By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
“The LEGO Movie” was a once in a million kind of film, the perfect culmination of two talented directors, an amazing cast, a brand with the perfect amount of nostalgia and narrative possibility and a studio unafraid to let them all make something weird and extraordinary. I might be biased given that it is my favorite film of all time, but my head reels to think of the mediocre, studio mandated tie-in film that probably should have been made with the LEGO branding.
And with “The LEGO Batman Movie,” they somehow managed to make lightning strike twice, creating not only another archaic and endearing film, but something reflective and thoughtful of its source material. In many ways, I think it might be a bigger success story, taking a one joke premise in Will Arnett’s angsty, teenage Batman and figuring out how to make an entire film from just that idea.
There’s already been countless critics declaring it the “Best Batman Film Ever,” and while I don’t know if I would go there, out of the 11 feature films featuring the Caped Crusader, it easily makes the top three.
I could go on about the film’s brilliant silent comedy, or the maddening level of detail the world has, or how clear the love of Batman is, or how they somehow managed to make “Bat-Nipples” feel fresh, or how the opening fight scene turns into a musical number. But I want to focus on two key aspects of the film that elevate it to another brilliant take down of modern Batman.
The first comes with the first cinematic appearance by Robin since the 1990s (and no, I’m not counting Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The relationship between Bruce Wayne and his newly adopted son serves as the bedrock of the film’s message: Batman isn’t infinitely better when he has his family. The “Batman Family”—composed of heroes like Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing—have largely been jettisoned from the films, the dominating theory being that Batman is at his best when he is a bitter loner.
That’s the starting point of this film, Bruce having isolated himself from all relationships, still grieving the loss of his parents. His adoption of Dick Grayson is actually an accident, and he only begins spending time with him when he realizes that his new son’s acrobatic skills might come in hand for his crime-fighting schemes. This arc comes to a resolution when Batman, now teamed up with Robin, Alfred and Batgirl rushing to stop the Joker’s final plans. Surrounded on all sides by enemies, Batman tells Robin that, together, they would “punch these guys so hard, that words describing the impact are going to spontaneously materialize out of thin air,” followed by a 30-second sequence of “Pows,” “Bams” and “High Fives” hitting the screen.
This is one of those delightful film sequences that instantly put a smile on my face, but it’s also one of the most pointed takedowns of “Batman v Superman” ever made. In that film, Bruce Wayne keeps around a worn, desecrated costume of a fallen Robin to drive his anger and rage. LEGO Batman has a living Robin helping him fight crime as both of them laugh and smile the whole time. And Batman is infinitely happier, more compelling, and more enduring that way.
The second moment comes from what I’ve come to call a “Signature LEGO Moment.” Though it’s only two films in, one of the LEGO Franchise’s defining traits is being incredibly meta, constantly drawing attention to the fact that everything is made of toys and making the child’s hand very explicit. While “LEGO Batman” doesn’t have anything to the level of “The LEGO Movie” entering the human world, there are plenty of brilliant moments that remind us who is in charge of the story.
This comes to a head when circumstances find Batman sent to the Phantom Zone — a prison for especially vile villains. There, he meets a hovering LEGO block who’s tasked with evaluating the various new prisoners. When Bruce explains that he is actually a hero, the block remarks the he doesn’t really seem like a hero.
Remember, the entire story is being created by a child. Meaning that character’s assessment is the kid’s assessment. And that’s perfect.
How in the world can kids look at modern Batman, who shoots people, breaks necks, constantly growls and refuses to work with others, as a Super Hero? There’s been plenty of great critics and shut downs of modern Batman — such as the also brilliant film “Return of the Caped Crusaders” — but “LEGO Batman” uses the form of its licensed property to make the most pointed and sharp observation, looking at modern Batman from the eye of a kid.
It’s this simple concept that elevates “The LEGO Batman” from just another good film or another good Batman film, but something quietly and subtly genius.