I Work Alone
The Lego Batman Movie
Arguably BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. is not a funny character. There are bright and happy characters in the DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. repertoire -- SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes., ShazamOnce known as "Captain Marvel", this superhero (created by Fawcett Comics before they were bought by DC) has seen many changes to his story over the years. One thing has remained the same: his awesome, god-like powers. - but Batman is most assuredly the dark and brooding hero of the group. Most times, when the character is forced to be lighter and happier he becomes weird and goofy (such as with Batman '66). That's not to say the character can't work in a comedic setting, just that it takes a lot to make the tone work right.
For better and for worse, The Lego Batman Movie is a comedy starring Batman. More specifically it stars the Batman previously seen in The Lego Movie. This is a singular interpretation of the character straight from that previous film, and while the character (and the world) does reference the wider DC universe continuity, it plays hard (and fast) by it's own Lego rules. For fans of the caped crusader you'll both get a lot of love thrown at Batman and his rogues gallery while also feeling like this film doesn't really know what to do with the character of Batman at all. It's odd, to say the least.
In the film, Batman (Will Arnett) has just come off one of his biggest saves in Gotham's history, stopping a whole crew of his rogues, led by JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled., from detonating a bomb at the city's power grid that would have blown a hole straight through the table holding their city, which (had it succeeded), would have sent the city crashing to the floor of the rec room, killing everyone (seriously, this is a very Lego movie). After that win, Batman goes home to eat Lobster Thermidor, brood around his house, and be alone. Just the way he likes it. However, his butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), feels like Master Bruce really needs to get out, to find a family to replace the one that he lost all those years ago. Bruce is uninterested in that.
However, fate has a way of pushing everyone, including Gotham's greatest hero. At a charity function for the town's orphanage, Bruce absentmindedly adopts a young ragamuffin, Dick Greyson (Michael Cera), all while checking out the city's new commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). When the whole rogue's gallery attacks the charity auction, Bruce becomes Batman and attempts fighting his villains... except they all give up, on the spot, ready to be turned in to Arkham Asylum. Joker is up to something, and Batman can't trust him, so the Bat decides to steal the Phantom Zone projector from Superman so he can send the Clown Prince into this scary mid-dimension. That is, however, exactly what Joker wants because, once there, he teams up with the greatest collection of evil the city has ever seen, all with the goal of proving Joker is Batman's greatest villain ever.
I gotta be honest, if there's anything holding this movie back it's the main storyline. Joker outmaneuvering Batman is great, that's how the villain should work. But the film motivates him by this need to prove he's Batman's biggest foe. Batman doesn't want to acknowledge it (because he's an overgrown man-baby), but this is really all Joker wants. For a character that is supposed to be one side of a coin shared with Batman (which the film even acknowledges), this is a storyline that reduces him down to, basically, a jilted lover.
It's funny, sure, playing these two like romantic partners (just with the romance swapped out for pure, unbridled hate). But at the same time, it does lead to some really awful character moments. Joker whines, he cries, and begs for Batman's attention. He, in essence, doesn't act like the Joker. And then, when Batman finally does say, "Joke, I hate you," Joker is willing to throw his plan out the window and work to save Gotham. That is not Joker, in any version, anywhere. The film goes for the "super happy ending" and absolutely bombs the landing.
But then, while Joker doesn't act like Joker, Batman doesn't act like Batman. The character can be presented in a variety of ways, and most of the time I wouldn't say those interpretations were wrong. Hell, the Adam West Batman is goofy and absolutely meant for kids, but even that Batman (in context) feels more like the superhero we know than whatever shtick this film comes up with. This Batman writes his own theme music, has a colorful collection of alternate suits, and otherwise acts like a spoiled little brat endlessly.
Again, I get why the film (and The Lego Movie before it) went with this version of the character. In concept it's funny to take the idea of a man, who as a boy watched his parents get killed right in front of him only to grow up alone and rich all to eventually become a hero that hunts the night, and then say, "you know, this would lead to a stunted, spoiled, infant of a man." I get it. But that's the idea in theory. In practice it just leads to an obnoxious character you absolutely hate watching. He wasn't the comic relief in The Lego Movie and it worked okay there. Building him out into his own film, though, just stretches the thin sketch of the character out to annoying lengths.
So that's the two main characters of the film taken out by bad concepts. Thankfully the rest of the film, and all the characters around them, are almost good enough to carry the film despite this. The film is absolutely in love with Batman's world so beyond Alfred and Dick and Barbara showing up here there are dozens, nay hundreds of fun cameo characters. We get CatwomanOnce a thief (but a pretty damn good one) and rogue of the Bat-man, Catwoman went from villain to anti-hero as she found love with the man that once pursued her., Riddler, Poison Ivy, Calendar Man, Kite Man, Condiment King, and so many more. And that's to say nothing of all the characters pulled in from outside, WB continuity (like Godzilla, Voldemort, the Eye of Sauron, and more). The film loves to play in the continuity and do a ton of dumb, hilarious shit with it. That part works so very well.
And the film is stylish as hell. It carries through that same, lived in quality that was present in The Lego Movie. Every Lego brick is detailed, every seam and line and scratch and scuff. These look like little plastic pieces that have been played with, but then used to build out the characters and sets for an entire living world. It's an impressive feat, and it makes you forget you're watching something designed on computers, that these aren't real Lego sets. The production design, in short, is phenomenal.
I didn't dislike The Lego Batman Movie in the same way I disliked The Lego Movie (although that one didn't thrill me either). I still didn't get into it and that's all because of the main characters. This is a film built as a loving tribute to all of Batman's past continuity and it just couldn't nail the two most essential characters at the core. While it did interesting parodies of both, Batman and Joker stray too far from who they need to be to really work. They're a couple of maladjusted man-children and while that works to keep them both a shared part of their own dynamic, I don't want to watch either of them. And when you main characters fail, do you really even have much of a movie at all?