Blake HowardComment

Why “The Lego Batman Movie” gives you permission to laugh and cry with your obsession with Batman.

Blake HowardComment
Why “The Lego Batman Movie” gives you permission to laugh and cry with your obsession with Batman.

As Edward Norton’s Narrator from “Fight Club” is being embraced by Meatloaf’s Robert “Bob” Paulson, a sufferer of testicular cancer with ‘bitch tits,’ the voice over says following: “And that was where I fit...between those huge sweating tits that hung enormous…” That masculine and yet tender bosom is what it feels like when you’re an ultra Batman fan watching “The Lego Batman Movie.”  

When that perfect mixture of nostalgia and sophisticated silliness that was “The Lego Movie” graced the screens in 2014, the brand’s omnipresence made it possible for a smack down of movie titles and properties to converge in ways that hadn’t really been possible in any studio endorsed property to date; Lego is (nearly) all encompassing. The breakout star of the film though was Will Arnett’s completely overconfident, mixed-tape making over the top incarnation of the Dark Knight. Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Batman stole the show with self-effacing and Meta version of the character who is even accompanied by metal tunes with lyrics like "Darkness! No parents." This film is connected in lead character, and access to the myriad of Lego/Warner Bros. brands; but that's about it. 

When Batman saves the day again in the action packed opening of “The Lego Batman Movie,” he foils yet another Joker (Zack Galifianakis) master plan. Instead of the Joker being heartbroken with the failure of his scheme, he’s heartbroken when Batman refuses to acknowledge that he’s his number one nemesis. Using Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retirement and baton pass to the new Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) the Joker literally gift wraps the criminal fraternity for imprisonment in Arkham Asylum, ending the need for the vigilante in black. Batman smells a rat; he decides that there’s only one place for the Joker, Superman’s prison for Zod ‘The Phantom Zone’. But he's interrupted when an orphan that Bruce Wayne forgot that he adopted, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) begins buzzing around Wayne Manor. 

The danger with adapting the Batman from “The Lego Movie” into his own feature length film is that there’s a huge (and likely) risk that the film was going to suffer the same fate as “Machete” and “Hobo with a Shotgun” and take that morsel of unforgettable magic and stretch it into a distended mess by the end of 90 odd minutes. The team of writers Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay and story), Chris McKenna (“Community/ “American Dad,” Eric Sommers (“American Dad”/“Spiderman: Homecoming,” Jared Stern “Wreck-It Ralph” / “The Watch”, John Whittington (“When We First Met”) use their collective minds to run a drag net through the history of the Batman and create a rich and funny vision of Gotham's hero that absolutely overcomes any calls of a one joke pony. They do a beautiful job of integrating and enriching their character by acknowledging everything that's come before.

It reminded me of a great interview on the ‘Fatman on Batman’ podcast filmmaker and host Kevin Smith. He interviewed one of the seminal Batman writers in the comic books (perhaps the most beloved all time) Grant Morrison. Morrison spoke about his approach to the character in similar terms: 

“The best way to do Batman that [had never] been done is to accept every single year as one guy’s biography. […] Batman from 1938 who’s out there with guns in his hand and he’s fighting vampires and crooks, I thought, well, imagine that’s Batman at 20, you know. And then he meets this kid when he’s 21, the kid’s this little working class circus kid who’s totally cocky. And this introverted young Norman Bates Batman is suddenly thinking, ‘Wait a minute. This is the kid that died in me. This is everything I wanted to be.’ And the two become friends, and it’s not creepy. It’s like, “He’s my best friend and brother and everything I wish I could be.” And the kid’s looking at him like, “He’s everything I wish I could be ... That’s where I started with Batman at the peak, the optimum Batman who just thinks ‘all of this is me,’ you the camp everything. Once I was funny. Once I was Sexy. Once I was weird. But now I’m this, I’m all of them.”

The filmmakers behind “The Lego Batman Movie” have absolutely embraced the past live action cinematic and T.V versions of the character as sign posts in Batman’s past. In fact these moments form an argument that something needs to change and bring a new dynamic for what had become a singular interpretation of the character. Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) does a beautiful job in a lightning montage of pointing out the repetitions we've seen of the character. Christopher Nolan's interpretation of the Batman has been so culturally pervasive that for some, it's that brooding hyper real version of Batman or bust. The writers have acknowledged and refused the Nolan mythology that Batman's villains "complete" the character, as Ledger's Joker taunted in "The Dark Knight." You'll learn to stop worrying about the threat of pure camp Batman and just love this movie. 

The talent of the writers is absorbing the character's history without being a slave to adhere each versions rules. The jokes even start in pre credits sequence where Arnett's gravelly tones remind us that all serious movies begin with a black screen. It's the perfect tone setter for this version of Batman to refuse to let his awesomeness wait until the story begins. This douchebag of a Batman is completely oblivious to how his inflated opinion of his awesomeness is received from those meant to be his friends. There's a scene where Batman stumbles into the Fortress of Solitude expecting a sour Man of Steel and instead finds a Justice League party where his invite must have been lost in the mail. The only real test for "The Lego Batman Movie" is one of endurance. 

The strokes of genius in the voice casting are in the chemistry of the pairings. Will Arnett is absolutely special as the most self-congratulatory Batman yet. He's as at home shooting DC merchandise into huge crowds of onlookers as he is swanning about in Hugh Hefner robes watching Rom-Coms. He's able to operate totally immersed in the brick cowl in autonomy until he's joined by Michael Cera as Dick/Robin. Cera's Robin is a fountain of joy thats usually reserved for a golden Labrador puppy. Watching Bruce (Arnett) mock him for his unfortunate nicknames, or Dick (Cera) proclaiming that Batman lives below Bruce Wayne without any hint of understanding that they may be the same guy will have you in stitches. Both guys deliver vocal performances that disguise the real comedic talents they are in real life. Galifianakis, and other fleeting appearances from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are fantastic because we become so anchored to the performer behind the voice that you find yourself cackling at a Joker as desperate as Zack's desperate and bumbling as Alan from "The Hangover" or a Superman and Green Lantern as Channing and Jonah was in cosplay in "21 Jump Street." 

Director Chris McKay, a “Robot Chicken” alumni could not be more perfect to mix humour, parody and yet undying love for the characters that he’s playing this Lego sandbox. Not only is this an epic interpretation of a sunnier Gotham City, the movie loves the fantasy every Lego kid (or action figure kid) could do by creating a suitably unbelievable villain team up of characters so incongruous to Batman that it just works on every level. 

“The Lego Batman Movie” is a kid friendly DC answer to “Deadpool.” It stares down the barrel enough with the audience bludgeoned by serious comic book films and gives them permission to laugh right in their face. Kids are going to love it for silly now and love it for the satire later. If they love Batman, it pokes fun at the character in a way that only people who LOVE Batman can. Finally in the same seminal interview with Grant Morrison in the ‘Fatman on Batman’ podcast he discusses his observation of a pivotal moment in the Batman mythos. In Frank Miller’s “Year One” Batman is laying down dying after his first turn as a vigilante and rings the bell for his butler Alfred. Morrison observed: “That’s the moment Batman asks for help and that’s the moment that Batman’s created. The moment he became Batman he asked for help” "The Lego Batman Movie" says Joel Schumacher and bat nipples be damned and relishes an overt overdue formation of an enduring crime fighting family.