It’s one of the most famous cinematic lines that the Joker has ever uttered: Why so serious? Granted he was recounting a possibly fake story of his father brutally maiming him but it is a question that has been levelled at his adversary and comic book soulmate, The Dark Knight. Batman is a character with nearly eighty years of history spanning comics, television, film, and video games. 2008 saw the character reach the peak of cultural popularity as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight became the first comic book film to gross a billion dollars worldwide while also earning Heath Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for his instantly iconic portrayal of the Joker.
Since the release of The Dark Knight many critics have labelled the film as a sort of patient zero for the trend of ultra-serious, grey-tinged blockbusters, with Nolan coming in for the most criticism. This hasn’t been helped by the Zack Snyder led DC Extended Universe films Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, two boring sludge-like piles of mediocrity that takes all of the worst aspects of Superman and Batman and makes them the most important part of each character, while simultaneously missing the point of each character entirely. Batman’s dark, serious, borderline psychotic depiction in BVS is the character collapsing under his own darkness, sad Affleck included.
Which is why The Lego Batman Movie is such a breath of fresh air for the character. Lego Batman, voiced by Will Arnett who adds to his arsenal of memorable goofs, was the breakout character of The Lego Movie because he was a lampoon of DC’s most popular character while still being a recognisably great Batman. This continues in his own film in which the entire pantheon of Batman: the films, Adam West TV show, BVS, all of them are torn to pieces in a way that is still respectful to the character in a way that Joel Schumacher films failed to do, dismally. Batman needs to be taken down a peg, and with Hollywood’s current obsession with franchises, the synergy present in The Lego Batman Movie is both incredible lucrative, and a love letter to both Batman, his world, and his fans.
The film succeeds where Batman Forever and Batman and Robin: films that neutered the character popularised by Michael Keaton and Tim Burton to sell toys, because the merchandise doesn’t drown out the storytelling. Just as The Lego Movie put their own spin on the Disney inspired idea of a chosen one, deconstructing and shifting that idea in order to promote a better message of success through hard work, The Lego Batman movie deconstructs the character to highlight the strengths, and even the contradictions that have made Batman, the city he protects, the villains he fights, the broken people that become part of his cause, such a cultural force.
The important thing to remember though is that without Christopher Nolan for good reasons, and Batman vs Superman for very bad reasons, The Lego Batman Movie wouldn’t be half as sharp, it wouldn’t be the film that we need, and it wouldn’t be the film we deserve.