Batman is sad and alone.
This is the basic premise for The LEGO Batman Movie, a premise that’s far and away better than what we’ve seen from the live-action DC Universe films so far. This is a Batman who isn’t battling the demons of his deceased parents – instead he just misses them. (And, thank heavens, we aren’t subjected to yet another depiction of poor Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered.)
My favorite part in the The LEGO Batman Movie comes after the film opens with an action scene in which Batman (Will Arnett, reprising his role from The LEGO Movie) battles a whole host of villains – ranging from The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to Condiment King (Batman believes Condiment King might be made up). Batman returns home to an enormous but empty home. Oh, sure, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is around, but has long since gone to sleep, but has left sad Batman with a lobster he can heat up. So there’s Batman, wearing a casual robe and his cowl, in a long and awkward extended shot of him trying to heat up a lobster in a microwave. He then retreats to his private home theater and watches Jerry Maguire by himself. When Rene Zellweger says, “You had me at hello,” Batman laughs, then looks around to see he has no one else to laugh with. It’s all very sad.
The best thing about The LEGO Batman Movie is here are all the characters from the DC Cinematic Universe actually having fun. Okay, yes, Batman and Superman still don’t like each other, but it’s played through passive-aggressive laughs instead of an actual fight. (At one point Joker asks Batman who his greatest enemy is, Batman responds “Superman,” which is met by an incredulous look by Joker. This becomes a recurring theme of the film: Joker trying to get Batman to admit that they have a relationship as archenemies.) It’s been so long since I’ve seen these characters actually having fun on a movie screen, I didn’t even quite know what to do with myself. Where’s all the doom and gloom?
As an aside, while watching The LEGO Batman Movie, I couldn’t help but think that a straightforward Superman movie, in the style of 1978’s Superman, would probably play really well right now. With everything going on (I am so sick of typing “with everything going on” but no other four words can so casually sum up everything without getting into too many depressing details), I think the market is ripe right now for the “earnest superhero.” Honestly, I could watch an entire movie right now of just Superman saving cats from trees and smiling. (Also, if this sounds appealing and you’re not reading the DC Rebirth Superman title, you should be. I never thought I’d love a Superman comic again, but here we are.)
As you know, The LEGO Movie directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are directing a Han Solo movie (they are still involved here as producers). They are replaced by Chris McKay, who worked an as an animation co-director on the previous film. Look, The LEGO Movie was a wonderful and clever surprise. I remember people actively making fun of the premise when The LEGO Movie was first announced – long before those same people had the earworm “Everything is Awesome” stuck in their heads for eternity. My point is: It would be impossible to reproduce what The LEGO Movie did. Instead, we get what is essentially a pretty good superhero movie.
The recurring theme of The LEGO Batman Movie is that it’s not a good idea to be alone. This proves to be an interesting concept when the main character is Batman. I don’t know how an entire movie could revolve around the Batman we knew from the prior film, so it was smart to take the cocky and brash Batman from The LEGO Movie and add the underlying theme that he’s secretly sad and alone. And there are a whole cast of characters vying for his attention: A young orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera); the new police commissioner of Gotham, Barbra Gordon (Rosario Dawson); and, as mentioned, The Joker.
Again, The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t the same experience as watching The LEGO Movie, but I also don’t think its trying to be. It’s trying to be a fun superhero movie with clever callbacks to previous Batman films (every single Batman movie all the way back to the 1940s serials are referenced) that can, at least, provide DC superhero fans with a taste of fun amidst all the doom and gloom. (That can either be a reference to “the real world” or the current DC Cinematic Universe films, you can choose either one you want or both.) And at that, The LEGO Batman Movie succeeds.
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