It’s been an especially busy time for The Dark Knight. Whether splitting the bill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), dropping a cameo in Suicide Squad (2016), growing up on TV’s Gotham, or spearheading the Justice League later this year, it’s safe to say we’ve all become experts in the show business of Batman. He’s the biggest superhero brand in the world, and given his rich history of films over the last six decades, one that shows no signs of slowing down.
Which brings us to The LEGO Batman Movie. The colorful spinoff to 2014’s The LEGO Movie was all but disregarded by superhero fans heading into release; especially with the buzz surrounding Ben Affleck’s DCEU version. And yet, by some confounding twist, LEGO Batman (now in theaters) is poised to outperform its live action counterpart in both critical and fanboy acclaim. It currently sits in the low 90% range on Rotten Tomatoes, while many have dubbed it the best Batman film since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008).
Given all this positive outpouring, we decided to asses how this kids movie captured all that we know and love about the character, and why he’s the Batman we didn’t know we needed. Beware of spoilers!
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Ways LEGO Batman Is The Batman Movie We Deserve.
15. The Batman-Joker Relationship
There is no Batman without the Joker, and vice versa. They are the yin and yang of comic book culture; the ultimate case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. When Heath Ledger’s Joker said they seemed “destined to do this forever” in The Dark Knight, it was chilling affirmation that Batman was but a nudge from becoming his own worst enemy. Lots of heady, mentally damaging stuff to deal with here.
And though it’s a movie intended for kids, LEGO Batman does a great job honoring this relationship. The driving plot point is that Joker (Zach Galifianakis) wants to be seen as Batman’s one true foe, and it is in the rejection of this title that he goes about planning the film’s evil scheme. Its treated humorously, almost as though the two were bickering lovers, but the dichotomy of both men’s motivations are true to the characters: Batman the consummate loner, and Joker always trying to compare their likeness. They are at their most compelling when pitted against each other. It’s a key ingredient of every great Batman story, and this movie gets it very right.
Batgirl has had a rough history onscreen. She debuted at the tail end of Batman in the 1960s, and made so little of an impression her planned spinoff was never aired. She appeared again in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997), where a miscast Alicia Silverstone did manage to make an impression– a very, very bad one. To date, Batgirl’s finest appearance has been in 2016’s The Killing Joke, but even then, her prologue was criticized for its sexist undertones and overall objectification of the character.
LEGO Batman‘s version of Batgirl has made the right changes. No longer the useless schoolgirl or the sacrificial lamb, this Barbara Gordon is sharp, brave, and just as capable of fighting crime as her Bat-boss. Rosario Dawson brings a spitfire vocal charge to the character, asking questions we never thought to ponder (“If you call me Batgirl can I call you Batboy?“) while leading the legal charge as Gotham’s new commissioner. The movie makes her formidable and helpful in equal measure. By comparison, Batman & Robin‘s Batgirl couldn’t even manage to fake a British accent!
13. Coherent Storytelling
The story to LEGO Batman is predictably silly: Joker gathers up every villain he can find (DC or otherwise) for a large scale assault on Gotham, while Batman joins forces with Robin and Batgirl to stop them. That’s it. Working off the pretense that it be enjoyable for both kids and parents, it’s a very simple approach. But in the wake of the complex, multi-strand mysteries that made up Batman v Superman, it’s one that provides some much desired clarity.
Zack Snyder’s divisive blockbuster got a little too confusing for its own good, with flash-forwards, visions, dream sequences that supposedly weren’t dream sequences, and an investigation that turned out to be a red herring. Combine this with multiple edits of the film, some of which made more sense than others, and it’s understandable as to why things got so out of hand. With LEGO Batman, the filmmakers took nearly the same amount of characters (more on that later) and fitted them with a story that was straightforward and fun. In this particular case, less is definitely more.
12. The Theme Song
No hero has more iconic songs than Batman. From the 60s original to Danny Elfman’s genre defining score in 1989, it’s become clear that the Dark Knight is only as good as his theme. The same goes for The LEGO Movie, which crawled into our collective ears in 2014 with the infectious single “Everything Is Awesome!!” Now, with the pressure of delivering on both brand legacies, Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump gives us “Who’s the (Bat)Man,” and like it’s predecessor, it’s pretty awesome.
With callbacks to the original Batman theme, the song throws in screamo-inspired vocals and screeching guitar solos that match the film’s manic energy. The lyrics consist of one outrageous humblebrag after another, with lines like “You think my muscles are big? You haven’t seen my brain,” and “Ladies, it’s okay if you stare, cuse I’m a billionaire!” All the while, Bats levels his opponents with the vanity license plate “Battitude.” It’s narcissistic, ridiculous, and completely catchy.
11. Easter Eggs That Don’t Distract
Easter Eggs can be a blessing and a curse. If applied well, they can enrich the world of a film or TV series and add to the overall story. Applied poorly, they can come off like pandering attempts to cling to a die-hard fanbase. The LEGO Batman Movie lands triumphantly in the former category, offering a smorgasbord of references that whizz by so fast they mine as well be the “Bam!” and “Pow!” that result from Batman’s punches or the assembly line that stores all his iconic costumes (with designs from Batman ’66, Batman ’89, and Batman Beyond).
Director Chris McKay and his army of screenwriters Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Eric Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington are unapologetic in their Batman fandom, and the sly nods they include in the film are proof. From shouting out the infamous Shark Repellant Spray to giving fans a brief glimpse of the Nightwing suit, LEGO Batman takes the same kitchen sink approach that made The LEGO Movie such a delight, while being able to explore a single character’s mythology.
Check out our full list of Easter Eggs here.
10. It Pays Tribute to Batman Lore
Perhaps the most ingenious idea that The LEGO Batman Movie brings to the table is in making Batman aware of his past– his movie past. This version of the character not only remembers his tragic origin, but that time when he danced The Batusi in 1966, donned a suit with nipples in 1997, and was broken by Bane in 2012. One exchange even leads to Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) listing the years of every major movie release as the times in which Batman was at his most troubled. “I have aged phenomenally,” he chimes in, providing a blend of homage and self-mockery that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Deadpool flick.
Beneath all the humor, however, is a rich understanding of Batman lore. McKay structures the film as an encyclopedia for Dark Knight nerds, slyly working in material from the franchise (“what about that time with the two boats?” “What about that time with Prince music and the parade?”), the TV series, and even the original 1943 serial. What makes all this work is the wonderfully inclusive tone that the film creates– LEGO Batman celebrates what fans love about the character and pokes fun at the things they don’t. It’s all welcome here.
9. It Addresses The DCEU Issues
In terms of tone, LEGO Batman and DC Extended Universe Batman are worlds apart. The latter has had a divisive effect on fans, who debate over whether their vigilante should be a violent murderer. LEGO Batman doesn’t presume to have the answer for his live-action counterpart, but there are a few gags in The LEGO Batman Movie that poke fun at the problem(s). When Joker tries to get Batman to name him as his archenemy, Bats instead suggests that the honor might go to Superman. “Superman isn’t even a bad guy!” Joker angrily exclaims, highlighting the obvious flaw of having the two icons fight. Earlier in the film, audiences were treated to a flashback that recreates the BvS fight.
Suicide Squad gets a similar treatment, as Batman is presented with the idea of unleashing villains to help take down the Joker and his crew of villains. The Dark Knight questions (and rightfully so) why anyone would ever do something like that. Granted, the film does just that in the final act, but even then, it feels satirical in nature.
8. It Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously
Given his emotional turmoil, it’s easy for Batman to come off as a moody grouch. He is a hero predilated on being a loner, and channeling his guilt and rage into defending those that can’t defend themselves. The key to making him tolerable for fans has always been in the balance of the light and the dark. The LEGO Batman Movie wisely operates on both of levels, dispersing moments of emotion to balance out the LEGO shenanigans that this Batman gets into.
The film isn’t afraid to point out the fundamental flaws in the Batman myth– like the fact that he never keeps the streets of Gotham safe for very long, or the fact that he’s a loner who keeps taking in sidekicks. It actually embraces these shortcomings, and invites us not to critique, but to laugh along at the core silliness of a man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime. In a time when superheroes are opting for more grim material, LEGO Batman is a warm reminder that sometimes the best heroes are the ones who are in on the joke.
7. It Skips Over The Origin Story
In the pantheon of superhero origin stories, Batman reigns supreme. His tragic childhood is known by even the most casual of consumers, while his parental guilt has trickled down to everyone from Spider-Man to Hellboy. The downside to having such an iconic origin, however, is that filmmakers can’t help but shoehorn it into nearly every Batman project that gets made. Whenever a new Dark Knight is cast, it’s pretty much a tradition to have a new version of his parents’ murders included.
Unfortunately for Batman v Superman, who leaned heavily on this trope, the time for recreated origins has seemingly run its course. In an age where we get superhero reboots every few years, rehashing old material is no longer exciting nor necessary to the story. LEGO Batman takes heed of this new trend and hops right into the opener by having Batman be a cynical veteran. He’s still haunted by his dead parents, but the most we’re exposed to the actual event is a photograph in Wayne Manor. Who knew LEGOS could be so subtle?
6. Fun Justice League Cameos
While all hopes go towards this year’s Justice League being a success, their introduction in Batman v Superman was less than stellar. Barring Wonder Woman, who still had to deal with being shoehorned into the final act, JLA members Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash were given their grand unveiling through a computer screen. We suppose you could also count Flash’s urgent message to Batman, but that was more confusing than anything else. In LEGO Batman, the Justice League have equally limited screen time, yet they manage to turn it into one of the film’s standout scenes.
Here, Batman stumbles onto the 57th Anniversary party of the Justice League and chats with Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders), Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Aquaman, and an especially energetic Flash (Adam DeVine). There’s also a dizzying amount of verbal and visual gags to be found, least of which includes cameos from deep cuts heroes like Samurai, Black Vulcan, the Wonder Twins, and even Krypto the Superdog as a DJ!
5. Will Arnett’s Voice
There’s so many ways to say “I’m Batman.” There’s the hushed Michael Keaton method, the throaty Christian Bale yell, and the menacing Ben Affleck voicebox. Somehow, actor Will Arnett manages to channel each of these famous voices into a Batman that’s both authentic and amusing. He gives the character the gravitas needed to be convincing, especially when growling signature lines like “You wanna get nuts!?” or trading verbal barbs with the Joker. Arnett, a comedian best known for shows like Arrested Development (2003-) and 30 Rock (2006-13), also has the crackerjack timing to make the script’s most ludicrous lines work. Without him, the film greatly suffers.
“Vocally, physically, it would get hard,” Arnett said while discussing the recording process with Reuters, “After four hours of doing it, I’d be pretty spent.” On the bright side, the actor said the Batman voice does come in handy, especially when it comes to his children. “It allows me to drop into the Batman voice when I need to drop the hammer at home,” he told ET Online, proving that even as a LEGO, The Dark Knight is terrifying.
4. Batman’s Relationship With Robin
Robin is Batman’s red flag of silliness. Barring The Animated Series (1992-95), the boy wonder always shows up when Batman is at his most kitschy– Batman: The Movie and Batman & Robin being prime examples. What McKay does so well here is not to subvert this reputation so much as play into for the audience. Robin (Michael Cera) is a wide-eyed orphan whom Bruce Wayne adopts by mistake, only to have him suit up and begrudgingly tag along as his sidekick. “He’s not my son,” Batman tells Barbara Gordon, only to have her explain that “it’s even weirder if he’s not.”
Despite all the mockery, where the film earns Robin brownie points is in the kinship he finds with Batman. Both are orphans wounded by their loss, and despite Batman’s “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, the boy wonder actually provides Batman with a friendship he never thought he needed. He goes from treating the kid like an expendable (literally) to being overcome with how much he cares for him– even though Robin says stuff like “Tweet tweet on the street.”
3. It’s Enjoyable For Casual Fans
Though the movie has more inside jokes than a Batman trivia game, rest assured it does not ostracize casual viewers. It actually does the opposite, in that it familiarizes less known concepts and characters for easy consumption. Early on, the Joker hijacks an airplane and rattles off an array of Batman villains, from the commonly known (Riddler, Bane, Penguin, Catwoman) to the painfully obscure (Eggman, Calendar Man, The Condiment King). Instead of burying the references, McKay gets them right out in the open, and has the perplexed pilot ask if some of these are made up. Joker not only affirms their existence, but advises he Google them– something that viewers will surely do upon walking out of the theater.
Outside of the Bat-canon, the script peppers in more general punchlines, like Lobster Thermidor, Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” and a gaggle of guilty pleasure movies from the 1990s (Jerry Maguire, Serendipity). Casual moviegoers will also enjoy the opening credits, as Batman narrates –and mocks– the importance of having dramatic logos before the feature begins. As we’ve seen before, taking things way too seriously isn’t always the best plan of action.
2. It Explores The Character Flaws of Bruce Wayne
Let’s be honest, Bruce Wayne has some issues. From seeing his parents murdered in front of him to fighting crime in a batsuit, his behavior isn’t far off from your average crazy person. But while past versions have either made too little or too much of this character profile, The LEGO Batman Movie offers a healthy dose of both. There’s plenty of jokes at the expense of Bruce’s inherent loneliness, from his shallow public persona to the stifled little boy that still tries to play tough in front of Alfred.
Yet for every satirical bit, there are moment of sincere drama. The mantra that Batman works alone and doesn’t need anyone’s help is his greatest flaw, and it is only when shown the man he has become that he realizes he needs to accept his parents’ deaths and move on with his life. McKay really makes you feel for this little LEGO figure in a cowl, and the results make for one of the finest Bruce Wayne portraits ever put on screen.
1. It Has A Timely Message
In today’s troubled times, it’s important to remember the good that can come from standing together. The brooding Batman seems to stand in direct opposition to that. He is arguably the most famous loner in all of comic books, and this is a trope that gets cleverly flipped when he realizes the benefit of getting help from others. Not only does Batman accept Alfred, Robin, and Batgirl, but he also mends his relationship with the Joker, after spending the whole movie insisting they didn’t even have a relationship (or “ship” as he puts it).
In a last ditch effort to save Gotham from splitting in two, Batman reconciles with the clown prince and they (literally) band together to make peace. The gesture inspires the rest of the city as well, who do likewise and are able to put Gotham back together. It’s a heartwarming message, and one that’s to be expected from a kids movie about toys. But even for adults, it is important to be reminded of the amazing things we can do when we work together. All it took were the actions of a rich, egotistical, non-tax paying vigilante.