When Warner Bros announced "The LEGO Batman Movie," audiences thought it would just be more of the metal-loving, cocky Batman we couldn't get enough of in "The LEGO Movie" . Now the spin-off movie is here, and it's not just awesome, it's also surprisingly faithful to the Batman franchise. In fact, it has critics and audiences saying something no one expected: it's the best Batman movie to hit theaters so far.
Admittedly, the Batman movie franchise has been uneven throughout its history, hitting a high with 2005's "Batman Begins" after rock bottom with 1997's "Batman and Robin," but "LEGO Batman" manages to be entertaining for general audiences while giving Batman fans their brooding hero without sacrificing attention to detail. Let's run down why everything is awesome in "The LEGO Batman Movie."
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for "The LEGO Batman Movie," in theaters now.
15 LIGHTEN UP
One of the biggest criticisms of "Batman v Superman" and other Batman movies is that they're too dark. Lots of people became fans of Batman from the campy TV show of the 1960s, but even those who aren't fans of that old show sometimes find the dark tone kind of hard to swallow. When "Batman and Robin" tried to lighten things up, they went in the opposite direction, making it way too goofy and campy, but "LEGO Batman" found the right balance.
Since "LEGO Batman" wasn't the "real" Batman franchise, it had the chance to lighten things up without upsetting the fans. The movie is packed with gags and satire from all directions. At the same time, there's just the right amount of angst with moments dwelling on Batman's sadness over the loss of his parents, his loneliness and his need for a family while also facing his fear of losing those he loves.
14 COOL MUSIC
When most people think of Batman, they don't immediately think "musical." While lots of Batman movies have had great soundtracks, they tend to be focused on atmosphere and mood instead of toe-tapping tunes. Batman himself never sang or made music, unless you count the moment in 1992's "Batman Returns" when Bruce Wayne started scratching out a beat on a CD of the Penguin insulting the city, though the less said about that, the better.
"The LEGO Movie" changed all that when Batman was first introduced and he broke out his new heavy metal tune in the Batplane for his girlfriend. That set up "LEGO Batman," which continued the tradition of Batman as a musician, singing and rapping the opening theme song, and quoting Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." Did that fit the Batman of the comics? Not really, but any scene of Batman shredding on an electric guitar is worth the price of admission.
13 BETTER VILLAINS
One of the biggest problems with Batman movies is that they usually have way too many villains. "Batman Returns" started a tradition of having multiple villains with Catwoman, Max Shrek and the Penguin, while "Batman and Robin" tipped the scales with Mister Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane. With all those villains, the story suffered from having too many plotlines. Joker's always delivered in the movies, but most of the time the other villains haven't been that great.
"LEGO Batman" captured the villains perfectly by having a huge mob of them; not just the big ones like Bane and the Joker, but also more obscure ones like Egghead and the Condiment King, and even brought in villains from outside the franchise like Sauron. The movie didn't spend too much time on the gang of enemies, focusing mainly on the Joker, where it should have been. Instead of dozens of plotlines that would get confusing, we got the right one, and enough villains to make the movie fun.
12 FUNNY COMEDY
Batman isn't known for cracking jokes; just the opposite, in fact. He's usually too busy talking about crime and evil to make with the wisecracks. The movies haven't been very kind to Batman in the comedy department either, and what few jokes they did pull off fell flat. We're talking gags like Batman pulling out his the Bat-Credit-Card in "Batman and Robin" or Batman saying "chicks dig the car" in "Batman Forever," and the less said about Mister Freeze's ice puns, the better.
Well, "LEGO Batman" did have jokes for the Dark Knight, and they were genuinely funny. Starting with his opening lines about the credits all the way to the end, Batman was a laugh riot. The fact that the movie was intended as a loving satire to Batman helped, but the script was obviously written by real comedians who had the audience laughing all the way. Batman's never been funnier, and we're counting the comic books in that as well.
If there's one thing Batman is known for, it's gadgets, and the movies have always delivered on that. From his grappling gun and remote-controlled Batmobile in "Batman" (where Joker famously asked where Batman got his wonderful toys), all the way to his EMP rifle in "The Dark Knight Rises," Batman is a man with all sorts of crime-fighting tech. Despite the long movie history, "LEGO Batman" gave the Caped Crusader more fun gadgets than he's ever had.
"LEGO Batman" was jam-packed with tools for the Dark Knight to fight crime with. He used his grappling gun a lot, and he pulled out batarangs at the drop of a hat, but also had different suits hung on a rotating rack in the Batcave. He even had a machine to take off his cowl for him, capping it all off with the Bat-Merch gun to shoot T-shirts and gear at adoring fans. It's always fun to see Batman using some cool gear, and he's never been more well-armed than in "LEGO Batman."
In the comics, Batman has a ton of awesome vehicles to choose from, but in the movies? Not so much. The Batmobile has always been there in various forms, but the rest have been hit and miss. Occasionally, we would see the Batplane, and we saw the Batboat in 1992's "Batman Returns," and the Bathammer in "Batman and Robin," but that was it.
"The LEGO Batman Movie" had more vehicles than we could count, so many he had a rotating multilevel garage to hold them all. From the Batsub to the Bat-Dune-Buggy, every vehicle Batman could ever possibly need or use was on display. Yes, we know that was probably more about fueling the toy line, but we're okay with that. From a canon perspective, the movie also answered the question of how Batman fit all his different vehicles into his Batcave. Most of the movies have shown the Batcave as a sparse and rocky place, but "LEGO Batman" made it huge and crammed with stuff, which was a bonus on many... levels.
9 ALL BATMAN
Let's face it. No one goes to a Batman movie to see Bruce Wayne. We like Bruce Wayne, but only as the alter ego of Batman. Despite this, most Batman movies have focused on Wayne with Batman showing up only in action sequences. In "The Dark Knight Rises," Wayne didn't even put on the Batsuit until almost an hour into the movie. It makes sense, because no actor would want to fill two hours of screen time wearing a heavy black suit of armor, and there has to be some indication of a real life surrounding his adventures.
Well, "The LEGO Batman Movie" turned that all upside-down. Without a real actor having to put on the costume, the movie went 100% Batman with him in the costume in almost every scene. Even when he took off the mask to become Bruce Wayne at the gala, he was still Batman. You can never have too much Batman.
8 EVERY BATMAN EVER
Since the first Batman comic in 1939, there have been dozens of TV shows and movies of the Caped Crusader, and they tend to contradict each other. The comics have struggled to connect all the dots of how Batman could have been around in the 1940s and still be a young man in 2016. There's also a problem of his changing mood with his swinging '60s TV series meshing with the tortured angst of the modern hero. Usually, the properties just pretend the others didn't exist and reboot. That wasn't a problem for "LEGO Batman."
Amazingly, the LEGO movie put every Batman from the 1960s to the 2010s in play, referencing them both in dialogue and even in flashbacks, and they were all canon. It became a joke about how Batman aged well, and also how crazy it was that he was dancing the Batusi in the 1960s and standing on rooftops in the 2000s. That's something no other Batman movie could pull off.
Batgirl has always gotten short shrift in the movies. She's really only shown up in one live-action movie, "Batman and Robin," played by Alicia Silverstone as a spunky teenage girl who puts on a costume her uncle Alfred made for her. That doesn't hold a candle to any other characters in the Batman movies, especially compared to the well-rounded and complex Batgirl from the comics, who's been paralyzed by the Joker in "The Killing Joke," reborn as the computer hacker Oracle and returned to the Batgirl costume in the New 52.
In "The LEGO Batman Movie," Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) got a major upgrade in character development. Not only did she become the superhero Batgirl, she's also a prodigy, graduating from the "Harvard of Police," and even took over the role of commissioner from Jim Gordon. She also got one of the best lines in the movie, asking if she can call Batman "Batboy."
Robin has always been a problem for the Batman movie franchise. The dark and brooding Batman who goes it alone and fights evil in the shadows is hard to pull off when he's got a kid in red and green tights running around alongside him. That's probably why Robin hasn't been around too much on the screen. Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan both left Robin out of their movies. Robin only showed up in "Batman and Robin" and "Batman Forever," and still didn't work. "LEGO Batman," on the other hand, nailed it.
The key was to have Batman just as annoyed by Robin (voiced by Michael Cera) as the audience (presumably) would be. Dick Grayson got himself adopted by accident, and ended up in the Robin outfit just as chaotically. Robin ran around after Batman like a lap dog, being as excited and happy as Batman is angry and brooding, making him a welcome relief from the attitude. When Batman finally embraced Robin, the audience loved him, too.
Alfred Pennyworth has been Batman's loyal butler in every live-action Batman movie since 1966, and he's played pretty much the same. Alfred spends the movie polishing Batman's car, giving him fatherly advice and taking orders when Batman needs to have his tights washed. He almost never left Wayne Manor, except when he drove Bruce around or when he quit in "The Dark Knight Rises." To put it another way, Alfred has been just plain boring. Well, in "The LEGO Batman Movie," we finally got to see another side of Alfred.
Yes, LEGO Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) did all the things we expected him to, including giving Batman some free counseling and cleaning the grout in the bathroom, but things went up a notch later on when he put a parental lock on the Batcomputer, and finally got to fight supervillains. Alfred even got to wear a Bat-costume and pilot a vehicle. It wasn't like any Alfred we'd ever seen before, and we loved every minute of it. Here's hoping Alfred gets a Bat-Butler costume in a live-action movie.
4 EASTER EGGS
With a movie about a Batman who plays guitar and used his "shredded abs" to save the world, you wouldn't think it would be that faithful to the comics. Certainly, the movies have played fast and loose with Batman canon, making Poison Ivy's experiments responsible for Bane in "Batman and Robin," Ra's al Ghul train Batman in "Batman Begins" and turn Bane into an anarchist in a gas mask in "Dark Knight Returns." That's normal to see some changes in the transition from comic to film, but "LEGO Batman" surprised fans with its faithfulness to the comics.
The movie was jammed with Easter Eggs and references to Batman lore that would delight any hardcore comic book reader. For instance, there are multiple references to Blüdhaven, the city a half-hour's drive from Gotham where Nightwing made his home, and eventually became a base for Darkseid in "Final Crisis." The Penguin's Iceberg Lounge can be seen in the background of several shots, and characters make references to Soder Cola, a popular drink in the DC universe. They didn't have to do that, but they did.
3 THE JOKER
The Joker is one of Batman's most popular and deadly villains, and casts a long shadow in the movies. From Jack Nicholson's psychotic clown with a permanent smile in "Batman" to Jared Leto's drug lord in 2016's "Suicide Squad," there have been many versions of the Clown Prince of Crime. You wouldn't think there would be a new and more interesting interpretation of the Joker in a kid's movie, but "The LEGO Batman Movie" managed to find a unique and fun angle.
Instead of a maniacal clown, LEGO Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) is an almost sympathetic figure, just trying to conquer the city because he's desperate for Batman's attention. When he found out that Batman sees him as nothing special -- just another crazy guy who divides his attention away from Bane and Superman -- the look on Joker's face was heart-breaking. In the end, when they exchange a heartfelt "I hate you," we saw a new relationship between Batman and the Joker, and it made us smile.
As we mentioned before, Batman movies tend to be a sad and sour affair, which makes sense from the standpoint of the comics, but there's a problem. Because Batman has to continue to be the brooding hero of the night, he never actually changed in his movies or overcame his fears and depression. In Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Batman actually grew more and more depressed until "The Dark Knight Rises," where he literally became a recluse.
In "The LEGO Batman Movie," Batman had an actual story arc for the first time in a movie. The film started out with him lonely and depressed in his mansion, longing for a family he couldn't bring himself to have. By the end, he learned to embrace others, found pride with his new Robin and happiness with his new group of friends. That never happened in the previous Batman movies, and it was great to see a smiling and social Batman for once.
1 EPIC ENDING
The endings of all the Batman movies have been huge, with varying levels of destruction. From the Joker spraying poison gas balloons over Gotham in 1989's "Batman" to Mister Freeze icing over Gotham City in "Batman and Robin" to Batman racing to get rid of a nuclear bomb in "The Dark Knight Rises," we've walked out of the theaters feeling dazzled. Despite all that, "The LEGO Batman" movie had the most amazing and chaotic ending in any Batman movie ever.
In the end of "The LEGO Batman Movie," Batman gets an army of supervillains to launch an attack on another army of supervillains sweeping Gotham City while fighting the Joker to a standstill. In the process, he headed into the Phantom Zone and defused explosives, capped everything off by having all of Gotham team up to keep the city from breaking apart. There's never been a more epic ending for a Batman movie, and making it in Lego bricks just made it better.
What did you think of "The LEGO Batman Movie?" Sound off in the comments!
"The LEGO Batman Movie," starring Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Zach Galifianakis is in theaters now.