In the first few seconds, I saw nothing, just a frame as black as the Dark Knight’s cape.
Then LEGO Batman aka Bruce Wayne (voiced by Will Arnett) uttered his first lines in that gravelly growl ala Christian Bale. The audience tittered. By the time the opening credits rolled in, everyone’s in stitches.
I never thought that stumpy, claw-handed plastic toys with printed faces can be believable as epic heroes and villains in a Lego Gotham digital brick city about to be blasted into smithereens, complete with on-screen POWs and BAMs.
Somehow, the filmmakers got away with it, tongue-in-cheek.
They even blended in the not-so-subliminal advertising for the satirical comedy’s giant commercial interests – the Batman franchise, LEGO (and there’s even Iphone, to boot).
But it’s all so funny, I just kept on laughing till the screen whitened out in the end – so what the heck!
On hindsight, it was brave of the franchise holders to let filmmakers parody their most precious icon with such irreverence. To their credit, they allowed Batman’s pathologies to be dissected in a way I can never expect in a serious film.
They touched on the duality of personal relationships –although Lego Batman vehemently denied he does ’ships,” (short for “relationships”) when his arch protagonist, The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), confronted him.
“Batman is beloved the world over and for good reason, yet no one could really behave the way he does and get away with it, which is what we’re exploring in the movie,” director Chris McKay acknowledged.
“We knew there’s plenty of opportunities for jokes, but we wanted it to be more than all gags and sketch comedy. It had to be an absurd, action movie. But it also had to be moving, with an emotional core to these characters and a reason for people to get involved.”
“Batman’s got a great life. He’s a billionaire, handsome, strong, with great cars and gadgets and he gets to punch people in the face with no repercussions,” puts in Phil Lord, one of the producers. “The guy should be grinning from ear to ear all the time. So we thought the tension between how he feels and how he should feel was a great premise and something we wanted to poke fun at.”
The story opens with The Joker attacking Gotham with a time bomb that Batman must locate and defuse. But it’s not just mayhem The Joker craves now. After over seven decades of fighting, the Clown Prince of Crime wants the Caped Crusader to acknowledge their special hero/villain bond.
Together, The Joker contends, with his typically skewed but not entirely off-point logic, they are a symbiotic pair: the yin and yang of peacekeeping in the city, each of their careers essentially pointless without the other.
“Do you realize you’ve never once said the words ‘I hate you, Joker’?” he lamented.
Their relationship exemplifies Batman’s unwillingness to connect with people on a meaningful level
But this only prompts The Dark Knight to snarl, “You’re nothing to me. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone.”
After all these years of knocking himself out trying to prove how dangerous and crazy he is, how formidable a foe, The Joker just wants a little validation.
The Joker wants to hear Batman say that he’s the Dark Knight’s greatest enemy.
Instead, Batman says his biggest enemy is Superman.
Then the macho hero goes home alone as Bruce Wayne, retreats to his empty Bat Cave, microwaves some lobster, strums his electric guitar and whiles away the night solo in his home cinema with Jerry Maguire.
“Batman works alone. That’s my motto. Copyright Batman,” he declared.
It’s this self-imposed solitude that has always been part of the Batman legend and mystique, which Chris focused on, making it both touching and hilarious.
“Batman is so dark and brooding, so our premise was to explore that. ‘What’s this guy’s problem?’ Can he actually be happy? Can he function as a Super Hero but learn to enjoy himself and learn to work with others? Let’s force him into a situation where he has to confront these issues and see how he does.”
So, they made the hero’s butler and father figure, Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) force Batman out of the shadows and forego his “lone bat” lifestyle.
“Sir, it’s time for you to stop this unhealthy behavior. You can’t spend the rest of your life alone, dressed in black and staying up all night,” Alfred tells Bruce.
A surrogate son, Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera), pre-destined to become Robin, his ultimate sidekick, plus a love interest, Gotham’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) pre-destined to be Bat Girl, came into the picture next.
Such a huge upheaval it was for a guy who just wants to save the city on a regular basis, soak in some public adulation then hole up at home with his old photos and chick flicks or his electric guitar.
To complicate matters, a Guantanamo-like Phantom Zone in the LEGO Batman Movie parallel universe unleashes the greatest gathering of baddies in Gotham.
The prison denizens include rival superheroes and villains from other franchises – Lego renditions of giant ape King Kong, Jaw’s Great White Shark, Jurassic Park raptors, robots, Gremlins, Daleks and even Sauron’s Eye from the Lord of the Rings.
Well, “There are jokes here for people who want to delve deep and stuff that’s just going to be silly and slapstick,” the director maintained. “The live-action films have a very different take on Batman. What we’re doing doesn’t take anything away from that. We’re still playing in the world they created.”
To sum it up, Will Arnett says, “I love Batman because he has a lot of depth and mystery. Everything he does comes from an emotional place. Plus, he’s not a guy who was born with a super power. He was someone who faced tough times and was forced to use his head to get on top of each situation. That’s pretty cool. He’s Batman but he’s not perfect. People will understand that and find it funny and human.”