortable to have Barbara Gordon/Batgirl be a romantic interest to Batman, but the movie does a great job recontextualizing her role in the “Lego-verse” and making her Batman’s equal, and in some ways, his superior. If there’s any complaint I’d lob at the movie is that it simply can’t match the lightning in a bottle quality of The Lego Movie. This doesn’t mean it’s already becoming stale. It means that The Lego Movie was just that good, while also being a HUGE surprise.
The Lego Batman Movie is great examination of a character, while also being a delightfully silly movie that people can watch from all angles. If you like Batman: watch it. If you like comedy: watch it. If you like feeling joy: watch it. I hope Warner Brothers keeps up the level of quality with their next Lego films because in trying to have fun with a property and get down to what the character really is, they made one of the best Batman movies of all time.