The LEGO Batman Movie

Review by Manuela Lazic

Directed by

Chris McKay

Starring

Jenny Slate Ralph Fiennes Will Arnett

Anticipation.

The LEGO Movie was fun until it became irritating.

Enjoyment.

So many great jokes!

In Retrospect.

A very silly movie that quietly does its bit in setting moral standards for young audiences.

With great jokes and a subversive moral core, this animated comedy manages to have its brick-based cake and eat it.

In 2014, The LEGO Movie unapologetically attempted to please both kids and their parents with a humanistic story filled with pop culture references and cute songs. In doing exactly what it says on the tin, The LEGO Batman Movie repeats the trick, only with even more allusions to comic books and movie culture.

What’s most surprising about the way the film sets about skewering earlier Batman movies is the precise and merciless nature with which it does so. Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) calls those films “phases”, and several iconic moments in the character’s on-screen history are recreated shot for shot. More accessible jokes also land, and the film will surely appeal to younger viewers raised on a strict diet of superhero blockbusters – before shooting at his enemies from his Batmobile, the Dark Knight (Will Arnett) instructs “computer, overcompensate” and the blast is phenomenal (though still, naturally and amusingly, comprised entirely of LEGO bricks).

But subverting tropes through meta humour comes with its own risks. In an awkward bid to poke fun at its own tendency towards excessive referencing, the film introduces an intentionally ridiculous number of villains from countless universes to help The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) fight Batman, from Voldemort to the Eye of Sauron. Not only does their presence destabilise the dynamic between the main characters, it also feels like a desperate effort to cater to a certain audience demographic. It’s a messy mix that might just end up confusing them.

Nevertheless, the story centres on Batman once again confronting his arch nemesis. This would almost certainly evoke feelings of déjà vu were it not for the truly original approach taken by writers Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. What makes this version of events seem fresh is the way it’s framed like an unrequited love-hate story. This clever narrative twist sees the Batman-Joker dynamic play out in simple rom-com terms, amusingly deconstructing the serious power struggle that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy worked so hard to build. The Joker simply needs Batman to hate him like he hates him.

Even more curious is the homoeroticism that emerges from the characters’ disdain-fuelled liaison. A slow zoom in on the Joker’s crumbling face when his long-term enemy says their relationship is one-sided emphasises his heartbreak. It’s hilarious, of course, but also somewhat poignant: this couple is vital to both the Batman universe and popular culture – not to mention the lives of so many viewers who have grown up with these characters. However deep or shallow your fondness for Batman is, the underlying tenderness of the Joker’s apparent hatred feels like a breath of fresh air after the dark, graphic, hyper-masculine representations of recent Batman films.

Even women play a key role. Not only is Gotham’s mayor a woman (Mariah Carey), but Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) is also revealed to be much more than Batman’s potential love interest. Her slow-motion introduction highlights her beauty in classic Hollywood style, but she soon demonstrates her talents as a detective, leading to her inheriting her father’s role as police commissioner. Let’s hope that any children watching will come to expect their heroines to always be fully realised characters, and will accept that their favourite heroes might just secretly love each other.

Published 7 Feb 2017

Tags: Batman Computer Animation

Anticipation.

The LEGO Movie was fun until it became irritating.

Enjoyment.

So many great jokes!

In Retrospect.

A very silly movie that quietly does its bit in setting moral standards for young audiences.

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