Last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a disappointing reminder that two of the most iconic super heroes have been, and will continue to be, interpreted in an array of styles. While the DCEU is obviously indebted to The Dark Knight trilogy, that didn’t stop Zack Snyder from turning his Batman into an weary, cynical, massive bummer. Each director’s cinematic Batman was a shift from the last, and they are all different from the Batmen in various cartoons, TV shows, and the original comics, which have changed the character heavily since his first appearance in 1939. With that in mind, The Lego Batman Movie does its damnedest to reconnect the current idea of this character to his heritage.
Opening in the Lego version of Gotham City, we are quickly reintroduced to Lego Batman (Will Arnett reprises the role without it ever being made 100% clear if this is a sequel to The Lego Movie) who is trying to stop all of the city’s villains from detonating a giant bomb. He succeeds, but not without badly hurting the feelings of his wannabe-archenemy Joker (Zach Galifianakis), we resolves to go even bigger and better next time. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo) announces he is retiring and his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson) will be taking over as the head of the police.
Arnett’s Batman is even more of an asshole than he was in The Lego Movie, which is a bit of a surprise, given that he is the main character this time. He’s dangerous, rich, and handsome, which gives him an enormous ego and allows him to get away with treating pretty much everyone with contempt. But it’s clear that he’s actively trying to avoid making connections, that he’s putting up walls that stop even his humble butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) from getting too close. That will all have to change after he accidentally adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).
For most of the character’s existence, Batman has had a Robin. Dick Grayson first appeared in Detective Comics in 1940, about a year after the first issue with Batman. Since then, several young men and women have served as Robin, but Batman basically hasn’t existed without a sidekick – and often more than one. But the character missed the entire Dark Knight trilogy, and is already dead in the DCEU. Why is that?
The presence of Robin suggests that there is hope for Batman. Hope that one day, he can get over the grief caused by the death of his parents, the sorrow that defines and motivates him. With Robin, Batman can begin to move on, to start his own family, to make his life about something more than the endless, impossible mission of ending crime in Gotham City. Which is great, but problematic if you have a movie franchise that you don’t want to ever end.
So the main Batman movies have focused on keeping Batman isolated and angry, because that works. Fortunately, since this movie is part of the Lego franchise, not the Batman one, it has no problem dealing directly with the Batman’s conflicted relationship with his sorrow. It makes the film a surprisingly smart analyzation of both the character and the last few movies, so big kudos for that.
Mostly this is a frenetic, silly movie full of fast action and even faster jokes. It’s got a delightfully deep and inspired voice cast (Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Two-Face!) that brings life and energy to these stupid toys. Of course, the entire thing is a giant corporate commercial, absolutely jam-packed with product placement, just like the last one. But that didn’t stop me from, once again, having a better time than expected.