Film Review: The Lego Batman Movie
My expectations going into this movie were very low. That was because:
- Rarely does a movie as good as The Lego Movie have a follow-up that's just as good as the original.
- They seem to be releasing this one close to the Lego Ninjago movie, so it seemed like a hasty cash-grab (to just churn out lots of Lego franchise flicks) with no real thought being put into the story.
- The trailer was underwhelming. It was basically like a string of Batman jokes some 14 year-old scribbled in a notebook during class.
- Really good Batman movies are few and far between, and this looked more like a parody of Batman in the style of Robot Chicken than an actual movie with a story.
But I was wrong. This deserves its high score on Rotten Tomatoes, and is every bit as good as people said. So let's take a closer look at The Lego Batman Movie.
The Lego Batman movie starts by setting up the obvious central theme of the conflict: Batman's inability to work with others. He has what I'd like to start calling Bojack Horseman syndrome, he has everything in terms of material wealth, but his isolation and inability to find a niche in society makes him miserable. He is challenged about his habit of brooding about his dead parents rather than expressing his emotions by Alfred.
He goes to a typical Bruce Wayne ball to celebrate Commissioner Gordon's retirement and replacement by his daughter Barbara. There, Barbara gives a speech questioning the need Gotham has for Batman. If he's really best for the city, why does the city remain unsafe? Shouldn't all crime fighters in Gotham work together and be accountable under the law? These are all real questions Batman fans have that are worth addressing.
Things get worse than public opinion turning against Batman, when every villain in the city surrenders, leaving Batman to feel like he no longer has a purpose. He knows that the Joker is probably planning something, but for a while it seems like he can't do anything. Now, he is being challenged to actually care about the little boy he unwittingly agreed to adopt at the ball, Dick. He seems proud of the boy when he becomes Robin and shows what he can do, but Batman of course won't show his pride, or let Dick call him "dad". Or show affection, obviously.
The Joker's plan is to get locked up in the Phantom Zone (which I guess is a thing from the Superman universe, I don't follow Superman stuff), and eventually break out other iconic villains that Lego could get the rights to show, including the Wicked Witch of the West, some dinosaurs and sea monsters, Voldemort, Sauron, gremlins, skeletons, basically a few big bad guys and a whole bunch of lesser monsters. They look cool by the way!
This challenges Batman to change, to admit that he can't do it alone. He has to rely on a team that forms with himself, Alfred, Barbara Gordon (who later of course becomes Batgirl), and Robin, and relying on a team is clearly very psychologically uncomfortable for him. Of course he takes out the bad guys and sends them back to the Phantom Zone, but this is really mostly about challenging Batman to change, more than it is about his external threats.
Themes and Ideas:
Batman's refusal to work with, and inability to connect with others, moves the plot of this movie. I really thought this was a well thought-out way to shine a spotlight on Batman's flaws as a character for both comedic and dramatic purposes. The movie avoids making Batman into an unrecognizable caricature, like a pinata of him that's just there to be knocked down. He seems fully human (Lego man?) because this movie isn't afraid to show his weaknesses and faults.
Batman as a character is supposed to be the antithesis of the Joker, who represents chaos and lawlessness. But it's not that simple. Batman, who follows his own moral code even if it conflicts with the law, sees himself as someone who can sit in judgment of everyone else and be the sole decider in matters of justice. Like in Death Note, there is this idea that no one person should have that kind of power, to decide the fate of every criminal. While we might want a swift, severe punishment as revenge when someone hurts us, what best suits society is fair and orderly trials by jury, with standards of evidence and court procedure rules and so on in place so that the innocent are not unfairly punished.
So basically, The Lego Batman Movie, while being humorous, ponders the deep questions inspired by Batman as a character you would expect from any good Batman movie.
I liked this one. Batman movies for me as a comic book reader are about like flipping a coin, but the ones that are good are astonishingly good. First of all, The Lego Batman Movie looks amazing. It's an astonishing feat of epic animation. I even thought to myself that even if there were no sound I would still give this one at least an 8/10. This movie is every bit as creative and inspiring as the original Lego Movie in terms of visuals.
Story-wise? Sure, the plot is kind of basic and the narrative structure is sort of predictable, but the weird thing is that, even though I can figure out the direction a kid's movie is going in during the first act, knowing that did not detract from my enjoyment of the film. I thought everything that could have been a total disaster about this movie was executed refreshingly well. For example, the bad jokes in the trailer are not the only jokes in the movie (I hate when that's the case with a comedy movie). And even though it is funny at times, the tone of the film is still very thoughtful.
Mostly what I like is that this movie lampshades almost every flaw people might find with Batman as a character, and focuses the movie on challenging Batman to become a better person. While the Joker challenges Batman's ethics in The Dark Knight, he is challenging society as a whole, not just Batman. Also, the Joker is a bad guy who does things like blow up a hospital, so we kind of don't get the idea that Batman is truly wrong, even when he commits morally ambiguous acts.
In this movie, Batman is wrong, and needs to change. He starts out arrogant and self-absorbed like Cuzco in The Emperor's New Groove, so this movie is for his reflection and character development. It also challenges fans to think about previous Batman movies and reflect on how Batman's stories can be improved in the future. Will he lose what makes him unique and interesting as a "lone wolf" or bat, by learning to accept the help of others and let people in emotionally? This is an enjoyable family film, but it also challenges us to critically analyze the character.