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'The LEGO Batman Movie,' now streaming on Peacock, remains one of Batman's best adventures
Let's look back at one of Batman's best onscreen stories, now streaming on Peacock.
For all his depictions as an immovable, sometimes frustratingly principled creature who puts justice above all else, Batman is a character of surprising elasticity. It's one of the reason's he's lasted this long in the pantheon of great superheroes, one of the reasons he's carried two different ongoing comics since 1940, and of course, one of the reasons he's been able to shoulder so many different big-screen adaptations.
Batman can work with a gritty, grounded, straight-up crime story, of course, but he can also work with a neon-splattered campy epic, or with an almost operatic supervillain story that consumes an entire city. He can even fight Darkseid and his minions alongside the Justice League. So when Warner Bros. announced plans to make a movie centered entirely on The LEGO Movie's version of Batman, it wasn't surprising. It also wasn't surprising, at least to me, that the movie ended up working.
Voiced once again by Will Arnett, the Batman we meet in The LEGO Batman Movie (now streaming on Peacock!) is packing the same arrogance and self-confidence as he did in The LEGO Movie, as well as the same cool gadgets and rockin' personal soundtrack. Basically, he's the coolest dude in Gotham City, he knows it, and he'll do just about anything to preserve that image...including pushing away all the things that could make him vulnerable.
See, Batman is also hiding a tremendous personal insecurity stemming from the loss of his parents years ago. When he's in control of it, it adds to his loner image. When he's not, it threatens to eat him up inside. This Batman is afraid of the very idea of family, of closeness, convinced that he'll lose it all again if he ever lets anyone into his world. So, despite the protestations of Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), he keeps to himself, indulging in his brooding only when no one else is looking.
That has to change fast when the film's plot kicks in, a plot set in motion by the film's version of The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Frustrated that Batman won't acknowledge their undeniable hero-villain connection, Joker sets out to get Batman's attention any way he can, including by unleashing a horde of history's greatest villains from across various franchises and stories, all of which have been trapped in the movie's version of The Phantom Zone. If he's going to defeat this unbelievable LEGO army, Batman must team up with Alfred, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and the accidentally adopted Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) to save Gotham and face his own fears.
It's a big plot for the film to churn through in less than two hours, and it has to do it while also delivering the self-aware, lightning fast joke speed that made The LEGO Movie work in the first place and infusing a bunch of DC Comics lore along the way. It's a tall order, but director Chris McKay (who's gone on to direct Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult in Renfield, now in theaters!) manages to make it work. The jokes never stop, from the way Batman dictates the film's opening himself to the way the Justice League reacts to having Batman around, and of course the final battle is an Easter egg fest delivering everything from King Kong to Voldemort, but what really makes the film work is its firm understanding of the kind of character work it's trying to deliver.
At the core of all of this, from the swirling LEGO visual effects to the fight scenes to the way the film incorporates villains from other universes into the grand finale, is the story of a version of Batman who has to learn to be close to other people again. That's a very straightforward, family friendly kind of narrative to explore, and it lands exactly as you'd hope it would from the moment the arc becomes clear in the film's first act. Batman lets go of some of his old pain, embraces what it's like to work as part of a team, and he builds something new with his three friends. That all works, but along the way the film manages to do something even bigger with Batman as a character, something longtime comic book fans will appreciate.
There are frequent references throughout LEGO Batman to the character's long pop culture history, with riffs on everything from The Dark Knight Trilogy to Batman '66 to Batman: The Animated Series, all emphasizing that the character has been something of a screen-chameleon over the course of his history. Then there are all the comic book references, as Joker summons everyone from Bane to Orca to Crazy Quilt and Condiment King to be part of his mission to get Batman to pay attention to him. Taken collectively, these elements all serve as fun Easter eggs, of course, but also as a reminder that Batman is one of the most versatile characters in all of superhero media. For all his inflexibility as an individual, he's a remarkably adaptable persona, and The LEGO Batman Movie takes advantage of all of his many facets to prove that, yes, he works just about anywhere, even in a world of plastic bricks.