It is no secret that I detested The Lego Movie. Its cluttered action sequences, which make the chaotic fight scenes in the Transformers franchise look graceful by comparison, and inane humour never clicked with me. Despite seeing the film numerous times, it was at one point a staple in my five-year-old’s viewing rotation before he discovered the joys of Star Wars, I simply never understood what the masses saw in that film.
The Lego Movie always felt like an overly long commercial for the wealth of products Lego has to offer.
This is something that The Lego Batman Movie smartly acknowledges early on. After foiling another one of The Joker’s (Zach Galifianakis) overly complicated plots to destroy Gotham City, a self-absorbed Batman (Will Arnett) decides to visit an orphanage to uplift the children by showering them with Batman merchandise. It is self-aware moments like these that help The Lego Batman Movie glide above its fellow toy inspired predecessors.
While many of my qualms with The Lego Movie still persist with this spin-off film, the greatest strength The Lego Batman Movie has is its sharp deconstruction of the lasting power of Batman as a character. From the opening voice-over, in which Batman proclaims that it was he, and not Superman, who built the house that DC comics now stands on, Chris McKay’s film gleefully takes a deep dive into over 70 years of Batman lore.
The film is very much a treasure trove of Easter eggs for hardcore Batman fans. Whether it is including cameos by third tier villains such as King Tut and Condiment Man or highlighting the ridiculous amount of vehicles Batman has owned, the film takes great pleasure in referencing all of the various iterations of the famed caped crusader. There are nods to all of the previous movies (complete with Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent/Two Face), tons of nods to the comics and cartoons (such as Robin wearing the Nightwing suit), and even has some amusing jabs at the Adam West Batman of the sixties (shark repellent!). As a lifelong Batman fan, seeing many of the gags hit a soft spot for me.
As much as I consider The Lego Batman Movie a much better film than The Lego Movie, both films still have problems from a narrative standpoint. The bulk of this film revolves around the fear that Batman has in regards to letting others into his life. Despite being both a superhero and the wealthiest man in Gotham, Bruce Wayne spends many nights alone watching romantic comedies and gazing at photos of his deceased parents. He is such a loner, and so consumed by his own ego, that he cannot even acknowledge the unique bond that he has with his greatest arch-nemesis The Joker.
Frequently treating his dutiful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes) with very little respect, Batman is even blinded to those, such as Gothem’s new commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who generally want to connect him.
While the no man is his own island message will resonate for those young and old, the narrative takes way too many distracting diversions for no other reason than to sell more products. One just needs to look at the phantom zone subplot, where The Joker recruits Lego versions of Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort, The Lord of the Rings’ Sauron, the 80’s Gremlins and more to help him take over Gotham, as a perfect example of this. Not that kids will care either way mind you. They have no doubt already added a mental registry of all the Lego’s from this film to add to their Christmas lists.
The Lego Batman Movie may not quite be the coherent comedy that I was hoping for, but it is hard to deny that, as a Batman fan, this film frequently hits that geek sweet spot.