It’s been quite the turbulent time for Gotham’s finest on the big screen. Batman peak will be seen as the critical and financial success of The Dark Knight. Its sequel divided the new followers from an appreciative core audience. Then came the announcement Ben Affleck would fill the cape and cowl following the wrapping up of Christopher Nolan’s universe. The world groaned.
Movies Reflective joined the calls of dismay (The Dark Knight Relapses) and made its apologies (Batman v Superman: There is a Winner). Batfleck turned out to be a success. His anticipated solo film, directed by the man that made Argo an Oscar winner, promises to balance the dark side of the Bat with the commercial demands of the DC Extended Universe.
So where does that leave The Lego Batman Movie? Surely, it’s just an example of Warner Bros. lending one of their largest properties to a non-threat in order to make money? But with this approach must come a series of prerequisites. If this is the case, director Chris McKay and his eight writers either didn’t read the memo or stretched what was acceptable.
The Lego Batman Movie is a parody disguised as a standard children’s animation film.
It’s is so self-aware, it manages to deconstruct Batman at every level. Nothing is off limits. From Hans Zimmer’s tense action score from The Dark Knight Rises; Bruce Wayne’s backstory; Batman’s real world history; and the typical rules used in a superhero movie.
It pokes fun at all the failings of previous films. Too many villains over saturating the script: usually three bad guys will induce this effect. Lego Batman aims not for double figures, but triple. Bruce Wayne forever moping about and driven to dark places because he saw his parents killed. Lego Batman turns it into a comedy sketch.
Heath Ledger’s Joker summarising the unique relationship his character shared with The Caped Crusader (“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”) becomes the drive for The Lego Batman Movie. Joker wants Batman to realise they are connected, that they need one another.
It’s great fun for the kids, Lego brick explosions everywhere, but the speed of the one liners indicate they have been written for the experienced Batman fan. And the embrace of the past, including the sixties TV version, goes beyond nostalgia or even paying homage.
If it weren’t for the child-friendly humour and tone, you could compare this to Team America: World Police. It knows what it is imitating so decides to have a good laugh with it.
In many ways, this means Will Arnett isn’t playing Bruce Wayne/Batman, because this isn’t really that character. It’s a shame for Joel Schumacher that the Lego Movie concept didn’t exist in 1997 when he gave the world Batman & Robin. It was his intention then to produce a Batman big screen outing for kids. He failed to impress children and adults alike, killing the franchise in the process.
The Lego Batman Movie shows how it can be done. When it’s clear from the off that all seriousness should be left in the cinema foyer, it doesn’t matter how colourful Gotham City is or how outlandish the story becomes. People can just sit back and enjoy.
With that freedom to do what they want with the property, Lego Batman manages to get a few more satirical scenes in under the radar. There’s a clear dig at Suicide Squad when Batman says getting bad guys to fight bad guys is stupid. And then, with a nod to that movie – and several other superhero flicks – the doomsday weapon of being invaded by another realm enters the fray.
It’s not here to comply with the structure of grown-up superhero films, it’s to point out how preposterous the notion is.
Even the happy ending is tongue-in-cheek. With it, The Dark Knight becomes a light comedy genius. Whether the DC Extended Universe is a success or not (and it hangs in the balance), Warner Bros. can always fall back on a Lego version of events and bring a bit of laughter, and a lot of revenue, into the boardroom.
Lego Batman isn’t the hero you deserve, but it’s the one you need right now.