Reel Talk

The Lego Batman Movie and the Importance of Robin

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I talk about Batman a whole lot on this site, and I probably have far too many opinions about a fictional man who dresses like a bat and punches mentally challenged people. But it’s not like I’m alone. Everyone loves Batman, and luckily there’s a version of the character for everyone. Unfortunately most of the interpretations of Batman that have been in pop culture for the last decade have not exactly been my type of Batman. But I guess that’s what people like now, so I just have to deal with a pseudo-fascist Batman that’s full of hate. That is until a few years ago when I went to check out what seemed like one of the most absurd movie ideas I’d ever heard of. The Lego Movie. There’s really no reason that that movie shouldn’t have just been a soulless cash-grab, but somehow it became an immensely funny and shockingly poignant movie that really clicked with me. And one of the breakout performances of that movie was Will Arnett’s over-the-top ridiculous portrayal of Batman. It was seemingly universally loved, and it was only a matter of time that they gave this Lego Batman his own spin-off. So I was always going to be down with this film. But then details started coming out about it, showing what direction they were going with it, and I started to get really excited. And let me tell you, this movie exceeded those expectations.

The movie takes place fully entrenched in the world of Batman, not really serving as a sequel to the Lego Movie by featuring the multiple worlds established in that one. We really just stick in Gotham City, and the Lego version of the DC universe. And things are very Batmany. We start off with an army of all of Batman’s villains (and they get some deep cuts) hijacking a plane full of explosives, and preparing to hold the city ransom by threatening to blow up a nuclear power plant. This of course does not come to fruition when Batman arrives and promptly beats them all, leading to a showdown with the Joker where Batman tells him that he means nothing to him. This turns out to have been a bad call, because this really sticks with the Joker, who decides he needs to do something big and crazy to show Batman that he’s his archnemesis, and the greatest villain of all time. Which is right when the Joker sees an interview with Superman, who is talking about how great the Phantom Zone is, and how many incredibly powerful villains he has locked up in there. So now the Joker has a new idea.

Meanwhile, Batman is living his life, trying his hardest to be sullen and alone, and never Bruce Wayne, when he’s invited to the retirement party for Commissioner Gordon. Bruce goes, and meets a young orphan named Dick Grayson that he accidentally adopts while fawning over the new commissioner, Barbara Gordon. The party is cut short though when Joker and all the villains arrive, and promptly surrender. They’re all sent to prison, and Batman realizes that without villains his life has no meaning. So he starts fixating on them, and decides that prison isn’t good enough for the Joker, and ends up being gaslit into thinking that he should send the Joker to the Phantom Zone. So Batman heads to the Fortress of Solitude, with the newly created Robin, and they steal a weapon that will send people to the Phantom Zone. The Dynamic Duo then go back to Gotham, and zap Joker straight into success. Joker enters the Phantom Zone, and recruits an eclectic group of villains, such as King Kong, some Gremlins, Daleks, Voldemort, and Sauron. They then free themselves from the Phantom Zone and begin destroying Gotham City. Which requires Batman to face his greatest fear, and depend on others. He, Robin, Barbara, and Alfred head into Gotham, and fight wave after wave of villains, eventually being joined by Batman’s whole Rogue’s Gallery. And, in the end they all come together and help save Gotham City, and Batman learns that depending on people is a strength, not a weakness.

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This movie is a whole lot of fun. It has a very similar sense of absurdist humor that the Lego Movie had, just with an extra dose of Batman goodness. Because this movie really gets Batman. It’s full to the brim with amazing references and moments that show that the creators of this movie are huge fans of the character, in all his iterations. I mean, the Two-Face in this movie is Billy Dee Williams and there’s a scene where Bat-Shark Repellent comes into play. Hell, they even mention some of the old serial adventures from the 1940s. This was a movie that took the vast world of Batman, and lovingly embraced all of it. It lovingly mocked the characters weaker points, and fully embraced the delightful weirdness that the character has had over his 75 plus years of existence. It was also a movie that was clearly not half-assed. This wasn’t pumped out to capitalize on the success of the Lego Movie. It was well-crafted and animated, featured some truly clever writing, and a ridiculously great cast. Seriously, go check out that cast-list and appreciate how genius almost every pick for the villains are. And most of them barely said more than one word, but were completely memorable. We got a high-flying and crazy Batman adventure story really unlike any that we’ve gotten lately. This wasn’t a movie that was striving for realism, or “maturity.” It was just a really fun Batman story that ends with Batman and his villains finding common ground and not trying to kill each other. And we don’t get too many of those these days.

Plus, at it’s heart, this movie examined one of the most important aspects of Batman, that so often gets overlooked in modern pop culture. The importance of the Bat Family, and Robin in particular. Batman didn’t exist for very long before Robin showed up, but it really was a formative addition to his character. A Batman without a Robin, and therefore without the larger Bat Family, is not a particularly pleasant character. Without the stabilizing force of Robin, Batman is usually completely focused on vengeance. He becomes a vigilante, not a hero. A solo Batman is more violent and mean spirited. Which seems to be what a lot of people like nowadays. But when you add Robin, or really any of the other Bat Family members, into the mix, there’s a profound change in the character. Batman goes from being a stoic crusader to a mentor and father-figure. The blood-lust gets taped down and he grows a conscience. And that’s where we get the Batman that I love. The beginning of the movie featured a cartoonish Batman who loved being alone, unattached, full of anger and who most loved beating up bad guys. Which is basically the guy that we’ve been getting in movies for the past decade. But this movie showed that that Batman is unsustainable. That Batman isn’t a good guy. That’s a Batman who has more in common with his villains than the police, and who would probably brand people. But by the end of this movie we have a Batman who realizes that there’s more to life than hate, and he becomes a better person for it. Which is kind of exactly what we need right now.

The Lego Batman Movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington, was directed by Chris McKay, and was released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2017.

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