When my lady-love and I got in line for The LEGO Batman Movie, I had set the bar pretty high. It’s a spin-off of the surprise-hit LEGO Movie, which had surpassed my incredibly low expectations with flying colors. Happily, LEGO Batman holds up well under scrutiny.
LEGO Batman sees the titular dark knight wrestling with some fairly big ideas for what is essentially a kid’s movie. Self-worth, family, loss, and love/hate are central themes to the movie — which plays out with a lot less laugh-out-loud moments than one might think from a LEGO movie.
The film opens with an extended look at Batman’s loner existence, as filtered through Will Arnett’s gravelly, boisterous antics and buffoonery. Through a sequence of shenanigans mostly tied to vanity, he inadvertently agrees to adopt young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). This is after he’s caused the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to have a full fledged identity crisis when he realizes Batman doesn’t think of him as his number one villain (he “fights around”), causing the heretofore uncatchable “Mr. J” to devise a plan to get Batman to notice him, which starts by surrendering himself and the entire rogue’s gallery. Meanwhile, newly appointed police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) declares Gotham crime free, and lets Batman know his services are no longer required.
This is where the plot actually picks up and takes off, and rewards the die-hard Batman fans. Using the entire 78-year history of Batman as a veritable toybox, z-lister Batman bad guys Condiment King, Crazy Quilt, Egghead, Killer Moth and Orca end up getting screen time alongside the likes of Riddler, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and virtually every well-known Bat-villain created in the last 30 years.
The Batcave scenes are another massive salute to the Batman history, with every iteration of the Batmobile (and basically any form of transportation) there’s been visible and just an absurd number of Batman suits, including rarities such as a Gold Comic-Con exclusive and a “culturally insensitive” Mariachi themed batsuit. After Alfred directs Dick to the Batcave as a means of forcing Batman to deal with the kid, Batman decides to use the gymnastically-inclined lad to help him on his latest mission. Dick chooses Reggae Mon, a suit Batman wore in the Caribbean, minus the acoustic guitar and pants to become Robin.
For as much fun as the movie was, and operating on multiple levels like the LEGO Movie did, it never was quite as moving or outright funny as its predecessor. It’s tethered to the world of Batman/DC in general (some surprise villains notwithstanding) where the source had the freedom of a child’s imagination to play in. As wacky as shark repellent and 60s Batman in general are, Batman as a franchise has spent the last 30 years rooted in darkness and insanity. Though that notion of the dark, serious Batman is repeatedly lampooned throughout the movie, it’s still hard to rectify the not-so-subtle tone that Joker and Batman’s relationship has in this movie. My concerns stem from being raised on Batman though, and the movie’s target audience is unlikely to have the same issues with Joker’s lack of psychopathy or things like that.
Overall, The LEGO Batman Movie was a fun, funny romp through a brickified rendering of Gotham City. With almost 80 years of history (or Batstory, if you will), it was impressive to see everything from the original television series from before even Adam West took the cowl, to the “batnipples” of Schumacher, to Batfleck’s recent fight with grumpy Superman — there’s not a single era of Batman that doesn’t get some shout out or mention here.
It would be hard to top the magic of the original, but LEGO Batman makes a valiant effort.