By far Lego Batman is the best entry in both the DC comics and Lego universes, bringing humor, sly commentary and bright flashy visuals to the character's franchise. Though you might think this is just a movie for kids, it is not. Lego Batman throws in enough Batman and DC comics jokes, subtle Easter eggs and little nods to the 80 years of Batman history that many of us have grown up with to be an incredibly entertaining and funny film. Lego Batman, a self-described ‘heavy metal rapping machine’ who ‘stays out all night wearing black and listening to angry music’ is someone that I personally identify with. This is the best Batman movie probably since Tim Burton’s entries in the series, completely blowing away Batman v. Superman (which would have been better as a terse courtroom drama like Kramer v Kramer) and slam dunking on the neon monstrosity of a nightmare that is the Suicide Squad.
Something should be said about the character of Batman, because honestly if he was a real historical figure we would all be in big trouble. Batman is really not a character for children. While most parents would not blink an eye thinking about decking their sons out in Batman gear, maybe they should.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy demonstrates the actually insane and scary nature of a real Batman in a real world environment. It is no coincidence that Christian Bale, who plays billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne had earlier in his career taken on the role of Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film American Psycho, the tale of a wealthy sociopath who inflicts pain, murder and sadistic torture on the residents of New York City.
Batman is Patrick Bateman with a conscious. This doesn’t make him a better person or even more sympathetic as a character but provides him with a modicum of humanity. Bruce Wayne’s parents are dead. This is why he must fight crime. Isn’t that his entire raison d’etre to maybe protect parents? Or to stop criminals from murdering his parents retroactively. Patrick Bateman has parents but spends most of his time dabbling in murders and executions, feeding cats to ATM machines and sometimes cannibalism when he can’t get a seat at the poshest restaurant of all, Dorisa. Just try getting a reservation at Dorsia, I dare you (you can’t). Bruce Wayne probably owns Dorsia.
Batman also is the owner of Wayne Enterprises, a manufacturer of high tech weapons, security systems, military and police hardware. The wealth of Bruce Wayne is sort of dependent on Gotham City and in fact the entire world being plunged into total chaos. Batman couldn’t exist without the irresponsible and wealth inequality exacerbating policies of The Wayne Corporation. Batman exists to fight a problem that he profits from. Because Batman can’t figure out why someone would rob rich people in the street (because they are covered in jewels and flush with cash, duh) he will forever be alienated, swinging through the streets at night, cashing in his stock options to buy a fancy car full of missile launchers. Gotham is a city with a full on Kowloon City favela/shanty town type settlement, called the Narrows where tens of thousands of Gothamites live in ad hoc squalor. This is supposed to be in the richest city, in the richest nation on earth. This is totally insane, that the residents of Gotham live in an American Hong Kong, rife with filth and lacking in basic housing and protective services for its citizens. Alfred probably sleeps in a dog cage for all we know.
Batman also never kills anyone. Maybe with the exception of at the end of The Killing Joke he never does anything other than beat everyone to a pulp. Though with the state of American (and presumably Gotham City’s) healthcare system, putting criminals into massive hospital debt and then prison is not rehabilitating anyone. Even the Joker’s backstory hints at this kind of social dystopia, where honest people are forced into criminality, but secretive brooding billionaires can break the law with impunity.
Lego Batman brings up these issues and more in a sly way, wrapping the story in shiny pipped plastic. Batman is voiced by Will Arnett, and a number of very famous funny people including Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Zach Galifianakis provide voices for the film. There are a ton of character cameos, Garfunkel and Oats are Poison Ivy and Clayface, Eddy Izzard shows up as Lord Voldemort and comedian Doug Benson is Bane in a departure from his usual character, playing himself as a demented postal worker. Batman makes a number of digs at rival superheroes Ironman and Superman and the tone of the film is as light as a feather. The film highlights Batman’s ridiculous enemies (for example who thought up the Condiment King? a villain who shoots mustard and ketchup) bad attitude and his never ending relationship with the ultimate frenemy, the Joker. Lego Batman is a jerk who won’t pay his taxes and has gone through a number of ridiculous phases in his career (1966 anyone?). He has far too many crazy toys that he never uses like the BatKayak and is generally pretty cantankerous and unpleasant. But as a plastic figurine Lego Batman has more character than Christian Bale or Michael Keaton. Lego Batman knows Robin is a weird sidekick. Lego Batman knows that shark repellent is ludicrous. Lego Batman probably knows he is a plastic Danish figurine. Lego Batman is the hero we all deserve, the one we all need and the hero most likely to cause immense pain if stepped upon.
In the search of metaphors for human existence philosophers through the ages have come up with some pretty interesting ideas. Like dreams, film and visual arts are a look at the subconscious, an attempt to make sense of the world that we can never really wrap up into an hour or ten. Movies are life flattened like time in amber, distilled and made just a little bit better. Unfortunately life is like a bad movie. A terrible horrible movie. An awful awful horrible movie that we’re all forced to sit through. If viewed as if life was a movie you'd walk out half way through and get your money back. Life is cruel, short and is ultimately incomprehensible. Our narratives make Troll 2 look like Citizen Kane.
Plato’s Cave is a kind of movie theatre. Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence is a kind of infinitely heavy DVD stuck in on repeat. Kundera posits the opposite, life is an eternally light diaphanous play of shadow and light shown only once and lost forever. Life actually is like a Bad Movie, sort of like The Room, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever or Battlefield Earth, something you might barely get through but that you might really enjoy if you watch it with the right friends.
First of all whoever is directing this thing called life is insane. We’re trapped in what might be Ed Wood’s Salo. We're all extras bumping into each other playing bits, mumbling nonsense and disappearing off screen. The plot is absolutely unbelievable and drags in the middle. There are no sequels or prequels and none of the characters remember their motivations or origins. There’s no script. There's no credits, no believable special effects, no final Oscar award speech at the end, just a fade out. Most of it seems to exist as an excuse to sell action figures t-shirts and sugary crap. The soundtrack is incoherent and awful. Nickelback. Lil Yachty. Fleetwood Mac. Worst of all everyone else in the theater is on their phones the entire time.
Viewed from the outside we are all ridiculous and complex characters. Who can’t identify with Joshua, the protagonist of Troll 2, who sees his family eaten by goblins only days after saving them with a bologna sandwich? Or imagine yourself as Johnny, the blisteringly stupid lead in The Room, who has constructed his entire life around a relationship that is tearing him apart and has a house full of framed spoon pictures. Except for the goblin thing you have probably been in exactly the same circumstances at one point in your life. Our existence is mundane, our dramas played out in every life over and over. Life is falling in and out of love, getting lost, losing, being built up and eventually and ultimately we all are wiped out, sent off screen somewhere.
The only thing you can actually do to relieve the tension, fight the plot and make this dumb movie your own is to make fun of it. Camus would say “créer c'est vivre deux.” Yell at the characters. Grab the person next to you and tell them you love them. Break the chairs and rip the screen before you are ushered into the cold dark parking lot. Just don’t do it alone. And maybe pay attention to the film sometimes, you might learn something. Like Kurt Vonnegut once said ‘Even terrible artists deserve respect.’
Humans make movies for all the same reasons we make other art. To fight off boredom, loneliness and death. To capture something of the time that is always slipping through our fingers. You have to learn to love bad movies because that’s all there really is.
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