A Silly, Fresh Take on The Dark Knight
Batman films, and the character of Batman himself, are often a reflection of their times. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy questioned government power and vigilantism in the aftermath of terrorism and war. Tim Burton’s Batman was the first step in a darker and grimmer reimagining of superheroes. Now, The Lego Batman Movie arrives with a fresh, hyperactive, unabashedly funny take on The Caped Crusader that works as a treatise against the ever-darkening interpretations of the hero and the consistently self-important franchisement of superheroes on film as a whole.
It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to so many previous live action Batman movies, even if it’s sense of comedy and wonder can’t quite match up to its Lego predecessor.
Serving as both a follow-up to 2014’s The Lego Movie and a new spin on a character that has been given countless incarnations on both film and television, The Lego Batman Movie manages to be both a loving revitalization of Batman on film as well as a good natured skewering of the character and his many iconic elements. With so many jokes that it is literally impossible to catch every single one on the first viewing and enough Easter eggs to make the most diehard Batman fan swoon from fan service, The Lego Batman Movie is positively manic with the amount of material stuffed into its 1 hour 40 minute runtime. It’s surely enough material to warrant multiples watches, even if the sheer amount of material unfolding on screen at any given moment may make it hard to focus when it’s truly needed.
Most importantly, The Lego Batman Movie isn’t afraid to do what nearly every live action incarnation of The Dark Knight has not done – have as much fun with the character as possible. With the willingness to include nearly every element of the character that has caused fans across the decades to love him – including a massive stable of villains, numerous supporting characters, a lengthy history that ranges from the deadly serious to the extremely campy, and wild action scenes that aren’t afraid to be big and colorful – The Lego Batman Movie feels more true to the character than most of his other interpretations, even when it frequently makes The Caped Crusader into the butt of the joke. It can do so as easily as it does because it’s clear that the team behind the film has a massive love for him and his humongous history in comics and film.
Acting as a spinoff from The Lego Movie, which first introduced audiences to this braggadocios and unaware version of Batman voiced by Will Arnett, The Lego Batman Movie finds its hero loving life as the hero of Gotham City but totally alone in his personal life. Filling his free time with reheated lobster meals and repeat viewings of romantic comedies, it’s clear that this version of The Dark Knight has little else in his life except for fighting crime, even if he himself doesn’t know that. But all that changes when he mistakenly adopts the orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and his crimefighting ways are interrupted by the arrival of new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and a deadly new scheme by The Joker (Zack Galifinakis).
Through and through, The Lego Batman Movie is committed to the idea of family and moving past old wounds in order to embrace new and healthy relationships, a theme that stands in stark contrast to many previous Batman films that lauded the idea of the self-sacrificing loner. In toying with the ideas of family and finding a new way to approach the dynamic between lifelong enemies Joker and Batman, director Chris McKay and writers Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna (among others) have been able to stay true to Batman while coming at the character from a brand new angle.
Throw in some incredibly funny songs, an opening that likely tops any previous Batman film’s first act, and more villains than you could possible imagine, and you have a film that’s meant to charm and delight in nearly every way possible.
If there are shortcomings to The Lego Batman Movie that keep it from matching the heights of The Lego Movie, it’s that its humor and pacing hit some snags by the end of its second act. Like his appearance in The Lego Movie, this Batman’s major flaw and primary source of humor is his massive hubris. Not only does the hero think of himself as the greatest, but he refuses to acknowledge his quite considerable flaws and issues, which is played for laughs from start to finish even as the character grows due to his experiences. But it’s a comedic angle that has diminishing returns due to the jokes typically being set up and paid off in the same ways. It simply starts to feel a little stale by the end, and piling up jokes on one another without a moment prevents great comedic moments from setting in.
In addition, The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t have the same stellar pacing and killer timing as its predecessor, as it doesn’t quite know how to approach the nadir of its narrative before ramping up into its finale. Rather than inject some additional pathos into its character when Batman hits his lowest point, it feels more like the film is trying to tread water with some vague character moments and a generally forgettable musical moment. Like its comedy, The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t change things up to stay fresh, but rather plays the same ideas out again and again to varying results.
Thankfully, once the story’s climax arrives, it hits in a big, bombastic way. Without spoiling any of the film’s more unexpected twists, The Lego Batman Movie finds a way to outdo the stakes and scope of its earlier acts, as well as the climax of The Lego Movie. With huge villains, massive set pieces, and the subversive style that is now expected in a Lego franchise film, Lego Batman manages to balance genuine thrills with its satirical tones for big battle sequences that work on multiple levels.
While it remains to be seen whether Lego sequel after Lego sequel will exhaust the franchise and its seemingly singular tone, The Lego Batman Movie mostly capitalizes on it in the right way. Like Deadpool last year, it’s a welcome departure from the formula that proves how unfettered imagination and some great characters are all that’s needed for a rollicking good time at the movies.