Directed by: Chris McKay
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington
At first, the idea of another Batman movie seemed like overkill. By 2016, Batman had a total of nine big screen outings: The campy 1966 film, the gothic Burton films, the Schumacher messes, the good, albeit overly serious Nolan trilogy, and the dour Batman v. Superman. Now, there’s The Lego Batman Movie, a spinoff of The Lego Movie’s highly successful Batman interpretation.
Rather than being a cash grab, The Lego Batman Movie is fun, irreverent, and a great addition to the Batman mythos, doing something those nine previous films could not do- let Batman have fun and evolve.
It’s a risky move making a spinoff movie for a character that was one note, but this movie succeeds because it develops Batman beyond what we saw in The Lego Movie. Batman is still enamored with how cool and how rich he is (and has a brand new song to convey it). But, as in his other films, Batman is still emotionally isolated. However, the film doesn’t let him wallow in angst. Rather, he is challenged by Alfred, Barbara Gordon, his new adopted son Dick Grayson, and even the Joker to open up, and learn to not be afraid of having relationships with others- while saving the world in the process.
The movie also succeeds because there’s a clear love of the source material, rather than contempt for it. Previous films are referenced as evidence of Batman’s inability to change, there are fourth wall breaks, Bruce Wayne makes obvious insinuations that he’s Batman- but they come across not as cruel, but as jokes for fans that understand the sometimes ridiculous and cyclical nature of comics.
Comic fan or not, it’s a joy to watch. The creators crafted a fun, candy-colored version of Gotham (a nice change from the muted colors of the Nolan and Snyder films). The cast is surprisingly great, considering many of them are not trained voice actors. Reprising his role from The Lego Movie, Will Arnett proves to be a great voice actor, channeling both the ridiculous nature of Gob and the melancholy of Bojack Horseman. And while it isn’t as infectious as “Everything is Awesome”, “Who’s the (Bat)Man” is a hilarious and catchy humblebrag (featuring lyrics like “Who never skips leg day? BATMAN”).
There are so many references for DC fans: Tons of obscure villains, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (reprising his role in 1989 Batman), Dick Grayson’s character design is a callback to Carrie Kelly from The Dark Knight Returns; Best of all, after poor portrayals in Gotham and 2016’s The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon is the new police commissioner and a respected partner for Batman.
Aside from being fun, The Lego Batman movie is important in how it deconstructs superheroes. Superheroes are associated with toughness and presented as a masculine ideal. All too often, masculinity is associated with being emotionally isolated and unavailable. For any superhero film- especially one for kids- to show that one and be tough, be a superhero, and still be emotionally open and caring, is an important development for superheroes and society.
It’s hard to balance being irreverent and meaningful, but The Lego Batman Movie succeeds with flying colors. It doesn’t just inspire grins from beginning to end: It does more in 100 minutes than most films have done with an entire franchise.