Look, Batman’s been a solution in search of a problem for awhile now. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film both brought Batman back to his darker, grimmer roots, and this step was probably necessary given how the character was trapped in the long shadow of the campy Adam West series for awhile. The difficulty was that, except for two appreciably maligned Joel Schumacher movies, Batman has been almost nothing but dark for awhile now. (The Timmverse respectfully balanced Batman’s darkness with the optimism of the DCU, but we’re well past that wonderful era by now.) Christopher Nolan’s movies ratcheted him into adult territory, and Ben Affleck’s performance in Batman v. Superman wrapped the character so far around the “serious” axle that he flew off and landed in the realm of self-parody. It was so serious, that Batman became silly.
The Lego Batman Movie is the cure to the grim n’ gritty cancer that’s been devouring the Dark Knight for three decades now. Spinning out of 2014’s wildly successful The Lego Movie, the aptly-named Lego Batman Movie will shatter through your stone cold adult heart and free the child within, while still winking at your grownup self with jokes the kids won’t get. It reminds us that at its heart, Batman is an equally ridiculous and inspiring children’s story, and it disassembles the lunacy and emotion of 78 years of Bat-history and rebuilds it out of little plastic bricks.
As a story, The Lego Batman Movie is all about relationships. Batman may be the heart of his own story, but he’s orbited by many, many characters that help define him. Without giving away too much, the film explores whether Batman (Will Arnett) can be defined in a vacuum–what does the ultimate crimefighter become when he exists in a vacuum? For all his money and fun gadgets, Batman doesn’t amount to much without his friends and his villains. And so, the movie deftly touches upon who Batman is in relation to Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Robin (Michael Cera), Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), and in its own, perverse way (there’s that hidden adult humor!), the Joker (Zach Galifianakas).
Keep in mind, through, that this is a Lego movie, and the role of little plastic bricks can’t be easily ignored. In this regard, The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor as a movie about Lego as a product. It’s unmistakably present; as in the previous movie, almost everything the film touches is hilarious made of Lego, and plenty of sight gags are present. Unlike Warner Home Video’s Lego Justice League cartoons which tell a distinct DC Comics story that just happens to use Lego animation, The Lego Batman Movie lives in and embraces a world where everything can be readily disassembled and remade into something else.
However, The Lego Movie was heavily themed around both creativity and nostalgia, the latter particularly driven by the cast–many of The Lego Movie‘s characters resembled minifigures in many Lego collector’s toyboxes. The Lego Batman Movie deviates in that regard–with the exception of Batman himself, most of the characters are unique designs specific to this movie (and, ironically, drove the accompanying toy line). Moreover, this movie lacks the surprise twist of The Lego Movie when the toys crossed over into the real world. There are hints that our human world still exists beyond the Lego Gotham City, but it’s not overtly explored as it was in the original (although fans of the Lego Dimensions video game may suspect that the movie is, in fact, an extension of that game–the Joker’s surprise allegiances in the story’s third act seems to cement it). That’s OK–the stunning moment of The Lego Movie would be difficult to duplicate here, and The Lego Batman Movie needs to stand on its own. But it’s not quite as celebratory of the creativity of the toy line…notwithstanding the film’s apocalyptic climax, which is resolved with a sight gag that every kid who’s ever used Lego will remember doing themselves.
Toy criticism aside, this is as flawless a Batman movie as they come. For all its silliness, The Lego Batman Movie references and celebrates as much of 78 years of Batman as it can. It’s full of Easter eggs, callbacks to earlier films, an all-star cast, and a delight of guest-stars and visual treats. One can easily predict that, for years to come, The Lego Batman Movie is going to outrank the ten theatrical Batman films that came before it. Yes, that includes Mask of the Phantasm.
And now, check out our video review!
Rating: Five 2×4 bricks out of five.
Thanks to Allied Baltimore for supplying the press screening passes.