I saw the Lego Batman Movie earlier this week, courtesy of Warner Bros. It is remarkably different to The Lego Movie that featured the character. The Lego Movie was a clever piece of analysis of the human condition, emphasising the importance of not being bound by authority, of play, of empathy and understanding. Lego Batman movie has none of these things. There is, possibly, a throwaway message about the importance of the family we make for ourselves over and above the family we are born into, but it’s pretty facile. The main question The Lego Batman Movie asks is a far more important one, namely, how cool is Batman? And the answer is very. Very cool. Though it is an answer that must be earned.
The Lego Batman Movie sees a Batman without a Robin, eating his Lobster Thermidor to the beat of a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, alone, with just the memory of his dead parents – seen in utter contrast to his Batman lifestyle, saving the city of Gotham one more time. He needs Gotham just as much as it needs him. So when Commissioner Gordon retires and is replaced by his daughter Barbara Gordon, who sees the Gotham/Batman relationship as unhealthy, it’s not going to go down well, even as Bruce Wayne becomes utterly smitten with Barbara.
But the Joker has his own relationship issues with Batman, framed as a romantic relationship from the Joker’s side but more of a one night stand for Batman. And the Joker as one who is scorned seeking revenge, and in doing so will commit the ultimate Lego sin, crossing the franchises. Because while I didn’t note any reference to The Lego Movie, the idea of mixing it up is there, as the Joker teams up with Voldemort, the Eye Of Sauron, Mr Smith from the Matrix, Gremlins, Daleks – referred to only as “British Robots – ask a geek” though they Exterminate as much as anyone else, in his attempt to prove that if he can’t have Batman, no one can.
But as well as reaching out to other properties, the whole film remains steeped in Batman lore. There must be about fifty villains from the rogue gallery who get decent scenes, from Poison Ivy to Condiment King. There are references to the comic books going back to the thirties, and the films going back to the forties. Gotham has a Bludhaven, the Joker always plans to get captured, even Suicide Squad gets a nod “what am I going to do, get a bunch of criminals to fight criminals? That’s a stupid idea” – one that will come back to haunt him. Indeed we even get a live action stab of the sixties TV show, the only live action scene in the movie as well as references to the animated series, Year One, the Dark Knight Returns, Burton, Schumacher and Nolan movies “do you remember the time with the two boats?”, this is a Batman that knows its history and, like Grant Morrison, incorporates it all, rejecting nothing, including the fact that this means Batman and the Joker have been fighting for seventy-five years and look pretty good for it.
We even get a very fine use of the rule of Chekov’s Anti-Shark Repellent Spray, the famous theatrical rule that if an anti-shark repellent spray is shown in the first act then it must be used in the third, so I am pleased to see The Lego Batman Movie sticking with established theatrical tradition.
Because, yes, The Lego Batman Movie is proper funny. From Batman narrating the opening logos and credits “All important movies start with a black screen… DC, the house that Batman built. Superman, come at me, bro” but the jokes pay off, they call back to when he narrates the ending screen as well. The final line from Eye Of Sauron is worth the ticket price alone. And sometimes all you need is a Dick joke.
And for all the facile family message, we do get great characterisation from Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred and Robin, there to save the day – and save Batman from himself. Because, yes, Batman is very cool indeed. But anyone can have a little bit of Batman inside them.
If there is anything lacking? Well, the Lego Movie had better songs. I bet you can remember Batman’s song from that film… “no parents”… etc. And The Lego Batman Movie fails on that score, only my notes remind me of the hip hop track that incorporates the refrain from the sixties TV show while reminding us that Batman doesn’t pay his taxes, flashing us comparisons with Trump as a billionaire who acts wild without thinking through the consequences.
But you don’t go and see a Batman movie for the songs. And yes, without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best Batman movie I have ever seen. And that you will see as well. But it’s so much more richer for having seen all other Batman movies, TV shows and comics as well.
Also, proof that they could have made a Deadpool-for-kids if they’d actually wanted to.
The Lego Batman Movie is released on the 10th February in the UK and the USA. Preview screenings in the UK this weekend.
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