Batman was the breakout star of 2014's The Lego Movie, so it made total sense that Warner Bros. would greenlight a Bat-themed spin-off. Batman keeps raking in millions upon millions after all, and that's without making himself suitable for a child-aged audience.
Now, though, The Lego Batman Movie is here, and we get to see Will Arnett's rendition of the decades-old vigilanté for an entire film. Considering Batman was a secondary character in The Lego Movie and used pretty sparingly, Lego Batman doesn't fall into the trap of letting things get stale. This Batman may be an entitled self-righteous douche, but it doesn't fall into the trap of having him do the same douchey things over and over again. A good joke will get repeated later on, but only the once, so you certainly don't feel sick of everything before the end of the 106 minute runtime.
Lego Batman takes Batman somewhere that's never really been done before, not in films, comics, or television. Unhappy with just being a comedy, it's actually a rom-com at its very core. Well more of an anti-rom-com of sorts, because the only thing that keeps the plot moving forward is the Joker trying to prove that he and Batman both need each other. Or, more accurately, they need to fight. It's the only thing that keeps them going, which is pretty much standard Joker at this point. All he really wants is for Batman to say those three special words "I hate you".
Like a number of rom-coms, Lego Batman is also a family affair. It's another thing that doesn't get done very often with the character, even though it seems remarkably obvious. The loss of family is the turning point in Bruce Wayne's life, and it spurs him on to dedicate his life to fighting crime. With Lego Batman it also ends up as an isolating factor in Batman's life. Despite his ego, he spends much of his time alone - avoiding intimate relationships to save himself from the pain of losing people. Robin, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to be part of a family.
So despite its outward comedic overtones, Lego Batman becomes a tale of personal improvement. Batman may be at peak physical condition (with sick abs and a nine pack), but he's incredibly emotionally stunted. Over the course of the film he has to come to terms with that, and open up to the people around him - to both his friends and enemies. It's like About A Boy in a funny sort of way, but with superheroes and a killer clown.
Zach Galifianakis's rendition of the Joker is also something fairly new. Unlike past Jokers, his motivation is simply that he's a bad guy and bad guys do bad things. He's not trying to cause chaos, take over the criminal underworld, or prove a point about morality, he's a supervillain and simply acts accordingly. Despite that, the core of his character is a staple characteristic of the Joker in recent decades. He has an uncontrollable need to prove that Batman needs him, and keeps trying to one-up the Dark Knight at every turn.
This has never been much of a secret in the past, Heath Ledger's Joker stated it outright at the end of The Dark Knight and it's a staple part of the relationship between the two characters. But this Joker is certainly a lot more human and a lot less psychotic than other adaptations, despite the slightly terrifying toothy smile. This is a kids' movie, but at the same time the Joker doesn't feel as though he's been toned down. He is what he is, and that's definitely the right way to go about things.
Will Arnett's Batman hasn't really changed from his appearance in The Lego Movie, though, naturally, he does appear an awful lot more this time around. The main difference is that the extended screen time has his character fleshed out an awful lot more. You see the inherent sadness in his character, which is masked behind layers of ego and outright ridiculousness. Importantly, however, the film does a very good job of balancing these aspects. Batman is a very tragic and dark character, though there are still plenty of people who remember the ridiculous character he turned into during the silver age of comics - especially those who've seen the Adam West series.
Batman now sits in a post Dark Knight Returns/Killing Joke world, and adapted media has tended to veer towards that particular characterisation of Batman (Joel Schumacher's films being the huge exception). All darkness and brooding, with no real room to have a sense of humour or making life a bit fun. Lego Batman manages to balance all of that quite well. This Batman has his brooding moments, but he ends up expressing his angst more like a moody teenager than a man with serious personal issues.
But that's intentional, and part of why the film finds a good balance. Batman may be this dark serious character, but he inhabits a ridiculous world, one filled with villains who dress like clowns and arm themselves with condiment-shooting weapons. Even though he wouldn't like to admit it, the whole concept of Batman is ludicrous. He's a man in a Bat costume, and the only reason why he wasn't killed decades ago was because Bruce Wayne has money. Money to travel the world for the physical and mental training necessary to become the Batman, and the gadgets that give him the edge and stop him from being a buffoon in a bat costume.
Lego Batman is satire of a character that's become ever-more serious over the years, but it never descends into the realm of camp. It's ridiculous, but not in a Batman '66 kind of way. It probably helps that this Batman takes himself so seriously, even when the world around him is basically a fairround of crazy ideas. This is why I hesitate at calling this a kids' movie. Yes Lego Batman is rated U and is more than suitable for young kids, but I feel that half of what makes it special will be lost on young audiences. You can't fully appreciate just what kind of Batman Will Arnett is playing unless you're familiar with the Batmen that came before him.
It's rather impressive that a parody of this calibre has even made it to the big screen. Most of the direct parodies we see in cinemas are terrible rip-offs featuring a host of D-list actors. Anything actually good tends to be relegated to television, or makes fun of themes and tropes rather than actual characters and storylines (like Shaun of the Dead, or Airplane). Lego Batman is unique in this respect.
It's a direct spoof of the Batman mythos, one that's actually been financed and released by the people who own all the rights. Somehow Warner Bros was more than happy to let someone rip into its most bankable superhero character, rather than some low-rate filmmaker having to fall back on fair use and parody laws to create a cinematic turd. But it works. At its core Lego Batman is still a Batman story, focused on a dark brooding vigilanté that uses crime fighting to fill a void in his life. It's also an amusing take on the character that we've never really seen outside of the incoherent realm of internet memes.
When it comes down to the comparisons Lego Batman isn't as good as The Lego Movie, but thankfully not by a lot. There aren't anywhere near as many moments that make you laugh so hard you're likely to miss stuff, and the soundtrack can't really beat the upbeat nature of Everything is Awesome. But that's not really a criticism. While the comparisons are a foregone conclusion, Lego Batman is very much a stand-alone film that holds its own. It's got lots of funny moments, some sad moments, scenes of mild peril, and enough pop culture references to keep the uber-nerds occupied for weeks as they try to catalogue each one individually.
I definitely have some things to complain about with Lego Batman's final result, but being honest that just ends up like nerdy nitpicking. Like the fact that Harley Quinn doesn't have a Brooklyn accent for instance. The good far outstrips the bad, and if you like Lego, Batman, or The Lego Movie, then you're not going to be disappointed with The Lego Batman Movie. Take your kids with you when you have time. They're bound to love the inherent silliness of the film, while you will no doubt enjoy the more subtle aspects that they're completely oblivious to.
The great thing about this film is that, regardless of your opinion of superhero movies, it should bring everyone together. For the fans of the genre, Lego Batman is another great addition to a growing list of brilliant comic book adaptations. Those who are truly sick of seeing the constant wave of spandex and reboots hitting cinema screens year after year are bound to enjoy the satirical take on a genre that is often taken far too seriously - despite being full of ridiculous and absurd concepts.
After watching Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and suffering through Batman V Superman, this is exactly the Batman we need. It takes the good and the bad aspects of Batman's 75+ year history, and mixes it together without forcing anything. After decades of having the Caped Crusader adapted into other media, it's certainly the Batman we deserve to see a lot more of. Here's hoping it makes a shit-tonne of money at the box office, and forces Warner Bros. to greenlight a sequel.