“I deserve this today, today I deserve it.”
“Batman is an inkblot; we see in him what we want to.” So says Glen Weldon in his informative and entertaining The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd. There is no “right way” to tell a Batman story. The character has been through so many incarnations — pulpy Shadow rip-off, square 007-style spy, campy TV character, dark, brooding realist and more — that it’s impossible to settle on just one “right” Batman.
And yet, the Caped Crusader’s often virulent do just that, unleashing message board fury when anyone dare “corrupt” their beloved Dark Knight and turn him into something comical; something jocular; something, well, fun. There’s no room for fun in the minds of many Bat-fans — they want their Batman to be a brooding anti-hero; the ultimate badass. And heaven help anyone who dares go against that grain.
Of course, having such rigid formality when it comes to a character makes said character ripe for parody. And 2014’s The Lego Movie did just that, putting a Lego Batman in a supporting role and taking the piss out of him. As voiced by Will Arnett, Lego Movie’s Batman was douche jerk; the type of brooding bro who is constantly reminding you how much he’s brooding. It was a highlight of the 2014 film, and it was only a matter of time before the character got his own spin-off film. Enter The LEGO Batman Movie.
Arnett is back, playing Batman/Bruce Wayne as a jerk who takes pride — or at least claims to take pride — in his solitude. But Batman’s independence has consequences, especially when his arch nemesis The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) grows hurt that Batman won’t admit that he needs him around. What follows is a colorful, exhausting adventure where the Joker unleashes a horde of characters from Superman’s Phantom Zone, causing a headache for Batman. On top of that, Batman accidentally finds himself the guardian of Robin (Michael Cera), a wide-eyed sidekick.
Like The Lego Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie takes what could’ve easily been a poor idea and makes the most of it. It’s hard to look at these films as little more than feature-length toy advertisements, but they’re not without their charms. There are a wealth of in-jokes at work in this film for Batman fans to obsess over, and that works to the film’s advantage. The best types of parody are those which have a genuine love and respect for the properties they’re sending up. On top of that, the deliberately jerky animation, giving the film a hint of stop-motion, is a nice touch. And many of the voice talents, particularly Arnett and Ralph Fiennes as Batman’s loyal butler Alfred, are delightful. But there are just as many that falter, like Galifianakis, who makes a rather lackluster Joker It probably doesn’t help that Mark Hamill has been providing an iconic voice for an animated Joker for over a decade, automatically dwarfing Galifianakis’ work.
LEGO Batman also suffers from the same problem that plagued The Lego Movie: it’s just too damn long. The film runs out of steam long before it reaches its conclusion, and no matter how fast-paced and color-bright it remains, a dullness sets in. A good ten to twenty minutes could easily be shaved off the film.
The LEGO Batman Movie will likely thrive at the box office. It’s tailor-made for younger audiences, who will flock to see it and then likely flock to toy stores to scoop up all the gadgets and vehicles on display. But one can’t help but wonder how those grim-dark Bat-fans of the internet will react. I’m talking about the type of fans who are still trying to defend Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because it was dark-n-gritty, and therefore did exactly what they wanted. Will these fans be able to lighten up and laugh along with the film? Or will they be furious that Batman has been reduced, again, to kid’s fodder? If Batman truly is an inkblot, audiences will get from the film what they go in ready to give it. If you’re ready to have a good time, The LEGO Batman Movie will probably do the trick. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can always watch Suicide Squad again.