It’s hard to dislike any movie that features a Gymkata joke inside a Gremlins joke inside a The Twilight Zone joke, so yes, The LEGO Batman Movie is perfectly delightful. When a film’s biggest flaw is that there are so many jokes that you can’t keep up with them and start to feel overwhelmed by the number of Easter eggs and references flying by you (and sometimes right over your head), something has been done right. This film is an anarchic joy and a worthy successor to the subversive The LEGO Movie, the rare blockbuster that chomped down the hand that feeds it with gleeful abandon.
But here’s the thing: The LEGO Batman Movie is actually a damn good Batman movie. More than that, it’s a movie that’s all about how to be a better fan. And not just a fan of Gotham City’s homegrown billionaire vigilante – this movie is a guidebook for how to properly appreciate the characters and stories you love.
A Batman For All Seasons
The LEGO Batman Movie lays its cards on the table in the first act: every Batman story that has ever been told is canon. That means that Will Arnett’s Bruce Wayne, still just as self-serious and self-serving as he was in The LEGO Movie, once fought the Joker while he was holding two ferries hostage and wore a batsuit with rubber nipples on it and danced the Batusi in the ’60s and really hates Superman and considers him his arch-enemy. It’s a backstory comprised entirely of knowing contradictions. None of these storylines gel together and there is no way for one character, fictional or not, to actually embody nearly 80 years of cultural shifts. Like James Bond, Batman has meant something different in every decade, based entirely on the whims of the artists telling his stories and the tastes of the audiences devouring them.
And that brings us to the most magical element of The LEGO Batman Movie: it owns these contradictions. It knows that Batman isn’t just one character – he’s dozens of characters. It’s not even ashamed of the embarrassing moments – it revels in them. If time can transform a tragedy into comedy, then time can transform Batman & Robin into a fascinating component of Batman lore worth considering as a larger cultural statement rather than something that just makes you groan whenever you think about it.
The Grant Morrison Touch
While The LEGO Batman Movie has the rapid-fire pace of Airplane! and the pop culture awareness of a savvy geek with a disposable income and too much time on their hands, it also feels like the closest we’ll ever get to a Grant Morrison-inspired Batman movie. Morrison, the brilliant (and sometimes brilliantly frustrating) comic book writer behind titles like Arkham Asylum and All-Star Superman, has spent his career showcasing an intoxicating love/hate relationship with comic book superheroes. His stories pick iconic characters apart, dissect them to expose their component parts, and re-assemble them in forms both unfamiliar and all too recognizable.
But he also has a deep respect for these characters, diving deep into their past and exploring the margins of their histories to resurrect concepts and characters and ideas that have been left by the wayside over the decades, polishing them off for a modern reinvention. Nothing is off limits. If it’s been published, it has happened. It’s all fair game. It must be acknowledged.
Like Morrison’s work, The LEGO Batman Movie loves Batman. And it hates Batman. But it loves to hate Batman. Like The LEGO Batman Movie itself, that sounds like a big contradiction, but it may be the healthiest way to appreciate just about anything.
Mix Your Feelings
Does being a Batman fan mean immediately loving everything the character is in, blindly buying every single comic book and loudly defending every single movie just because you’re a fan and that’s what fans do? No, of course not. Disliking individual films from series you love, having mixed feelings on specific comic book runs, and being prepared to talk about why certain things piss you the hell off is more important than simple affection. How can you truly love something if you don’t know it inside and out? And how can you know something inside and out unless you’ve seen every single flaw and sighed at every embarrassing moment and still decided “Yeah, I still love you.”
The internet age has tried to kill the concept of mixed feelings, to reduce the world to a binary scale where things are great or terrible. On the internet, disliking Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice means that you hate Batman and hate DC superheroes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Being a fan means knowing how to roll with the punches, to accept that nothing is perfect and that being a historian of a character’s failures is just as exciting as falling in love with the character in the first place.
I have mixed feelings on Batman. Many comic book creators have mixed feelings on Batman. The LEGO Batman Movie has mixed feelings on Batman (and its treatment of him as a petulant child is acidic, on-point satire). But guys: I really, really love Batman and The LEGO Batman Movie really, really loves Batman. Sometimes, the people you love deserve to be taken down a peg or two.
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