Over the past few months, we've been given the gift of numerous trailers for The Lego Batman Movie. Just in case you decided to skip the year 2014, the gist of it is this: The Lego Movie was tremendously popular, partly due to the fact that it had a killer soundtrack, and also partly due to Chief Secretary of Hilarity Will Arnett's voice acting of Lego Batman. Combining "blustering idiot" with "deteriorating rock star," Arnett primed us for a spinoff movie from his first piece of dialogue. And since money exists, we're getting that spinoff.
I hope we get Lego Batman movies until we run out of computers to make them.
It also means that we're finally getting a Batman movie that's free to be, well, fun.
Now, at this point, saying that your favorite superhero is Batman is like saying that your favorite coffee is Starbucks and your favorite holiday was high-school prom. It seems almost innocent to do so. Of course he's your favorite. Considering that most mainstream superhero entertainment is focused on him, it's hard for a lot of people to have any other favorite. And when snobbish fans hear that he's your favorite, they react in the same way that the one kid who'd been to Europe before college reacted when he heard that you'd never left the Southeast. "Oh, Batman? He's okay, I guess. But have you ever had ... BOOSTER GOLD?"
And if Batman is your favorite and all you've seen are his movies, that's cool. I'm not going to invent a problem by telling you that you're a piece of shit because you're within driving distance of a theater. But people who have deemed Batman their Bat Lord and Bat Savior, like me, have often done it because of the well-kept secret that Batman kicks a lot of ass in his non-movie ventures as well. My personal favorite incarnation is Batman: The Animated Series, which did a great job of balancing gritty crime stories with bare-chested sword fights against immortal eco-terrorists.
Warner Bros. Animation
And for a lot of Batman fans, that's the allure. One minute, he's having a deep psychological battle with himself, and the next, he's punching aliens because aliens are the literal worst. He can do everything, and instead of having a tone that's dedicated to being exceptionally "grim" or "lighthearted," the tone is "Fuck yeah." That's why the movies, while sometimes really good, can often disappoint. Because these movies are either restricted by the vision of the filmmaker, the vision of the studio, or both.
Tim Burton's movies were filled with Gothic imagery and My Chemical Romance lyrics as dialogue, as most great Tim Burton movies are. The studio decided that these weren't selling enough McDonald's toys, so they got Joel Schumacher to change the mood entirely, and that mood was Jim Carrey in a skintight outfit whispering "SPANK ME!" to no one in particular.
I'm starting to think that you made the wrong choice, Warner Bros.
Christopher Nolan got sorta close with Batman Begins, but then doubled down on the crime aspects with The Dark Knight, and then doubled down on the ridiculous speeches with The Dark Knight Rises. And Batman v. Superman, which could have had the "everything goes" tone that people have looked for, is entrenched in the Warner Bros. vision of every DC movie being a sequel, prequel, and spinoff of every other DC movie. This limits the number of stories to ones that fit in with the story that every other sequel, prequel, and spinoff is telling.
The other two theatrically released movies (the 1966 Batman and the cartoon Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm) are great, but they hinge on the tone and kinds of stories that the TV series that inspired them have. And Mask Of The Phantasm was seen by about three-and-a-half people when it was originally released, despite the fact that it's the best moving Batman image that's ever lasted longer than 22 minutes.
Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
So we have The Lego Batman Movie, which, aside from featuring the same Batman as the one from The Lego Movie, isn't being forced to live up to any kind of "This is how I think Batman SHOULD be!" / "This is the Batman that people WANT!" expectations. And that's awesome.
Sure, it's an animated movie about Lego adventures. And yeah, it's a comedy. But holy shit, it features a Batman who can be distressed about having to work with others and sad about his parents, but who also fights numerous villains, pilots a ton of bat-themed vehicles, and makes quips? And while Wiz Khalifa's ode to color schemes blares obnoxiously over the trailer, it's just nice to have a Batman movie that doesn't take itself seriously, and can have a goofy rap song associated with it. I would take an entire Lil Wayne album's worth of vaguely Batman-related tracks if it means having a break from Batman being in pouty asshole mode through 100 percent of his cinematic existence. Hell, I want that album anyway now. Featuring Nicki Minaj and Pitbull. It would be in the Top 40 until I'm dead.
The villain of the movie seems to be the Joker, which is relatively unspectacular until you consider that the Joker in the comics has recently cut his own face off in order to staple it back on. And Jared Leto's approach to playing the Joker is a dick-waving blend of goofy method acting and replicating the first act of a serial killer documentary. So any kind of palate cleanser for the Joker is welcome at this point. And while Joker probably won't get as much range as Batman in this movie, or any kind of emotional arc, it's nice to get a Joker that isn't some weirdly alienating stab at relevance.
Warner Bros. Pictures
On a side note, it's also really nice to see people behind a Batman movie abstaining from making grand declarations about having intense loyalty to the Batman character. Audiences don't need to hear about someone promising to stay "true to the comics" all the time, like they're trying convince you that they're making a Batman movie about Batman, and not tricking you into a theater to look at a painting of an old shoe. In an interview, director Chris McKay basically said, "That Batman is pretty weird, huh?"
Warner Bros. Pictures
And that gives me way more faith that I'll get an engaging, funny, open Batman story than someone that goes on and on about "Well, I read these certain Batman comics and it really opened my eyes to the medium." When it takes reading comics about a character that you've already fucking agreed to make a movie about to like the idea of that character, you don't and never will give a shit about those comics.
Finally, we're being granted a Robin, who hasn't truly been in a Batman movie for 20 years. And while a lot of people treat Robin as the illegitimate third wheel who tags along on Batman's dates with justice, it's just another way that The Lego Batman Movie is allowing us to go full Batman. It's not ashamed of parts of Batman's history, like a guy deleting the drunk pictures off his Facebook before a job interview. The inclusion of an acrobatic fun orphan might make for decent jokes about not wearing pants, but it also increases the spectrum of what Batman can be. It took a Lego comedy movie about Batman to get a movie that was okay about being about Batman.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Not every Batman movie has to have the same huge, parodic approach as this one. Nor do I think that any of those past Batman movies would have actually been improved if the filmmakers had added more lasers and punchlines. They're their own stories, and those stories thrive or fail because they're good or bad stories, not because they've somehow betrayed the character of Batman. And there is no reason that general modern audiences shouldn't get the chance to see a Batman that contains the vengeful moping that he's famous for, but also manages to include his weird gadgets and comically huge ego. He's been around for 80 years, and that's as integral to his characterization as the comics that depict him as a fascist, punchy super genius.
It probably won't be put into the golden pantheon of Batman films because the title includes the word "Lego," but it's the closest that we're going to get to seeing a real Batman story on the big screen before we go back to the villainous plot of movies trying to turn Batman into the least interesting thing ever.
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