By: Michael Savich
After the smashing success that was 2014’s The Lego Movie, it was only natural that a slew of sequel properties would follow. The first of those to make it through the pipeline is The Lego Batman Movie. Fans of The Lego Movie will remember that Will Arnett’s lovably narcissistic version of Batman was something of a breakout star. But how does The Lego Movie’s decidedly meta-textual take on the caped crusader hold up when stretched to a feature length film?
The Lego Batman Movie opens with a joke, but over the course of the film’s two hour duration, it becomes clear that this movie is less of a comedy than its predecessor. In fact, the movie feels almost academic in its laser-focus on the theme of loneliness present within the Batman mythos. Shortly after the first scene concludes, the movie makes its mission statement in the form of a montage of the Dark Knight’s attempts to enjoy his spacious mansion property. Against an almost antangonizing silence, we watch Batman fumble with TV inputs and microwave his beloved lobster thermidor. The directors want us to feel the real loneliness behind Batman, and for the most part, they succeed.
As the movie progresses, we are introduced to the rest of the cast: the headstrong chief of police Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who would like nothing more than for the police force to work with Batman, and the orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whom Batman inadvertently adopts. The relationship between Batman and Grayson, a.k.a. Robin, is the main arc of the film, as Batman progresses from using Grayson as a disposable minion to actually seeing him as a son.
The underscoring of the relationship between Batman and Robin comes across as a deliberate refutation of the interpretation we’ve seen in recent movies, in which Batman’s lone-wolf nature is suggested to be the source of his strength. This ends up being the biggest reason that Lego Batman’s message— you can’t do everything by yourself— comes across as insightful despite its familiarity. The idea is that Batman’s darkness is a weakness, not a strength. Hollywood of late has forgotten Robin and the result is we have an edgy, modern Batman who is a loner and doesn’t need other people. In a sense, Lego Batman’s caped crusader— one that can work with and love others— is the strongest version of Batman we’ve seen in 21st century cinema.
However even with the emphasis on Batman’s character growth, The Lego Batman Movie is first and foremost billed as a comedy. And it’s not as strong here. In hindsight, The Lego Movie’s biggest strength was its freedom to pursue an almost absurdist sense of humor— whether it was Abraham Lincoln flying off in a rocket powered version of his memorial or Batman playing second fiddle to an average-joe protagonist.
In contrast Lego Batman feels like it has been forced to rely on finding humor in its cast, but there isn’t quite enough there. Batman, especially at the start, has the attitude of a child and a headstrong attitude that tends to put him in strange places. Robin is overeager and maybe shares too much. And… that’s it. It would be an exaggeration to say that jokes based on those character traits comprise the entirety of the film’s comedic endeavors, but at times it feels that way, as the writers return to drink from that well again and again. That’s not to say The Lego Batman Movie isn’t funny, it really is. Though the jokes can seem repetitive at times they are delivered with a level of polish that makes it hard not to laugh along. If anything Lego Batman swapped strengths with The Lego Movie— it’s not quite as funny but has a story that rolls along at a steady pace, whereas Lego Movie’s plot didn’t quite click together until the final moments.
Both movies are brilliant in their own ways, though in the race to be remembered a decade from now Lego Batman is (fittingly) much more of a dark horse than Lego Movie. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. The Lego Batman Movie is not the Batman movie America expected, but (now more than ever) it’s the Batman movie it needs.