Historically, the prevailing wisdom about Batman is this: dark and moody is good, comedic and silly is bad. Just compare and contrast the reputations of The Dark Knight (anarchy and politics) and Batman & Robin (ice skating and Bat-nipples). The truth (as is usually the case) is more complex than that, but it highlights the problem facing The Lego Batman Movie — can this comedic take on the Dark Knight work?
Of course, the signs were good — Will Arnett’s tongue-in-cheek take on the character was one of The Lego Movie’s many joys, and his promotion to the lead role here takes away none of his impact.
The best Batman film in years.
Batman is Gotham’s hero, singular, and that’s the way he likes it. But when Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) succeeds her father as commissioner, she suggests Batman’s history of always foiling the villains’ evil plots, but mostly letting them escape to plot again, perhaps isn’t the ideal state of affairs and proposes a closer working relationship. Not that it matters; no sooner has she taken office than the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), offended by Batman’s refusal to acknowledge him as his main adversary (“I’m fighting a few different people. I like to fight around”) gathers up his criminal cronies and surrenders. But to Gordon, not Batman. Outraged by this, Batman decides to go rogue — breaking into Arkham Asylum to banish the Joker to the Phantom Zone.
It’s a film dense with jokes, the writers riffing successfully on both this sullen and arrogant iteration of Batman and the character’s rich and varied history. The films are referenced (“That time with the parade and the Prince music”), as are the TV series and comics. And all the sources are mined for the film’s stuffed rogues’ gallery — Polka-Dot Man, Gentleman Ghost and the Condiment King among the villains appearing in cameo roles.
And then, for the final battle, more are unleashed. A standard complaint about superhero films is there are too many bad guys (Spider-Man 3 overstretched by adding Venom to Sandman and the New Goblin), but here Gremlins, Daleks, _The Matrix_s Agent Smith, Dracula, Godzilla, Sauron, Lord Voldemort and more are all unleashed without any issue. Just occasionally more is more, and so it proves here.
Whether or not we deserve it is irrelevant — this is the Batman movie we needed right now.
But for all the fan service and subtle jokes, this is still ostensibly a film for kids to be taken to (and it’s been two decades since we had a Batman film like that) and, as such, there is a lesson for Batman (and the kids) to learn. Namely, teamwork is good, friends are important, don’t spend your nights sitting alone eating reheated lobster thermidor.
This manifests itself in confirmed loner Bruce Wayne absent-mindedly adopting orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) who discovers the Batcave and wants to become his sidekick. And later, to Batman’s dismay, the Bat-team grows further. Only if they work together will they defeat the Joker’s growing army. This point does become laboured as Bats continually refuses to accept it, but there’s so much going on, it’s easy to forgive.
This is the third time Batman has featured in a major cinematic release in the past 11 months. And, if anything, with the release of The Lego Batman Movie, those films have reversed the prevailing wisdom: dark and moody is bad, comedic and silly is good. Whether or not we deserve it is irrelevant — this is the Batman movie we needed right now. And it delivers.