Henry Bevan on why LEGO Batman is the hero Hollywood needs right now…
The Joker is Batman’s greatest enemy, and he has been almost since the start. Batman may have the best roster of rogues (rivalled only by Spider-Man), but nothing gets Bat-fans excited more than a tussle with the Clown Prince of Crime. A mere whisper of his presence, like the ending of Batman Begins, is enough to whip up a frenzy. Chris McKay and the folks over at Warner Bros. Animation understand this. They also understand how ridiculous the Batman mythology is. This is, after all, a man dressed as a bat fighting a man dressed as a clown.
In The LEGO Batman Movie, Batman and the Joker are jilted lovers (“I like to fight around”). The Joker, voiced by Zack Galifianakis, only wants Batman’s (Will Arnett) attention. It is a spot-on interpretation that encapsulates and laughs at their relationship. We now have a reason for why the Joker quotes Jerry Maguire in The Dark Knight.
This interpretation skewers the superhero genre. It skewers Batman. It does to superheroes what Deadpool wished it could do — the mocking isn’t surface level, it’s built into the plot. This is unique to the LEGO movies. It is not something Ben Affleck, and possibly Matt Reeves, can do in the future. It’s off-limits for the serious live-action adaptations.
For something that looks like sinister corporate capitalism, the LEGO franchise has now delivered two films that have more heart and humour than most Hollywood comedies. The LEGO Movie mocked the “chosen one” narratives of most franchises and applied Michael Bay’s thoughts on action direction to a fable filled with mini-figures. The film was more than just product placement because of the product it was advertising. LEGO is beautiful because it gives you the chance to have Batman fight Voldemort. The filmmaker’s love playing with LEGO and telling stories — these LEGO Movies are big-budget versions of play time.
The films take the elements of genres they love and rip them to shreds. It’s like when you roast a mate in a group chat. You love them, but sometimes you just have to laugh at them. It’s clear the animators on The LEGO Batman Movie love the Caped Crusader, so they laugh at him by making him narcissistic, turning his arch-enemy into a jealous lover and having his self-imposed loneliness his flaw. Yes, Batman broods, but that doesn’t mean he can’t laugh.
Then, because it is hard to escape movie capitalism, The LEGO Ninjago Movie released a trailer [watch it here]. Whilst a spin-off about LEGO Batman made sense(he did steal all the bricks in The LEGO Movie) LEGO Ninjago felt like an excuse to make some easy merchandise. The trailer suggests otherwise.
The trailer focuses on the theme of family. The main character Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco) fighting his father parodies franchises that depend on daddy issues, like Star Wars, a film inspired by the films of Akira Kurosawa and other Far-East movies. Once again, the film looks like it’s domesticated the battle of good vs evil; turning it into a fight between father and son. The villain butt dialling the hero turns a city-levelling action scene into a squabble.
This is why these movies are important. They exist as a trojan horse to make us watch irreverent comedies. They remind us our arguments about whether Batman is too serious are stupid. When normal Hollywood gets its head so far up its arse, The LEGO Movie franchise will pull it out.