Batman has been broodingly fighting crime in various mediums for 79 years. But even with the changes, variations, complete retcons, and whole decades that most fans choose to ignore, there still hasn’t been anything like the current saturation of The Caped Crusader in contemporary pop culture.
Since Tim Burton’s Batman, DC’s biggest hero (suck it, Superman) has become as popular on the big and small screen as he ever was in the comics that were his original home. What is made obvious with so many of these films, TV shows, games, and comics, there was even an acclaimed Batman musical starring Outlander’s Sam Heughan as Batman (and you know that guy is the action star we need right now), this character is at home on every platform and nearly every genre.
Which brings us to the excellent The Lego Batman Movie. This movie came out at a strange time for DC and Warner Bros: they were still trying to fine-tune their approach to shared universes, Ben Affleck was the current and extremely controversial Batman, and there was the small factor of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy still looming large in the collective memory.
Batman was the breakout character in the surprisingly clever and heartwarming The Lego Movie. A corporate movie to its core – it’s expressly designed to sell toys, after all – The Lego Movie worked because it had clever people behind it, in the form of directors Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller, along with their co-writers Dan and Kevin Hageman, all of whom used the typical conventions of a family adventure movie to point out the absurdity of said movies while also showing us exactly why these formulas work.
Batman stole the show – voiced by Will Arnett, he was played up to great effect as a decidedly emo superhero. The Lego Batman Movie goes a step further by investigating what makes Batman such a perennially lonely figure. In most superhero media, the hero has a group of friends and allies around him or her (but mostly him), but The Lego Batman paints this version a deep black mix of arrogance and secret, even from himself, loneliness. The movie breaks down the arrogance and solitude thanks to the affection, trust, and teamwork provided by Alfred (who finally gets to suit up, long time coming if you ask me), the adorable Dick Grayson, and Gotham’s new Police Commissioner, Barbara Gordon.
It’s a very sweet movie, with some brilliant gags: I particularly love the reversal of Barbara always sneaking up on Batman instead of the other way around, and some fantastic visuals lend it bonafide flair, but its real achievement is how it proves that with the right people and story, Batman can work in any genre.
There is a lot about this movie that’s reverential to these characters, The Joker’s arc is about not only joining the ranks of great cinematic villains but also leading them, as well as proving his indispensable nature to Batman as a hero in his own right. It’s fun, but I don’t get as much joy seeing this confirmed since I believed that this was already the case the first time I heard The Joker laugh in Mark Hamill’s voice. I digress, The Lego Batman Movie basically gets Batman right, even if its approach is broader in comedic terms than the Joel Schumacher movies. Unlike those abominations, The Lego Batman Movie knows its characters and its history well enough to take the piss but still feel true to the world of Batman.
The Lego Batman Movie holds a strange place within the ranks of Batman movies. For me personally, it’s a colourful and immensely enjoyable pit stop in between the worst examples of Batman’s cinematic output. The DCEU movies had only begun to flounder, with Justice League on the horizon to sink it for good, and There is still the animated travisty of The Killing Joke to get through next week. Until then, let’s enjoy the charm of The Lego Batman Movie, what it says about the importance of family, especially the part where that family is made up of friends, and how brilliantly it toys with the very idea of Batman: going as far back as the serials and using the hindsight of Suicide Squad to roast the villains-versus-villains gambit. Until next week: IRON MAN SUCKS!
If you enjoyed this retrospective, please be sure to tune in next week for our look at The Killing Joke. You can also take a look at our other cinematic universe retrospectives, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic Park movies! And, as ever, if you enjoyed this and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Patreon.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image courtesy of Youtube)