This is not a movie that I normally would see, but I may be an outlier. In its first four weeks, it grossed $260 million worldwide, which is pretty remarkable for a film about little plastic toy characters.
“The Lego Batman Movie” starts as most crimefighter stories do, by establishing the lead character’s credibility as a battler of bad guys. In this case, it amounts to 10 or 15 minutes of rockem-sockem action involving toy fighter jets and space thingies that is nearly incomprehensible.
By the time that first act was over, I was pretty convinced that the show’s creators lived on Skittles diets or possibly were full-fledged meth junkies.
Then the movie switches gears. There is a conversation in which the Joker demands that Batman acknowledge the Joker as his greatest enemy.
Batman refuses. “I don’t do ‘ships,'” he tells the Joker. “Relationships. You are nothing to me.” The Joker, who apparently does do relationships, is very disappointed.
Then Batman goes back to his fabulous home and stares wistfully at a framed selfie of himself as a child with his late parents. We realize that Batman is a lonely vigilante.
“Your greatest fear is being part of a family again,” says his butler, Alfred.
Yes, you are reading this correctly. The Lego Batman story is about about opening up your heart to other people, or, in this case, other plastic toys.
Batman is rigid, tetchy and in denial. His most memorable quote is “No no no no no no no no no no no.”
(In a newspaper interview, Will Arnett, the gravel-voiced actor who speaks Batman’s lines, said this: “Lego Batman doesn’t know that he is an animated character — and by that, I mean, I approached him as a character I’m playing with an inner life,” he said. “I’m not just talking in that voice.”
(Let’s not be unkind. Arnett would have to say that. His job was to make Lego Batman seem like a genuine human being with a stunted emotional life. I’m the cynic who wants to snicker when I read those words.)
The Batman softening-up project draws in orphan Dick Grayson and a new Gotham police chief who is both comely and teamwork-oriented. The film’s scenes alternate between fast-moving action fights and group sessions exhorting Batman to open his heart and play nicely with others.
The movie also includes some Michael Jackson music and jokes to entertain adults. Batman’s favorite adjective is “sick,” whose current meaning, “awesome,” may not resonate 10 or even five years from now. We’ll see.
In the end — spoiler alert! — Batman becomes a more fully human superhero. As the credits roll, cute characters dance to a catchy song titled “Friends Are Family (That You Choose for Yourself.)” This is a good theme for a children’s movie.
A less admirable theme is the movie’s promotion of Lego Batman products to children. I just went online and found 40 Lego Batman building kits, watches, keychains and other delights.
1) Lego is an 85-year-old Danish company that originally made blocks to stimulate children’s creative impulses. It went over to the dark side a long time ago and now mostly sells recipe kits with step-by-step instructions for building specific structures, vehicles and dioramas.
The blocks now are used by some artists, including Sean Kenney, who may be an original Lego kid who never lost his enthusiasm. Here is one of his many, many Lego creations.