Out of any comic book character in existence, Batman’s history is the most fascinating.
In comics, he started out as a murderer before being revamped into a hero who condemns killing.
His stories have fluctuated from being light-hearted, cheesy romps to dark, gritty exercises that pushed the envelope of what superheroes could be.
The great thing about a character like Batman is that there are so many interpretations of him with their respective fans and each one helped shape him into the Dark Knight we all know and love.
This is where “The LEGO Batman Movie” comes in.
It’s a film that recognizes and celebrates all the history and strengths of the character while simultaneously poking fun at them.
While it’s not as narratively effervescent and clever as its predecessor, “The LEGO Movie,” it still turns out to be a fun, energized take on the DC Comics icon that isn’t afraid to take a deeper look and examine his current state in pop culture.
The film opens with Batman (Will Arnett) single-handedly defeating all of his greatest enemies (including some Z-list villains from his various points in his history).
After relishing in his victory and the adoration of Gotham City, Batman retreats to Wayne Manor.
Here, we find that underneath his narcissistic personality and tremendous ego he lives a lonely, unfulfilling existence watching romantic comedies and eating lobster in his bathrobe.
The death of his parents as a child has driven him to swear off any meaningful relationships with other people.
However, Batman is quickly thrown out of his comfort zone when he accidentally adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who takes up the mantle of Robin to help Batman rid Gotham of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), who has his own diabolical plan to take over the city.
Meanwhile, Gotham’s new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) seeks to enlist Batman as an ally who works with and by the law.
A question posed by the filmmakers during production was “can Batman be happy?” It’s a question worth asking now more than ever as the Caped
Crusader has found himself in a difficult situation in both comics and movies.
Batman was born from a tragedy Bruce Wayne witnessed at young age and this singular event has driven him to pursue a life of exacting justice and instilling fear into the criminal underworld.
This version of Batman, who we are first introduced to in “The LEGO Movie,” parodies takes of the character who is so utterly consumed by his traumatic past, that he becomes a dour, anger-fueled loner who broods and sulks his way through life.
You needn’t look any further than when LEGO Batman plays his own mixtape, which consists of him shouting, “DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! SUPER RICH! KINDA MAKES IT BETTER!”
In a way, this Batman serves as a meta-commentary on how the character has become stuck in a perpetual state of sorrow where he is never allowed to develop as a protagonist and move on.
While the dark and gritty Batman people know and love has his place in media, too often that gives way to a Batman whose tragedy is used as excuse to appeal to nihilistic Batman fans who just want to see him brood, punch, torture, terrorize, mope, and not much else.
This boneheaded line of thinking is what leads to misguided versions like Zack Snyder’s violent, psychotic, murdering, brainless, fascist Dark Knight seen in “Batman v. Superman.”
The film recognizes that Batman’s endless spiral of misery and self-pity is an unhealthy habit.
If he’s so unwilling to let other people into his life and love them like his parents loved him, then he ceases to be interesting.
This is a problem some other Batman films share. They become so enamored with making Batman a loner, that he becomes less interesting than his villains.
However, “The LEGO Batman Movie” seems to have the exact opposite problem.
Though Batman truly feels like a three-dimensional character and the star of this movie, his enemies are rote.
While Galifianakis is fine in the role, his Joker is very much one-note and only appears intermittently. The rest of Batman’s rogues gallery fares much worse.
Without going to deep into spoiler territory, instead of facing off against some his great villains in the climax, Batman instead fights villains from other franchises, such as Lord of the Rings and Doctor Who.
While it makes sense since this is a LEGO film and Warner Bros. has the rights to these intellectual properties, overstuffing the film with these non-Batman or even non-DC Comics related characters is still a bizarre choice and causes the film to go off the rails a bit.
Batman’s allies fare a little better, with Robin in particular being the standout.
Despite being a character Warner Bros. has been hesitant to include in a Batman feature since the disastrous “Batman & Robin,” he absolutely shines here.
Michael Cera provides him with such wide-eyed giddiness that’s simply infectious. How anyone could hate this take on the Boy Wonder is baffling to me.
Barbara Gordon is the weak link here what with her having to play the straight-man to the obnoxiously egotistical Batman.
She’s a fine component to the cast, but could have been given a more striking personality. Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) has a more prominent and active role here than in any previous incarnations.
However, without spoiling anything, the fact that Fiennes didn’t also voice a certain other famous character is a mistake that will haunt the filmmakers for the rest of their lives.
Like “The LEGO Movie” before it, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is a film whose humor is constantly firing on all cylinders.
There are so many jokes, both through dialogue and visuals, which are thrown at the audience that it may take several viewings to catch all of them.
For all the hardcore Batman fans, there is a reference to just about every single film and television adaptation of the character, from the 1940’s serials to last year’s “Batman v. Superman.”
Even if one joke falls flat, there is another immediately following that works.
Director Chris McKay, having already dabbled in stop-motion animation by directing many episodes of “Robot Chicken,” is perfectly suited for this material.
The amount of detail that went into every joke, setting, and facial expression is stunning, with animation punctuated by vibrant colors and frenetic character movement.
As a comic book fan, I appreciated all the blink-and-you-miss-it Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. There’s even a small jab at Marvel early on.
While it’s unclear where this Batman can go from here as a character (he’s next set to appear in “The LEGO Movie 2” in 2019), one can hope that Warner
Bros. takes a page from “The LEGO Batman Movie’s” book and realize that Batman doesn’t have to be alone or revel in distasteful nihilism to be appealing.
Perhaps the upcoming Justice League will be a proper course-correction for him going forward. As it stands, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is the film we both need and deserve.
8 out of 10.