The Lego Batman Movie

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Remember when Batman was fun? If you were born this century, probably not. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy had its moments of bravado filmmaking, but the tone was unrelentingly grim. Maybe it was the tone of the times—Batman Begins was released in 2004, during the height of post-9/11 terrorism hysteria and the grinding horror of the Iraq War—but Batman was supposed to be a grimdark mumbling head case. All memory of the 1966 Batman TV series’ campy fun was excised from the collective memory.

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This was all fine and good for the time. Every era gets the Batman it needs. But to me, the problem is all other superheroes had to be Batman, too. The most visible s victim of creeping Batmanization is Superman. The current DC film take on Superman, courtesy of Zach Snyder, is brooding and tortured. Superman is a lot of things, but he’s not depressed.

That’s why the Batman portrayed in The Lego Movie was so refreshing. He was a Batman who was a badass, of course, but his huge ego makes him a huge target for jokes. The great part about the Batman ’66 aesthetic is that it recognizes how ridiculous the Batman premise is, and revels in it. That’s the approach director Chris McKay took when he got the assignment for The Lego Batman Movie.

Produced by Lego Movie creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Lego Batman Movie is actually (gasp) fun! McKay is a veteran of Adult Swim’s “stop motion action figures cussing” show Robot Chicken, so he’s a pro at taking the piss out of overly pretentious kids characters. Voiced by Will Arnett, Lego Batman is every bit the vainglorious jerk you want him to be. He’s not so much A Batman as he is THE Batman, the character come to self-aware life, kind of like the point of view of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, only in LEGO form.

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His foe is not so much The Joker as it is his own personal shortcomings. Zach Galifanakis does yeoman’s work as The Joker, although it’s a shame that the return of Luke Skywalker put Mark Hamill out of the movie’s price range, as he played the greatest Joker of all time in the 1990s animated series. LEGO Batman must naturally take a swing at the Marvel Third Act showdown, so some meta business with the Phantom Zone releases a hoard of cross-property baddies to try to take over Gotham, including The Daleks, Voldermont, Sauron, and the Wicked Witch of the West. When the big punch-up comes, it's accompanied by onscreen "BAM!" s and "POW"s.

It would all be lightweight and completely disposable it if weren’t for the bits of stunning animation that pop up ever five minutes or so. The visual inventiveness of LEGO Batman far surpasses anything the DC franchise has produced, and only Doctor Strange comes close on the Marvel side. Maybe it’s comparing apples to oranges, but photorealism and a seeming obligation to maintain a single grim mood for the entire picture is really weighing the superhero genre down. After this film, I can’t wait for McKay to tackle LEGO Batman vs. LEGO Superman. It’s got to be better than the live action version.

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