Greg Llamas is a journalism senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
It has become popular to bash superhero movies as being lazy and predictable. Sadly, this is because these things are true: the superhero genre has become creatively bankrupt during the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a constant barrage of superhero movies that all look and feel the same.
After all, the story of most superhero movies these days is basically the same. The bad guy does something bad and the hero has to stop them from destroying a city. Maybe the hero’s origin story is thrown in. I can’t think of how many times I’ve seen that.
So it may come as a surprise that “The LEGO Batman Movie,” a film aimed toward a young audience, is one of the few superhero movies in recent years to actually make an impression on me. Compared to the likes of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which is brooding, pretentious and just flat out bad, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is lighthearted, while the central conflict still gives the movie weight.
Content with living as a lonely vigilante, Batman’s (Will Arnett) way of life is threatened when new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) proposes a joint effort between the police force and Batman to fight crime. Batman’s life is thrown even more out of sync when his longtime enemy, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), suspiciously turns himself in without a fight. Convinced that the Joker is scheming something, Batman and his accidentally-adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who later becomes Robin, set out to send the Joker to the Phantom Zone, a prison that no villain can escape from.
Batman’s personality in “The LEGO Batman Movie” is essentially the same as it is in “The LEGO Movie.” He’s as self-absorbed and vain as ever and it’s genuinely entertaining. Seeing him go back and forth with Gordon and making fun of Robin feels more real than anything we’ve gotten from a Batman movie in quite some time. This egotistical personality is a welcome break from the brooding and emotional iterations of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” Trilogy and “Batman v Superman.” Arnett’s voice in “The LEGO Batman Movie” is also a great parody of the over-the-top deep voice Batman has in those films.
Normally, I am quickly tired by a character whose main quirk is that they’re unabashedly vain; those characters are usually good for a couple laughs but fall flat and become unbearably obnoxious soon after they’re introduced. However, Batman’s egotism is compelling because it’s the driving force of the film and the main conflict.
On the surface, it may seem like the Joker’s suspicious surrender and Batman’s attempt to stop this potential threat is the whole plot of “The LEGO Batman Movie.” But as Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) mentions to him, Batman has a fear of commitment and connecting with others, which is disguised by his commitment to being a badass loner.
It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten a unique conflict in a superhero movie that isn’t “look at the damage superheroes can do” (“Batman v Superman” and “Captain America: Civil War”) or “stop the bad guy from doing the bad thing” (every superhero movie ever).
Honestly, I can’t think of a recent superhero movie where the most important conflict of the movie was internal. Part of the reason that it’s become trendy to make fun of superhero movies is because they don’t have any compelling main or side characters. Generally, the most you can expect from a superhero character is that they’re buff and beat up bad guys, with not much in terms depth. They may have a personality, like the sarcastic and witty nature of Tony Stark, but their character eventually ends the same way it starts.
It felt worthwhile to watch “The LEGO Batman Movie” because I was seeing the transformation of a character and it was written in a way that didn’t feel forced. While the climax involves Batman fighting villains in Gotham, it is superseded by Batman’s inner conflict.
Another element that helps Batman’s transformation of character is his rivalry with the Joker. Even though he hides his hatred for the Joker by saying that he doesn’t have a main enemy and likes to “fight around,” we get the sense throughout the film that Batman hates him much more than he lets on. After all, he tries to banish the Joker to a prison he should never be able to escape from. Even though he’s not the insane genius that he is in “The Dark Knight,” the Joker in “The LEGO Batman Movie” is still intelligent enough to take advantage of Batman’s egocentric personality.
While there’s much to like about “The LEGO Batman Movie,” there are times where the writers try to fit in too many LEGO versions of Warner Bros. villains. The Joker teams up with Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), King Kong (Seth Green) and the Eye of Sauron (Jemaine Clement). These types of crossovers worked better in “The LEGO Movie” than in “The LEGO Batman Movie,” since the latter takes place in a more contained universe.
“The LEGO Batman Movie,” in addition to being a welcome reprieve from predictable superhero movies, is a godsend in the face of the current state of children’s entertainment. With the likes of the Minions being popular, it’s not hard to see what’s wrong with the industry. God has clearly forsaken us, as garbage such as “Despicable Me 3” and “The Emoji Movie,” designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, will be released later this year. Thanks, “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Hopefully you’ll be able to tide me over until we get a kid’s movie that doesn’t suck.