The team behind the 2014 surprise box office hit, The Lego Movie, had produced a fun, kid-friendly comic book movie in The Lego Batman Movie. Will Arnett, who returns as the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne, is the perfect humorless, brooding Dark Knight.
The film is full of fast-moving bricks that successfully draws on decades of Batman lore. From the 1960’s television series to Batman v. Superman, references to the Dark Knight’s multifaceted phases are made . . . . and they are brilliant! The references include the “na-na-na-na” theme song and the classic “POWS.”
The pop references do not stop there. The Joker unleashes a myriad of Warner Bros. villains onto Gotham city, who have all been chilling out in the Phantom Zone. Villains such as Voldemort, King Kong, Gremlins, Eye of Sauron, the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys, and Godzilla. These references are clearly placed for the benefit of the parents. And, so, on behalf of all parents, I say, “Thank you.”
The plot is steered by the Joker’s inquiry of the Dark Knight that he is Batman’s number one rival. Batman, a narcissistic, grumpy, billionaire does not acknowledge his own loneliness, and denies that the Joker is his main rival. “I’m fighting a few different people,” Batman says, “I like to fight around.”
At first it is a humorous idea, because who would Batman be without the Joker? It has been suggested, and widely discussed among Batman fans, that Batman and the Joker need each other. In the wide-ranging Batman lore of comic books, animated TV shows, and films, Batman refuses to kill the mastermind villain. At the same time, the Joker has prevented other villains from taking Batman out, claiming that only he can do that, though he never does.
Their relationship is a bromance in the sense that they complete one another. The Joker’s consistent pleas for Batman to acknowledge that they are each other’s greatest rivals, affirm this notion. Joker goes to extreme measures to prove to Batman that he would be nothing without the Joker.
Lego Batman puts up a good front that, as he says, “I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone.” While Batman puts up such a front, the truth is, Batman is lonely.
The extent of Batman’s loneliness is captured in a scene where Batman heats up dinner left by Alfred in a microwave and then watches Jerry Maguire. Later, as he walks through his mansion, he stops and looks at the family pictures, and utters to his parents, “I think you would have been proud.”
For a moment, we see a quiet, gentle side of the crime fighter. It reveals just how lonely and vulnerable he is, and that all in his world is not alright. Hiding behind the mask, as so many of us can relate to, is fear.
Lego Batman’s greatest fear is not the Joker or any other villain. His greatest fear is what Joker’s bromance request references: the need for family. Lego Batman fears commitment to family and friends. He fears what that commitment will reveal about himself: his own weakness.
One is the loneliest number. Batman has convinced himself that this is the best way. With the combination of adopting Dick Grayson/Robin (“I want to be adopted so I don’t have to be alone”) and working alongside Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Batman begins to come to terms with his reality.
It is not until he is sent to the Phantom Zone, however, that Lego Batman sees himself for who he is, reminding us all that often we have to set aside and enter the wilderness before we can see our true selves.
While in the Phantom Zone, Batman makes an agreement to come back if he can return to Gotham to save the city. It is in the return to Gotham that Batman learns the importance of family. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl tells him, “You can’t be a hero if you’re only thinking about yourself.”
The actions of Batgirl, Robin, Alfred, and his classic villains show Batman that coming together can be more powerful than going alone. Even though he learns something from this, he keeps his promise and ascends to the Phantom Zone. However, his entrance is denied.
He remains in Gotham, with assurance that family offers healing. The persistence of family – even adopted family (see Ephesians 4) – and their love can help individuals begin to take a long look at themselves. As the film ends, Batman pledges, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror,” a reference to Michael Jackson’s 1987 pop classic.
May we all strive to do the same.