While Batman might be known for his glum tones of black — or sometimes very, very, very, dark grey — Chris McKay's The LEGO Batman Movie throws a Dulux color chart at proceedings. Some might see the sequel to 2014's The LEGO Movie as one giant marketing ploy for the kids who head to cinemas, who will then plead their accompanying parents for the latest Condiment King LEGO toy, but the truth couldn't be more different.
As I currently scour the internet to pick up the entire collection of toys, what bubbles under the surface of multi-colored bricks, a beatboxing Will Arnett, and the chirpy tones of Ellie Kemper doing her Kimmy Schmidt schtick, is actually a film that is as much for an older Batfan audience as anyone else. #LEGOBatman not only holds up against the Caped Crusader's other live-action outings, it is possibly the most progressive #Batman movie ever, and a welcome change from homicidal maniacs and a gravelly Christian Bale.
A Gay Ol' Time
In the immortal worlds of Harry Nillson, "I can't live if living is without you," and LEGO Batman was less Batman and Robin and more Batman and Joker. The whole runtime serves as a comedic love story between Zach Galifianakis's #Joker and Arnett's titular Batman. While Galifianakis isn't as memorable as the likes of Ledger, Nicholson, or Hamill — perhaps because he was just a lump of plastic — he still made Jared Leto's Suicide Squad Joker look "pale" in comparison. What elevated The LEGO Batman Movie's Joker higher in the pack was his symbiotic relationship with Batman.
Featuring a gay subtext that wasn't at the expense of homosexuality, McKay's film served as a wonderful segue into genders for children of any age who would watch it. Obviously there was no full-on sexuality, but the fact that Batman couldn't come to terms with the fact that he "hated" Joker, played out like his own coming out story. Although not blatantly obvious, The LEGO Batman Movie could easily prompt questions about whether two men can love each other for children who asked. Sadly/differently, Batman's longtime lover Catwoman was relegated to the odd background purr, but given the way in which Batman Returns handled it, that might not be a bad thing. Bruce ogled Batgirl every now and then, but thankfully there is no blonde bimbo supermodel, Dr. Chase Meridian, or Vicki Vale hanging off his arm — shunning his playboy lifestyle for a more grounded relationship. There was only one person on Batman's mind, and that was the Joker!
Away from Matt Damon mounting Chinese landmarks, The LEGO Batman Movie is the other end of the spectrum, seemingly taking racial stereotypes and bricking them behind a wall of LEGO. An all-star cast of ethnicities include Mariah Carey as Mayor McCaskill, Héctor Elizondo as Jim Gordon, Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, and Billy Dee Williams plays the Two-Face side of Harvey Dent. Some called out Two-Face's casting as an African American as too different from his white roots in 1942. Those who did seemingly forgot that Williams actually played the character of Dent way back in 1989's Burton Batman, but failed to return for the sequels. You could call it justice that Williams finally gets his wish to play Dent after 27 years of waiting.
Thankfully, there are no whitewashing debates during The LEGO Batman Movie, and director Chris McKay himself addressed the problem that "classic" Batman faced:
“The cast of characters in Batman is a sausage-fest. It’s a bunch of white guys, for the most part.”
He openly wanted to represent a more diverse Gotham, so mission accomplished — well, whether black or white, in LEGO, technically they are all supposed to be yellow!
Going It Alone
LEGO Batman also reinvents a story that we have been reading and watching since 1939 in a way that everyone can enjoy. We all know the tragic story of Bruce Wayne: poor little rich boy left an orphan and turning to a life of vigilante justice. Having his back broken, the murder of Robin, or Barbara Gordon being crippled by Joker, the source material isn't exactly a laugh a minute, but McKay sticks on a snappy tune and lets the script do the rest. Bruce Wayne and Batman notoriously go it alone, while LEGO Batman tackles the idea of what it would be like if Batman didn't take the weight of the world on his shoulders. If the Batman and Joker bromance wasn't enough, how about a whole Batfamily? Michael Cera literally shines as the Dick Grayson era of Robin, but even that has called comparisons in costume to the Carrie Kelley era of female Robin; either way, Batman finds his own son rather than just another sidekick.
The film shows that being a woman, a child, or an old man doesn't stop you taking to the skies and battling evil. In fact, the whole film's climax is a big fuzzy hug of "let's include everyone," something that your standard Batman film would never be able to do. The candy floss coating surrounding LEGO Batman might distance itself slightly from the Dark Knight's dark roots, but it is about the only time that Batman would be able to. It managed to be camp and colorful without resorting to Adam West's dancing or Joel Schumacher's rubber nipples.
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What, Still No Wheels?
However, for all the progressive positives and wholesome fun, the film does miss a trick with the lack of Barbara Gordon's true backstory. The daughter of Jim Gordon, Barbara was famously crippled in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and remained that way for the next 23 years. Confined to a wheelchair, but still clinging to her #superhero days, Barbara became the all-seeing Oracle. Dawson's version of Gordon in The LEGO Batman Movie is a female powerhouse, but she is definitely not sporting her wheelchair.
The New 52 line rebooted the entire #DC universe in 2011, retconned most of the origin stories, and gave Barbara her legs back. Writer Gail Simone tried to brush it off as a realistic recovery but many were left outraged that two decades of Barbara Gordon were effectively flushed into Gotham's sewers. In a film that takes on many important issues, having a disabled Barbara Gordon could've been the perfect way to teach kids that not everyone in superhero movies has to be an acrobat with mad circus skills. Admittedly, the source material for The Killing Joke would be far too dark for The LEGO Batman Movie, but there are a million ways in which McKay could have told the story. There is a whole scene set in Joker's fairground, so it's not like they weren't incorporating Moore's work into the LEGO Batman universe.
Perhaps the cleverest trick of The LEGO Batman Movie though is that it keeps the harkening back to everything that came before. Instead of ignoring the cinematic world of Batman, LEGO Batman serves as an unofficial sequel to everything which came before — just don't ask us how!
Ralph Fiennes plays the aged Alfred and reminds Bruce of his run ins from 2016's Batman v Superman, through the Nolan and Burton years, and starting with the '60s series. Ironically there is no mention of #SuicideSquad, but perhaps that is a good move on #WarnerBros.'s part. The cavernous underbelly of Wayne Manor holds the Batcave and more Easter Eggs than you can throw a chocolate factory at. Every incarnation of every batsuit, every batmobile, and a smorgasbord of other vehicles that you couldn't even imagine. The LEGO Batman Movie is so full of so many layers, it is more than worth a second watch; we even get a nod to the maligned shark repellent gadget.
From those who grew up with Batman to those who are just being introduced, The LEGO Batman movie takes what Bill Finger originally created and runs with it into 2017. In an era of too many reboots and remakes, The LEGO Batman Movie is startlingly different to its predecessors, but without alienating anyone; raising ethical issues and childhood issues, but without ramming them down your throat, hats off to McKay for probably the bravest, but most enjoyable Batman film out there!
Check out the trailer for The LEGO Batman Movie, and don't forget our poll below!
What do you think of 'The LEGO Batman Movie'?
(Source: Film Journal) [Poll Image Credit: 'The LEGO Batman Movie' - Warner Bros.]