The question has already started to come up: Is The Lego Batman Movie better than The Lego Movie? Obviously, we can’t find an answer until the former has had at least a few months to digest. By the time The Ninjago Movie comes out in September, we should have a pretty clear picture of which is superior (only to have it further complicated by throwing a third one into the fray). If I had to give my opinion right now, I’d say the original Lego Movie still reigns supreme, but I think there’s a more interesting question to start asking: Is The Lego Batman Movie the best Batman movie?
To be perfectly clear, I’m not trying to say Lego Batman is a better film than The Dark Knight or Batman Returns. Those two are among the best movies of all time and Lego Batman literally came out yesterday. But I really do think this movie is the best Batman movie: it handles the character and universe of Batman better than any of his other movies have.
See, superhero movies have a tendency to present their main characters, rather than looking at them. As a result, the heroes are hard to really see as people. They’re not characters, they’re brands. Icons. Silhouettes. What we see on-screen is closer to the Bat-Signal than Batman. And this issue is especially prevalent in Batman films, which is a shame because there’s so much to unpack with him.
Batman has probably been analyzed more than any other character in comics. His character and background make him the perfect candidate for psychoanalysis, feminist theory, queer theory, Marxist theory, you name it. And if you look into it, you’ll find thousands of articles on any of these lenses. So how come, in his films, does his psyche never get more complicated than “he hates crime because his parents are dead?”
The Lego Batman Movie tried to remedy this issue, and it succeeded so hard. Batman becomes so unlikeable in this movie that the computer running the Phantom Zone actually calls him a villain. He’s egotistical, a loner, a beacon of hypermasculinity who relies on the incompetence of the powers-that-be to let him live his heroic fantasy. But he’s still Batman. He still saves Gotham City constantly, he’s still incredibly strong and smart, and the film doesn’t fail to remind us of that. He’s a deeply imperfect character, and despite his arc, really only gets over one of his many obvious flaws by the end of the movie, but he’s still a hero.
Batman movies often dance with the question of “Which is really the alter ego?” This film doesn’t ask, but boldly insists that Batman is the real him and Bruce Wayne is 100% an alter ego. See, in this film, Batman represents the character, but also the franchise, and also also the audience. For him and, by extension, us, Batman is an escape. He allows us to live out our basic, egotistical desires. We can save the day and still be loner shut-ins who take no responsibilities and eat lobster for every meal.
Look at Superman, voiced brilliantly by Channing Tatum. He’s everyone’s friend, always works in public and on behalf of the public, and effectively stops crime. It’s no coincidence that, even though the movie practically shoves in your face that Zod is in the Phantom Zone, when the Joker opens up the Zone during the climax and sets everyone free, there’s no sign of Zod anywhere. It’s to say that Superman, unlike Batman, is an effective crime fighter. And like Batman, we can’t stand that douchebag. We want Batman, the antihero, who revels in extreme, unhealthy, stoic masculinity and shirks all responsibility. Even at the very end of the movie, when he’s supposedly learned his lesson, he lets people change around him so he himself can get all the credit.
Of course, there’s a lot more to love about Lego Batman. It’s absolutely hilarious, the pacing is incredible, the animation is great (sometimes distractingly different from The Lego Movie, but from what I can tell this film is meant to take place in a different kid’s imagination, so I’ll excuse it). In addition to Batman, it brilliantly skewers the superhero movie in general. The other characters besides Batman (Joker, Barbara, Robin, Alfred) are also really in-depth and well-done. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I give it a 97/100.