With the success and unexpectedly smart meta-writing of The Lego Movie, as well as my passion for all things Batman, I have been awaiting the release of The Lego Batman Movie for quite some time. And I am glad to say that it did not disappoint. Keep in mind the most important part to me of any movie is always the writing. I will touch a bit on art style here, but what makes this movie truly shine is not just how good it looks–which, to be fair, it looks amazing–but what the movie used its time to say.
The movie begins before the images actually appear onscreen. Will Arnett, voice of Batman, opens with “All important movies start with black.” True to the meta-writing style of The Lego Movie, Lego Batman is completely aware that he is in a movie and this is his opening. As a character, Lego Batman is self-important, self-righteous, self-serious, angsty, arrogant, and “dark”. From his clothes to his self-perceived attitude, Lego Batman believes he is God’s gift to mankind– the coolest, smartest man in the known universe, and he deserves exactly all of the hype that the citizens of Gotham bestow upon him.
Lego Batman is a parody of every “serious” Batman written in the past fifty years, beginning with Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” and more recently Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. In fact, The Lego Batman Movie takes special time and attention to single out Nolan’s movies for criticism beginning in the title sequence. Utilizing the steely-grey Warner Bros. logo and clouded background that opened The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Will Arnett grunts his approval in his carefully crafted “pretentious, gravelly, edge-lord” voice that is also derivative of the Nolan movies and the absurd voice Christian Bale made famous during his tenure as Batman and Ben Affleck seems to have continued in Batman vs. Superman
Halfway through the movie, Alfred remarks that Batman has been going through a strange phase as of late–though he does take time to mention all the previous “phases” Batman has gone through over the years as movie posters and the title screen for Batman: The Animated Series scrolls by in the background. “And then there was the 60s,” Alfred mentioned, during which the movie cuts to a clip of Adam West’s 1960s live-action Batman show.
Though The Lego Batman Movie is soundly a Lego Movie, from art style to the utilzation of villains from other properties Lego has the rights to, The Lego Batman Movie is most concerned with being a Batman movie. By referencing all the previous film incarnations of Batman, The Lego Batman Movie makes a very clear statement that this movie is a direct inheritor of the Batman franchise’s legacy. Though these many invocations are used for critique, this movie avoids a common pitfall with satire in that instead of simply critiquing the ridiculousness of the “ultra-self-serious, ‘I work alone’ Batman,” the movie offers up an alternative interpretation of Batman that it argues is a more fulfilling and ultimately more heroic Batman than the Batman we’ve seen grow increasingly dark and violent over the past 50 years.
The first sequence of the movie would seem to support Lego Batman’s ideas that he has an active and fulfilling life–it is flashy, busy, and everything is about him. Every villain and his brother has teamed up to plant a bomb under Gotham City. Batman reveals himself to the villains and starts a self-made mix on his iPod in order to beat them up to it. The song that plays features Patrick Stump (lead singer of Fall Out Boy, for those of you unaware) doing a SPOT ON Batman impersonation. The lyrics include Batman praising himself incessantly–for everything from “never missing leg day” to “being the coolest”. Once it is just Batman and the Joker left standing, Joker reveals the whole plan was an elaborate ploy to convince Batman to have to choose–between finally capturing him, his “arch nemesis” of 78 years, or saving Gotham. Joker was not, however, expecting Batman to say that he, “Doesn’t do [relation]ships,” or “wouldn’t say Joker is his number one villain,” that he’s “fighting a few different bad guys right now,” and that he, “like[s] to fight around.” With Batman’s final assertion, “You mean nothing to me,” Joker flies away on the verge of tears, utterly heartbroken, and suddenly I entered this weird alternate reality where Joker has more humanity and heart to him than Batman.
Batman goes on to disarm the bomb, save the day (or eternal night in Gotham’s case), and bathe in the fanfare Gotham’s citizens supply him. After shooting some Batman merch into a crowd of orphans where Dick Grayson makes his first appearance, Batman returns to the Batcave. The fanfare is gone, not even background music plays as Batman greets the Bat-computer with “I’m home.” His exclamation echoes off the cavern walls. Batman heats up his lobster dinner in a microwave in Wayne Manor and eats by himself. He stares at the Wayne portrait gallery hanging on another expansive wall of a suspiciously empty room, and ends up in an equally large home theater, surrounded by empty seats, watching romantic comedies and laughing at the protagonist’s professions of love and companionship. Looking around he realizes, somewhat pathetically, he’s the only one there to laugh. In the trailers, much of this sequence was featured punctuated by “One is the Loneliest Number”–which is fine for a trailer, but this sequence is perhaps made more poignant by the complete and utter silence of the movie. The loneliness and emptiness that pervades every scene where Batman is home succinctly argues the whole case The Lego Batman Movie makes regarding a necessary change Batman as a character needs to take: Batman needs a supporting cast. Movies like The Dark Knight, in elevating Batman to a symbol, have completely robbed Batman of his humanity–including his need, as a human being, as Bruce Wayne, to connect with others. When Bale’s or Affleck’s Batman inevitably goes home at the end of a long night fighting crime by himself, Alfred has gone to bed, and the only thing waiting for him is a cold dinner. That is not glorious. That is not cool. It’s just fucking sad.
In deciding to treat Batman as a human being, and not just a “symbol,” the movie attempts to offer a reason for Batman’s active refusal to accept new people into his life. “You’re afraid of being part of a family again,” Alfred says to Batman. Though he denies it, this fear of losing those who want to be close to him becomes the hurtle Batman must overcome to save Gotham from a jilted Joker. Not only that, but Batman must come to terms with the fact that, in attempting to push people who care about him away, he has acted far less than heroic.
Overall, the writing of this movie was punchy, but also perceptive. This is probably the only Batman interpretation I’ve ever seen that has had the guts and understanding to label Dick Grayson Bruce’s son, not “ward,” and to label Alfred “surrogate father.” Those are the roles that these characters play in Bruce’s life, regardless of whatever their official titles are. Instead of just satirizing a character that, with all of the crappy, self-serious writing surrounding it has every reason to be satirized, they simultaneously poke fun as well as offer a solution to the problems of characterization that the Batman movies have suffered recently. Not just that, but the animation itself was flawless, the movie despite everything was still kid-friendly, and this is probably one of very few movies I will insist on buying in DVD/Blu-ray when it comes out.
GO SEE THIS MOVIE.