I cried watching something called The Lego Batman Movie. What a time to be alive.
The Lego Movie was one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever experienced in the cinema. Going in expecting what – at best – was probably going to be a generic and moderately entertaining family film or – at worst – a pandering cash-in that exemplifies the worst in the standard loud-and-shallow qualities of American animation. However, it ended up being an absolute masterpiece that was not just hysterical, but layered, complex, and thoughtful in its storytelling in ways that I think puts it among some of the all-time greats. And because it was such a success, we now have our first (among many planned) follow-ups, a spin-off revolving the audience favorite from the film, which of course means Batman, because who else, really?
Brought to us by director, Chris McKay (his feature-length debut), and a whopping five screenwriters, the film involves Batman (Will Arnett) being forced to confront his greatest fear – not snake-clowns, but being a part of a family – when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) unleashes a number of villains across Gotham City. He has to enlist the help of the new Commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and his adopted son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), in order to save the city, yet again.
To say that the film isn’t quite as amazing as The Lego Movie shouldn’t say all that much. After all, not a lot of movies are. However, that doesn’t stop The Lego Batman Movie from being a damn great time that still manages to throw some nice surprises along the way. Just simply as a comedy, this is setting a high bar for every other comedy this year. It utilizes the same rapid fire method of joke telling, that along with the constant background gags, minor touches, offhand references, makes it an embarrassment of riches. A lot of the jokes work on multiple layers, often integrating Batman’s history, current cultural context, deep rooted character complexities into the surface level absurdity. It’s astonishing just how much many layers you can peel back from every gag, and have it still be funny for various other reasons.
It also becomes very clear early on that the filmmakers are fans of the material, and thankfully, it’s not in a bad way. The thematic underpinning of the entire story is about surrogate families, and the value they bring, especially if you don’t really have a family of your own. It does this by thoroughly deconstructing the Batman mythos with an incredible amount of detail, as well as nuance. And it’s not just brought by pulling some of the most ridiculous and absurd members of Batman’s rogues gallery, but by centering the story on Batman’s ego and how his self-absorbed nature is constantly getting in the way of him to move on. In a way, it’s a film about reconnecting after trauma, of self-punishment, and the impact of not confronting your inability to self-reflect on both yourself, as well as those around you. And yeah, there was a moment in the third act where Batman has a monologue and it reduced me to tears.
If this feels short, it’s just because there’s not a whole lot to say. The film works because it’s simply effortlessly and consistently entertaining, and emotionally sincere. It may lack the profundity of The Lego Movie, but that doesn’t really matter, all things considered. If anything, the only real problem is that the “Lego” aspect of it isn’t really explored more, it seems to follow all the same rules that The Lego Movie set up, but it doesn’t “go out” of that world (being vague in case you haven’t seen The Lego Movie), and it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But again, the thought won’t even register as you’re watching. It’s such a joyous experience and it’s one of those films that will offer something new and different for you to notice every time you you watch it. The animation is jaw-dropping, and the voice cast is flawless. Even as a very slight step down from The Lego Movie, it’s still several notches above most animated films you’ll probably see this year.
Also, take notes, Deadpool. This is how you do self-aware satire.