Posted by: Robert Reineke
Date: February 19, 2017

SYNOPSIS: In the irreverent spirit of fun that made THE LEGO MOVIE a worldwide phenomenon, the self-described leading man of that ensemble Ė LEGO Batman Ė stars in his own big-screen adventure: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. But there are big changes brewing in Gotham, and if he wants to save the city from The Jokerís hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up.

Who has the coolest gadgets? (BATMAN!)
Who has the tricked out ride? (BATMAN!)
Who does the sickest backflips? (BATMAN!)

- "Whoís the (Bat)Man" by Patrick Stump

THE LEGO BATMAN movie is both a love letter to Batman and a merciless deconstruction of the faults of ultimate angry loner Batman. That the film manages to pull both of these things off, when they could easily cancel each other out, is a testament to the skill and care put into the film. Itís a kids movie, one told at 1,000 miles an hour, full of jokes, but those are the frills, itís built around a solid story told with heart.

The story of loner Batman having his family and humanity restored to him through surrogate son Robin is certainly not a new one. Certainly, writers and artists taking a look at the Batman and Robin relationship have been eager to use that as a way to make their relationship have meaning beyond just giving Batman someone to talk to. Joel Schumacher certainly butted up against the story in his two films, but never really committed to exploring it and anything more than a sub-plot. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE makes it the lynchpin of the story and that helps make it satisfying.

Will Arnettís Batman really isnít like too many iterations of Batman, unabashedly full of himself and not shy about sharing that he believes himself to be the smartest, most competent guy in the room. His ego wholly eclipses his better attributes, a fine gag going back to Jack Benny and earlier. Itís a consistent sure fire source of humor, but it also drives the character arc of the film where Batman goes too far in driving those closest to him away, including The Joker, with cataclysmic results. Honestly, the closest variation on Batman may be Frank Millerís Batman from ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER. Itís not a far step to see this Batman painted yellow and offering Green Lantern a lemonade. Of course, in this context, itís likely to be embraced.

They took a page out ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT when casting the film, with Michael Ceraís Robin being a wonderful contrast to Will Arnettís Batman. Thereís never been a Robin thatís been this innocent and full of wonder at the world of Batman. Itís a caricature, but itís one built on a foundation of an orphan just needing love and finding it in an unexpected place.

The rest of the supporting cast is also very good, albeit a lot of parts feel more like stunts with a line or two of dialogue than actual parts to play. Billy Dee Williams, for instance, gets little more than a cameo which is surely a wasted opportunity. Doug Benson gets only a couple of lines, but makes the most of them emulating Tom Hardyís Bane voice. Among those who get more substance, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred is a total pro and certainly giving more than what is necessary, and itís certainly appreciated by me. Zach Galifianakis is trying too, although I donít know if itís so much the performance as the writing, and some expressive animation, that carries the day for him as The Joker. Rosario Dawson is good too, albeit they kind of skirt around all that they could do with her, such as setting up gags involving using statistics to fight crime and then not capitalizing on it, as Barbara Gordon and the fact that Bruce Wayne is smitten with her goes absolutely nowhere.

One of the real impressive things that THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE does is embrace the fact that the base of the aesthetic is a bunch of construction blocks and go wild with the imagination. Thereís no doubt that you can find something buried in the background of just about every frame as the team behind this film creates the most imaginative Gotham City since Tim Burton and Anton Furst. And itís not just empty decoration, the fact that Bruce Wayneís home is an island and the enormity of the Batcave certainly do represent Batmanís isolation and loneliness well.

The downside to that is that the film never, ever, takes more than a few seconds to let the viewer soak any of this in. Even more than THE LEGO MOVIE, you can certainly point to this film being paced for the most ADD viewers with cuts every three seconds or less. The result is that it goes so fast that thereís no way to catch all the little details (for which home video and the pause button may make a more satisfactory experience) and the story ends up stalled at times as the film stops to repeat itself to make sure that the audience is aware of Batmanís faults as a loner and hasnít missed it in all the freneticism and because the running time, although short, outstays the plot line at the speed with which theyíre going.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE also eschews the meta-commentary of THE LEGO MOVIE, but instead exists in the world of Batman. Thereís nothing wrong with that, but it does chop off some layers that the previous film had. The closest it goes to meta-commentary is by having Batman go up against some of the greatest competing villains from pop culture and having him triumph over them, suggesting he is the preeminent superhero of his time.

Batman has been the most changeable of superheroes over the years, and THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE suggests thatís not always easy while embracing all of the strange turns in his history. But, it does it without betraying the core of his character. Weíve seen this story before, Charles Dickensís A CHRISTMAS CAROL for instance, but using a character as central to pop culture as Batman gives the familiar tale a wonderful pop.

Glen Weldon in THE CAPED CRUSADE (read BOF's review of that book HERE) suggests that thereís been a ďcounter-narrativeĒ brewing that Batman can be fun, not so serious, and for all ages again. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is likely the closing argument of that proposition. The question is where do we go from here? Tim Burton ushered in loner, dark Batman in 1989 and the question is now, are we at the end of a cycle? If so, whatís next? Can serious Batman and silly Batman exist side by side in the popular culture? I donít know the answers to any of these questions, but I expect the next few years are so are going to be critical in figuring out the future of Batman in popular culture. - Robert Reineke

Robert Reineke is a Civil and Environmental Engineer residing in Wisconsin. Heís earned a BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin and has been reading Batman comics since the 1970s. Heís of the firm belief that there are plenty of Batman comics written before Frank Miller that are worthy of discussion. Heís also writing a monthly column on the films of Akira Kurosawa at Where the Long Tail Ends.

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