Chock-full of Batman lore, laugh-out-loud absurdity, and even some compelling tender moments, The Lego Batman Movie is probably better than most Batman films.
In many ways, it’s a film that’s more for parents than it is for kids. While kids will certainly have a ton of fun at the movies (my not-quite-two son squealed in delight for the first ten minutes solid), most kids won’t know what Shark Repellent is, or why Robin rips off his pants. Nor will they understand why there are sudden flashes of a weird 1960’s Batman on the screen, nor why in the middle of a fight scene, Batman says “We’ll hit them so hard words will magically appear out of thin air!”
Yeah. This is totally for the parents.
And that’s okay. There’s a sense in which it functions brilliantly with dual intentions, being a belly-laugh parody (especially in the first act), while also being a very enjoyable ride for younger kids. Along the way, it touches on issues of family, isolation, and community, although it does so with some double- meaning jokes that some Christian parents may not appreciate.
The core conflict of the plot comes after Batman reveals to the Joker that he doesn’t consider them greatest mortal enemies. Batman says, “I would say I’m fighting a lot of different enemies right now,” a statement meant to mirror the typical “I’m seeing other people right now” line. The Joker is heartbroken, and aims to ignite Batman’s jealousy as a result. Their relationship, while not intended to actually press homosexuality (it is likely winking at the ill-founded accusations of homosexual undertones in the 60s), is occasionally taken to obnoxious lengths. This comes up again when Robin, being a little slow on the uptake, believes he has two dads: Bruce Wayne and Batman.
But despite these moments (and they are few), The Lego Batman Movie, when it’s not a ludicrous and hilarious parody, is a surprisingly touching family film. The set-up for this is rather obvious. Batman insists that he works alone, resists an initiative of cooperation with the police, and when Robin enters his life, he only views him as a tool. This all comes to a head at the emotional climax of the film, when Batman is forced to acknowledge that he hasn’t always been acting like the good guy. In some cases, his behavior has been rather villainous, even cutting off his “family” to swell his pride.
When the film turns to this emotional level, it initially feels awkward and forced. But due to some solid script writing and well thought-out character development, it ends up working to the film’s benefit. The cliche theme of family and teamwork is actually very well-suited for the Batman mythos, and like The Lego Movie itself, the film has enough heart to pull it off.
The unfortunate thing is that, while the film functions well both as a parody and a Pixar-esque emotional drama, it never strikes a good balance between the two. Solid portions of the film contain too much melancholy and not enough comedy, despite the absurd nature of the world itself. It almost feels like two movies, and the studio wasn’t sure which they wanted to make it to the big screen.
That said, there’s plenty to like here. Will Arnett’s mastery of the character is delightful, as are the callbacks to the history of the franchise. And yet the film never relies on that familiarity as a crutch but brings its own touch to the story, something many mainstream live action comic book movies could learn from. While it has its irritating moments, The Lego Batman Movie is a tremendously successful comedy with a lot of great, and has great lessons for kids about isolation and the true meaning of family.