Why The LEGO Batman Movie Lovefest Irritates Me
This is why we can’t have nice things.
I loved The LEGO Batman Movie. It’s a very good film. Go see it. As much as I wanted to dance in the streets and embrace it like everyone else, something held me back like a dark cloud over my phone. I knew this was going to happen. I checked my phone to read reactions and reviews, and just as I predicted – everyone used The LEGO Batman Movie as another excuse to dump on the dark, brooding live action Batman films, specifically Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This goes beyond everybody’s least favorite movie of last year though. This speaks to a larger problem in film criticism, specifically when evaluating a cultural icon: It’s their way or the high way.
As a Batman fan, I loved the hell out of Chris McKay’s interpretation. Sure, I had some minor issues (Michael Cera’s Robin), but overall this was a damn good movie. Not only is it consistently hilarious, but it’s surprisingly deep and heartfelt. Their take on the Batman/Joker relationship is brilliant. Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis turned in superb voice acting. For what this film is trying to accomplish, it delivers hook, line and sinker. I can appreciate this humorous take on Batman, while also loving the darkest versions of the character. Some critics aren’t capable of doing this. Let’s take a gander at some of these reviews:
“Now we know: Batman the TV show had it right. For years, the hit on the series was that it undermined the Batman character, that Adam West’s self-consciously stiff portrayal and the show’s countercultural zing contradicted the very idea of heroism. But there was a reason that tuned-in hipsters and agape schoolkids loved it. Because, despite the Batusi and the Liberace guest spots, Batman was always the incorruptible hero fighting to save Gotham. His true nature was never doubted.” (Chris Barsanti, Pop Matters)
“The entire history of Batman is all one story, told by a really focused eight-year-old. And that’s the way it should be. Batman hasn’t been fun in decades, thanks to the increasingly grim requirements of the DC Cinematic Universe. The LEGO Batman Movie takes all of that apart and knits it back together in a shinier, more awesome pattern.” (Norman Wilner, NOW Toronto)
Notice some of the language here: “Now we know: Batman the TV show had it right” and “That’s the way it should be.” This insinuates that the LEGO take is the only correct one. To me, that’s a narrow-minded view of looking at the character. It gets worse. How about this headline from Meredith Border’s review (Birth. Movies. Death):
Headline: “Shut Up Forever, Other Batman Movies”
Sub-Headline: “Oh hi, fun DC film”
Wow. You can feel her hatred for BvS on those headlines. For the love of Ra’s Al Ghul, get over it. “Shut up Forever, Other Batman Movies.” No. I will not shut up. It’s okay to enjoy dark Batman films too. Is that such a damn crime now? I’m sorry, but when I read that headline, it doesn’t sound like a person who can evaluate Batman movies objectively. It’s Meredith’s way or the high way when it comes to Batman:
“The LEGO Batman Movie is determined to give you everything you want from Batman but were too gun-shy to ask for after the Spartan stinginess of Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder. ‘Oh, you want Man-Bat?”’ it asks you. ‘Sure, we can do that.’”
Okay, notice how she doesn’t single out just Zack Snyder. She calls out Chris Nolan as well. That’s a shot across the bat bowels at other Bat flicks. I get it. You all hate Zack Snyder’s take on Batman. Point taken. But the Nolan shot? Again, her desire to see Man-Bat in a Batman movie comes from a selfish need of what she wants out of the world of Batman. Did I desperately want to see The Riddler in a Nolan Batman movie? Hell yeah. But I also recognize he wouldn’t have worked in the stories Nolan was telling. That’s not Nolan being “stingy,” as Meredith would put it. That’s Nolan doing what’s best for his story. Evaluate the movie as a movie – not what you want.
While I’ve railed before against critics not evaluating movies on their own merits, especially when it comes to comic book films, there’s a deeper issue at play that fans and critics may not even be aware of themselves. Let’s revisit our friend Chris Barsanti from Pop Matters:
“The LEGO Batman Movie is a breath of life before the next faux-serious slab of the same-old comes rolling off the DC assembly line. Moreover, The LEGO Batman Movie references the 1985 classic Gymkata and makes the Joker cry. Let’s see Ben Affleck do that.”
“Let’s see Ben Affleck do that.” Wow. No wonder Ben Affleck doesn’t want to direct a Batman movie. Aside from being a completely obnoxious line, it’s the inclusion of Ben Affleck in this review that troubles me.
I have no doubt this will be a common phrase from many film goers walking out of The LEGO Batman Movie: “You know something, Billy, the movie with LEGOs did a better job than the live action crap!” While that’s a pithy little line that speaks to a snark obsessed culture, it comes from a place of expectations. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the big, fat, bloated blockbuster with an A-list cast, including one of the most famous people in the world, Ben Affleck. It’s the Goliath.
Let’s take The LEGO Batman Movie. Sure, it’s a big film that finished #1 at the box office, but there’s no hype attached to it. It’s the cute little underdog movie when compared to the live action behemoths. I don’t want to go all philosophical on you, but as human beings, we gravitate towards the little guy. We come in rooting for The LEGO Batman Movie. We go into live action Batman with disconcerting attitudes.
While The Dark Knight Rises was met well critically, many fans kvetch about its “many plot holes.” In one of the better reviews for The LEGO Batman Movie, Luke Y. Thompson (The Nerdist) praises the film for incorporating all the Bat Continuity of yesteryear into its story. I agree with him. But uh-oh, there’s a plot hole! This movie is clearly the first meeting between Batman and Dick Grayson (Robin), but if past continuity is included, wouldn’t he already know Robin? I’m going to go out on a limb and predict NOBODY will complain about this when evaluating The LEGO Batman Movie, yet we all lose our minds when it’s not explained how Bruce Wayne gets back into Gotham after escaping Bane’s prison. Double Standard much?
This is the same reason you’ll often hear people say “The Flash TV show will be ten times better than that Ezra Miller movie.” It’s because that show is on the CW network with little expectations when compared to the big budgeted live action movie with a notable star. And just because I love to poke Marvel fans, there’s a reason people are willing to give Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World passes. No matter how big those films get, they will never be as iconic as Batman or Superman. That’s why there’s so much more emotion, hype and critical ire whenever a movie with those guys come out.
This is why I can’t just sit back and enjoy The LEGO Batman Movie. The perception of the film is now creating revisionist history on past Batman films that were critically praised. When you’re a critic, you need to recognize there’s more than one way to interpret a character who’s been around for over 70 years. Appreciate the merits of both styles. We also need to stop letting expectations (both high and low) overly affect your evaluation of a movie. Nothing is as great as it seems (The LEGO Batman Movie), nor as bad (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). It usually falls somewhere in between. We don’t need to always start wars on what method is better with these damn superhero movies.
It’s okay to like The LEGO Batman Movie and The Killing Joke. That’s allowed.