If you know me, you know that my childhood consisted of mainly comic books (focal point: The Batman) and Star Wars. Some sports were in there, too, and around the time Goblet of Fire (the book) came out, I got into Harry Potter. Due to growing up with my brother, however, I got the pleasure of being introduced to not only Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but LEGOs as well. If you walked into my basement in the year 2004, you would be amazed at: 1. How immaculately clean it was (biased); and 2. Just how many LEGOs my brother and I had accumulated over the years. I’m just trying to lay some ground work here to add to the anticipation I had waiting for this movie. It happened with The LEGO Movie (2014) and anything remotely Batman-centric, so why should this be any different? In fact, it should be doubled.
With the release of The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) and the September release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017), it’s clear that Warner Bros. is trying to take a stab at another universe-system of movies and perhaps have better luck than their attempt at the DC Extended Universe. At first I was agitated by the thought of ANOTHER cinematic universe, but at least with this LEGO Universe, it isn’t just sequel after sequel; they are all original movies that can indeed stand on their own (at least these first two have). While The LEGO Batman Movie is an extension of LEGO’s world, it certainly diverges from the Avengers-esque, “Let’s move these character-pieces into place for the next big movie to come out.” Thus, the movie is not only a blast, literally, from start to finish, but it gives something for all forms of audiences – but still plenty of meat to bite into for Bat-fans alike.
I kid you not when I say I was laughing less than ten seconds into this movie. Will Arnett voicing Batman could be one of his best career moves to date, and this is the guy who has played noted memorable roles, like Gob Bluth and Bojack Horseman, and made cameos in countless shows and movies. Arnett was gold in The LEGO Movie and while I usually hate when a supporting character gets his own movie (Evan Almighty (2007)), this is one of those diamonds in the rough that gets it right. The movie is non-stop laughs with the Parks & Recreation silly satire style that hinges on the edge of obnoxious but manages to ground itself just enough to be funny. The movie never ceases to be comical, but there is certainly a change of pace in the middle of the movie and it makes you feel almost exhausted because you’ve been laughing so hard and finally have room to breathe. This can certainly be chalked up to a pacing issue but I can’t complain about laughing too much in a movie.
Aside from the humor for general audiences, there are Easter eggs and callbacks to just about every instance of the Dark Knight’s career in comics, television, and film over the better part of 80 years… To which Arnett’s Batman exclaims, “I’ve aged phenomenally!” It’s certainly a love letter to the Caped Crusader and all he’s “accomplished” throughout his crime fighting career, but The LEGO Batman Movie is also a commentary on Batman’s pathos as well as his fan base.
Since CHRISTopher Nolan showed audiences what it truly means to be dark and gritty, it has been the gold standard for the comic book genre. Nolan figured out a way to turn a guy who dresses like a bat into an icon by making his bat shtick something born out of fear of the flying rodents. In the wake of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) turning him into a laughing stock of a nihilist, LEGO Batman takes these qualities of Batman and makes it into fun. Batman is a depressed loner, but what does he do during his free time at Wayne Manor? This movie addresses this beautifully in the most wonderfully PG way possible. It also draws on the notion that Batman truly is a loner and it may not be his style, but instead it’s his fault. LEGO Batman, instead of fearing bats, fears a commitment to having a family and there’s something wonderful about that after over a decade of brooding and raspy voices. But Batman’s deep-seeded loneliness isn’t his only enemy in this movie, it’s also the people who idolize him.
Because of comic book nerd jackasses such as myself, Batman is held to this precious benchmark of being the ultimate fighter, the ultimate hero, the ultimate detective, genius, team member, fictional character and anything else. He suffers from badass syndrome more than any character these days. The internet and Batman lovers alike have essentially pushed Batman in a corner and not let him develop because all they want in a Batman is an angry and narcissistic vigilante who dresses in all black (or sometimes very, very dark grey). Batman can’t be open because fans don’t want him to. If there’s anything to take away from The LEGO Batman Movie, it’s that Batman can develop and evolve and he should.
At a time where everything needs to be G R I T T Y and G R O U N D E D, The LEGO Batman Movie defies these norms with Warner Bros. and DC’s most precious prize and if I’m being honest here, it works stupendously. The pacing can certainly use some touching up and there are some loose ends that don’t tie up too neatly – such as The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis and officially a better Joker than Jared Leto) being heartbroken over the fact that Batman says he feels no connection to him at all. This could be the most minuscule critique I have for this movie, when you look at the incredible animation that made The LEGO Movie so unique, along with memorable voice acting from Michael Cera as Robin, Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, and even Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprising their roles for Superman and Green Lantern, respectively. If you love the Batman and can get on board with self-aware, and sometimes self-deprecating, humor with a musical number here and there, you’re in for a fun time.