Even before the credit sequence starts for Lego Batman, it was evident that the creators of Lego Batman brought too much self-assurance to the creation of Lego Batman. It opens with Batman, voiced menacingly by Will Arnett, providing commentary on the company logos that precede the film. Then he talks about how all important movies start with a black screen and, even before we start, this all seemed a bit of an eye-roller; sort of cute bit, but boding poorly for the amount of Batman-meta banter to come.
This dynamic captures Lego Batman: sort of cute/funny/exciting in concept, but in the end, underwhelming. It’s too much self-awareness, not enough fun. Too many references, not enough joy. What made Lego Movie work so well was its unabashed joyfulness; that movie created fresh heart and relationships with originality. Minutes into Lego Batman, it was already clear that the kids weren’t as invested in the fun. Adults were cackling at the film’s many references to all the previous versions of Batman, from Bale to Adam West, while the audiences 3-6 year olds waited patiently for Batman to show up.
Maybe I’m showing my own naivete, here. Maybe the target market of all things Superhero is really 30-somethings, relishing their lifetime commitment to learning all the details of life in Gotham City (I have done that); maybe Lego is just another business model to provide adults their nostalgia, with the added excuse that they get to bring the kids?
Because the kids in my theater just didn’t seem to care much about Lego Batman. The fight sequences worked for sure, but they were too few to matter. But the non-fight sequences, the relationship work and the villains, too frequently left kids wandering. And when the mega-battle comes to be, well, do little kids know who Sauron is? Because as a Lego creation, Sauron is just a statue with a circle in the middle. Not much fun. Voldemort was a better choice, though, and he did bring delight.
But unfortunately kids, Lego Batman doesn’t care if you get Sauron, or King Kong, and that’s not just annoying, it’s a big problem. It’s a sign that even our children’s movies are being coopted by nostalgic adults–in the audience but also in Hollywood–who are keen on on greedily taking over even their children’s entertainment and making it marketable primarily to adults like themselves.
Even more frustrating is that underneath all of Batman’s brooding is a movie that could move kids. Lego Batman hinges on the unrequited hate relationship between the Joker and Batman. It’s basically a love story between two men who have spent their lives working together (as enemies), one of which comes to find that this partner doesn’t care about him, at all. Joker has invested in the decades-long hatred-based commitment to Batman, where Batman only cares about Joker until he’s defeated.
That’s a wonderful, emotionally potent, awkwardly radical story (Brokeback Mountain as a superhero kids movie). The finale reaches for something powerful between the heroes and villains. But in the end, that powerful anit-romance is just too jejune. Too much winking and not enough laughing. Too much for the adults and not enough for the target market. I watched this movie with my preschooler, and I wanted him to like it more than I liked it. As it turns out, we were both left a little bored.