It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is in shambles. Warner Bros. Pictures’ rushed attempt to emulate the success of the Marvel movies started unsteadily with the grim, joyless Man of Steel (2013). Then came 2016’s overcrowded and much-lambasted Batman vs. Superman (BvS), although I personally didn’t mind that film too much. The criticism of the doom and gloom in BvS panicked the studio into ordering last-minute reshoots to lighten up Suicide Squad, which was to release the same year. When Suicide Squad did hit theaters, it received as poor a reception as Batman vs. Superman, if not worse. The reports of the films in development aren’t encouraging, either. Several entertainment websites published anonymous reports from a DC insider who claimed Wonder Woman was turning out to be “a mess”. Ben Affleck, who claimed he would only direct himself in 2018’s The Batman if the script turned out to his satisfaction, turned down the job after months of drawn-out discussion. Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame was pegged as his replacement, but talks with him broke down in less than a week. There are rumours that Affleck wants to give up the Batman role itself.
What a mess! All this was very sad for comic book enthusiasts, movie buffs and Bat-fans in particular, especially after Christopher Nolan’s peerless trilogy turned the dark knight into pop culture’s brightest superhero. With seemingly no way out of the quagmire that is the DCEU, would we no longer get a Batman movie we deserved and needed?
Well, not so fast. Because you see, there seem to be two kinds of studio executives at Warner Bros. There are the Bruce Waynes: the cynical, self-absorbed millionaires who design their projects by committee, sacrificing sissy concepts like storytelling and creativity at the altar of revenue and profit. These are the people who gave us the DCEU. But there seems to be another bolder, more benevolent group within the studio. This group occasionally nudges WB into producing something unexpected and wonderful, like 2014’s The LEGO Movie. When The LEGO Movie smashed the box office like a ton of (plastic) bricks, this group gleefully obtained the green light for a 2017 sequel, focusing on, ahem…a supporting character from the original film. I am now in the process of writing an adoring review for this aforementioned sequel, and we have this second group of people to thank for it. They are the silent guardians, the watchful protectors…
Elaborate setup, eh? I guess what I am trying to say is that The LEGO Batman Movie is every bit as awesome as I expected it to be. A character who takes himself as seriously as Batman does is always a ripe candidate for satire, and my, how that satire has arrived. This may seem like a silly children’s movie to an untrained eye, but incredibly, it could well be the most perceptive and nuanced screen representation of Batman ever. I’m not saying it’s better than Nolan’s trilogy. But freed of the need to be serious and realistic, the voice of Will Arnett can go places that the body of Christian Bale can’t dream of going, and it’s brilliant. It’s obvious that director Chris McKay and the five credited screenwriters understand their lead character inside out. How else could they poke fun at him in so pointed and loving a manner?
And man, do they poke fun at him. This is a Batman who sings as he beats people up, occasionally pausing to beatbox or break into a guitar solo. When he needs help from his Batmobile, his instruction to the computer is simply “Overcompensate.” While his days are all about fighting criminals (but not so well that he puts himself out of a job), his nights are spent eating microwave lobster and watching rom-coms. The rest of the Justice League think of him as a bit of a weirdo, and he isn’t invited to their parties. The password to his Batcave is “Iron Man sucks”. In case you’re worried that I’m giving away too many jokes, don’t worry – the laugh per minute ratio is relentless, and this doesn’t even scratch the surface. I’ll keep mum about the gloriously silly plot, the rest of the fantastic cast and the rib-tickling surprises.
However familiar or unfamiliar you may be with Batman, this movie has something for you. If you’ve been living under Arkham Asylum and haven’t heard of the character, you will still enjoy a hilarious animated movie. If you swear by Christopher Nolan, you will get a kick out of how this film parodies the Batman-Joker “You complete me” symbiosis so brilliantly articulated in The Dark Knight. And if you’re the type of person who has followed the caped crusader’s every move – from Detective Comics #27 to Rebirth, from West to Affleck, from Conroy to Arnett – let me know when you are planning your second viewing.
Rating: 4 bat-stars out of 5
PS: I’ve been waiting to use “Everything is Gotham” since 2014.