The Lego Movie is one of my absolute favorite films of the last few years for many reasons. Chief among them, is how it leverages rapid fire pop culture references to tell a story celebrating the creativity of children, and how their instinctual understanding of storytelling isn’t bound to “rules” of genre or copyright lawyers. And from that angle, The Lego Batman Movie is exactly what it should be: more of the same, just focused on its interpretation of Batman.
As a refresher, that version is a self-centered braggart who revels in his own depressive loneliness voiced by Will Arnett. And this film is all about that version of Batman learning about the importance of relationships. His butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) points out that his greatest fear is being part of a family again, since he was so traumatized by being orphaned at a young age. Enter Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), a wide-eyed and exuberant orphan who does nothing but idolize Bruce Wayne/Batman. But of course Batman treats him as “100% expendable.” Ditto for the new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who wants the police and Batman to work together. This Batman can’t even bother to call the Joker (Zach Galifinakis) his greatest enemy, which is what sets the film’s plot in motion.
Telling a story about the need for relationships of all kinds, but especially family and friends is actually a great use of Batman’s character. In the original comics, Batman was only alone for a year before Robin was introduced in 1940, and since then, the character has always surrounded himself with allies, teams, and family. Lamplighting this is a smart move by the film’s writers (whichever one of the 5 credited came up with this). Not only does it reinforce in the target audience that they aren’t alone, and should rely on family and friends for help, but is also one of the core things that separates Batman from other superheroes.
But there is another reason why Batman of all characters is well-suited to star in a movie that tells its story through toys. Batman exists fundamentally as the fantasy of a child. No rational adult even within superhero comics would see their parents murdered, avow that they are declaring war on crime by putting on a bat-themed costume and punching crime in the face. Especially when they could just use their billions of dollars to try and solve the problem. But because Bruce Wayne made a promise to his parents as a small child, this revenge fantasy shapes every single Batman story ever told. It isn’t always this pronounced (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm deals with this most directly), but it is the core to understanding what motivates Batman.
And since we know The Lego Movie to be controlled by the mind of a child playing with their toys, of all characters, Batman is ideally suited to be at the center of one of these films. In this particular instance, Batman is quite literally a child’s fantasy.
Additionally, Batman is a near omniflexible concept, and works in basically any setting you could conceive, from England’s equivalent, Knight and Squire, to Tlano the space alien Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. And given the Lego films’ desire to move beyond the rules of traditional storytelling, we get references to every cinematic incarnation of the Dark Knight as well as appearances from dozens of Batman’s villains.
These references are thematically similar to Grant Morrison’s extended writing of Batman comics from 2007-2013, in which the writer attempted to synthesize all of Batman’s sprawling history as a character into a coherent whole. In Morrison’s eyes, all Batman stories are “canon,” and therefore he drew on the entire character’s history, rather than going back to Frank Miller’s dark take (Year One, Dark Knight Returns) from the 1980s. As a fan of every take on the Caped Crusader, it is very pleasing that we live in a world where the Adam West version, the Ben Affleck version, and this version have all had new material released within the last year.
Just as important as any of these deeper ideas embedded within the film is the fact that the film is firing on all comedic cylinders. It’s a near-match for the breathless pace of the first Lego Movie, with a good balance between humor that doesn’t rely on previous Bat-knowledge and humor that does. Batman microwaving a lobster humidor or doing a sad walk to Harry Nilsson’s “One” are examples of the film walking that fine line just right. The amount of deep DC references will likely fly right by non-fans, so while kids won’t miss a beat, parents might be left wondering what the Phantom Zone is. It’s proof that geeks have inherited the earth, primarily because they’re grown adults who make an annual budget for tiny plastic bricks of their favorite characters.
The Lego Batman Movie is a clever, funny, and entertaining love letter to Batman. It manages to be a sequel, while also firmly telling a superhero story marinated in geek culture. And the most joyous tale of an arrogant billionaire we’ll get in the next four years.
The Lego Batman Movie opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan has been writing thoughtful film reviews and pop culture commentary on and off for over a decade. He spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area. His other interests include comic books, coffee, experimental beer, discovering new music, and books.