When Batman showed up in the The Lego Movie, he came with a snarky bravado the character has never really enjoyed on the big screen. Stretched out into a full-length movie in The Lego Batman Movie, that self-serving broodiness creates one of the best iterations of Batman we’ve seen in film in a long time — a Batman who takes himself so seriously, he can’t possibly be serious.
Of course, Lego Batman may be a comedic kids’ movie, but it’s so intimate with its source material that it’s also constantly winking at the Batman fans and adults in the audience. There’s even a bit in the film where the newly appointed Commissioner (Barbara) Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) calls attention to the gentle absurdity at the core of Batman when she points out that punching poor people doesn’t really do a lot to solve to overall crime problem in Gotham City. Lego Batman has such fun with the character that it’s contagious.
Lego Batman may be a kids’ movie, but it’s also winking at the adults in the audience.
Despite being a follow-up, sort-0f-a-sequel to The Lego Movie, it’s not all straight lunacy. Lego Batman pokes fun at the most recent, most brooding iterations of the Dark Knight while also unpacking them. The life of a vigilante is awesome but empty, and Lego Batman manages a bunch of jokes about Bat Shark Repellant Spray and being selfish, as well as an emotional arc for the hero.
But first and foremost, it’s hilarious.
Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) leads a pretty sad life. After walloping the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and literally every other Batman villain ever created, he heads home to microwave some lobster thermidor, alone. He eats it on a jet ski, also alone, where he’s surrounded by all the cool Batman vehicles he could never possibly need, like a battleship and what looks like a schooner. He watches Jerry Maguire in Wayne Manor’s giant theater, and has no one to share it with.
Arnett’s Batman takes every aspect of the character as far over the top as possible, from the super-deep voice to the self-congratulations to Batman’s insistence that literally no one has ever had a good idea but him. His short-sightedness leads him to recruit Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera) as Robin, mostly because the kid is small, agile, and expendable. Lego Batman is acutely aware of the fact that Batman is not really a nice person. As heroes go, his ideas of terrorizing people before beating them up don’t really leave the world a better place. The entire movie is a joking deconstruction of Batman’s priorities, his “nobody can do it but me” attitude, and his unwillingness to trust in the better angels of other people.
If that sounds like heavy stuff, it’s a testament to how well the movie works, because it balances all these ideas with jokes that almost never stop. Everything is a gag. When police go after Joker’s horde of baddies, they excitedly shout “Non-lethal!” as they lock and load their stun guns, then shout “Pew! Pew!” as they fire them. Robin’s first two seconds in his new costume lead to him tearing his pants off to get to the leotard-like underwear-on-the-outside version. Batman’s voice-activated computer system is just an iPhone with Siri, and he insists on calling it ’Puter constantly. He takes breaks from battles to pull out his electric guitar to set the soundtrack of the fight.
The entire movie is a joking deconstruction of Batman’s priorities.
Arnett as Batman is great, but the rest of the cast keeps his character from getting stale. Cera seems extremely at ease as the incredibly earnest Robin, perfectly foiling Batman despite his idol constantly disappointing him. Dawson’s Barbara is more than Batman’s equal in cracking skulls, and Ralph Fiennes as the patient but unwavering Alfred help push him in the right direction. Galifianakis lends evil and vulnerability to the world’s most emotionally needy Joker, and even the small roles are cameos by powerhouse comedians like Eddie Izzard and Jemaine Clement.
It all comes together beautifully. Lego Batman is constantly, consistently, and smartly funny, while deftly handling its cartoony, kids’ playtime style of action. Like the original Lego Movie, it’s also full of action moments that use the Lego aesthetic brilliantly. One particularly great moment — a fight on a flying Bat-plane that also serves as the movie’s emotional climax — has a tendency to stick in the mind long after the movie is over, both because of how cool it looked and what it meant.
Funny Batman is a great Batman. After years of serious takes on the Dark Knight, each bleaker than the last, The Lego Batman Movie is a perfect antidote. It finds a way to make the Cape Crusader fresh and interesting, even 80 years on.