Batman has had a very long and storied history in cinema. His first appearance on the big screen goes all the way back to 1943, but the Batman we know today really made his first appearance as a campy, not at all to be taken seriously character in the movie titled simply Batman in 1966. This was a time when comic books were seen as purely for children, and the character Hollywood gave us was more comedian than vigilante in a likeness which winks so constantly at its audience its a wonder the Batman of today hasn’t taken on a permanent squint. The 1989 film by Tim Burton also called just Batman gave us a more gothic representation of the character. Not a comedian, but still not entirely serious, this Batman showed Hollywood that the character can be enjoyed seriously by older audiences, a lesson which they promptly forgot 6 years later in Batman Forever and threw entirely out the window in 1997s Batman and Robin, widely considered one of the worst films ever made.
Then, in 2005, along came Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins to show general audiences that Batman, and superhero characters in general, could be real three dimensional characters with honest to goodness depth and could do it without giving up the action heavy story lines which made the characters popular in the first place. This was something fans of comic books and animated series had known for a long time, of course, and these fans were arguably the reason Nolan’s film was greenlighted in the first place, but the success of Nolan’s films would forever change how live action superhero movies were made. Gone was the camp, the genre could now be taken seriously, and for the last 11 years it has been.
Superhero movies were making so much money for the studios that everyone was trying to start their own franchise, though with only Marvel studios having real success, and we were (and still are) so inundated with superhero movies that people are starting to get sick of them and everyone wonders when the superhero movie bubble is going to burst, and that’s when early 2016 brought us Deadpool. Deadpool set so many box office records it proved that the public wasn’t as sick of superhero movies as everyone thought, they are just sick of the same old superhero movies over and over again. While many credit Deadpool‘s success to its hard R-Rating, I don’t. I believe that its success comes from its tone. Deadpool was the first comic superhero movie to come along in a very long time. Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy have a light touch and a definite sense of humor, but Deadpool was a sort of modern throw back to that Batman of 1966 in which nothing is sacred and the sense of fun is more important than the plot or themes.
Which now brings us full circle to The LEGO Batman Movie.
The LEGO Batman Movie is very much a kid friendly version of Deadpool. Yes, there’s a plot and that plot has a point, but what it really sets out to do is be fun. If self aware humor annoys you, then this movie will, I’m afraid, but anyone who can still find a film that satirizes its own genre and audience entertaining, then I can guarantee a good time. From beginning to end if there is something to poke fun of regarding the character of Batman, the superhero action genre, LEGOs, and the people who like these things, then the writers found a way to goof on it, and on many other pieces of pop culture which LEGO has the rights to, of which the number seems endless.
The spoofing is usually clever, always funny, but it never leaves the realm of child friendly. The makers of The LEGO Batman movie know very well that their target audience is families, not children – families, and while it actually may make people think on things that could make them uncomfortable at times, yes, it does go to thoughtful places on occasion, it never presents anything in a way that you wouldn’t want a young child to see. I’m guessing the only reason it has its PG rating, and not a G, is that it is a superhero movie, so cartoony violence is often used to solve problems, but it never goes to a place darker or meaner than a Looney Tunes cartoon.
In comparison to the original The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie seems to always fall just short, but only just. The new big song,”The Batman Theme Song”, is funny, toe tapping, catchy, and will make you smile as you sway in your seat, but don’t expect it to get nominated for an Oscar like “Everything is Awesome” was. The jokes come at a fast and furious pace and most are hilarious, but every once in a while they do miss their mark here. The themes of friends being family do hit home and they give the movie a lot of heart, but they just don’t have the heart string tugging power of the themes of true family the first film had. The LEGO Batman Movie tries to have the cake of The LEGO Movie and eat it, too, but it seems the recipe of the first movie was just a tad too rich to truly duplicate, but damn if The LEGO Batman Movie didn’t come close.
The animation of this film is one piece that may actually be slightly better than the first. As amazing as some of the things the animators were able to do with LEGOs in the first film was, they learned and managed to up the spectacle here. Flames burn everywhere, things freeze over, machines morph and twist, and the film is constantly lively and in motion. They may not do all the “Hey, we’re in a world made of LEGOs” tricks they perform in the first film, but the ones they do manage are clever and look amazing.
Final recommendation: If you have young kids, this one is a no-brainer, treat them and yourselves to this one, though maybe at a matinee if at all possible to keep the cost down. For the rest, whether to see this one or not rests highly on what you thought of the first film or how much of a nerd you are. The constant references that can actually get incredibly deep into Batman lore are fast and furious and will cause a comic book geek to fall in love with what they are doing here. If you loved the original The LEGO movie, you will probably enjoy this one, too, just don’t set your expectations quite up to that one’s level and you will have a grand time. This really is a Deadpool for kids so if you think of it along those lines, you should be able to figure out whether this is a movie for you.