Lego Batman: Symptom of an Illness

I took my kids to see Lego Batman a week or so ago, and I’ve been turning the movie over in my head ever since. It’s a weird one for me: while I recall laughing and finding aspects of the film clever, I very much did not like it, and I’m trying to pin down exactly why. I think, in its broadest sense, this movie represents the death of the Batman character for me – the point at which the character becomes a parody of itself.

Parody turned in upon itself.

Parody can kill the source.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, while there was nothing expressly wrong with Lego Batman, it made it very, very clear that there is something very wrong with Batman himself. The parts of the movie I liked were the parts that broke apart the Batman mystique and myth – the parodic elements, basically. Batman heating up his Lobster Thermidor in the microwave. Batman’s ridiculous outfits. Batman’s improbable 50 year history in film. I even got a kick out of seeing Sauron and Voldemort and the rest of them bopping around. What I hated – hated, hated hated – was the actual story. Which is weird, right? It was the classic Batman story. Hell, it’s a classic story full stop – my own Saga of the Redeemed has elements of that story in it. And yet I very, very much did not want to see any of those scenes. None of them. I squirmed in my seat as I was watching Batman go through his emotional arc. I literally thought to myself, with a sense of dread, crap, do we actually have to *watch* him develop a relationship with Robin?

This semi-instinctive revulsion is indicative that I no longer actually like the Batman character. We’ve seen all his stories, we’ve played out all the rope we can, and now he’s just…dreadfully dull. Lego Batman makes this really clear, actually – Batman is, in reality, boring. I’m watching the movie and realizing, albeit belatedly, that I totally agree. Batman is done to death – there is nothing more to say. For all the zaniness and crazy action and wild jokes and bizarre plot twists, that movie was utterly predictable. What’s more, we all knew it was predictable. We knew exactly what was going to happen, when it would happen, and why it would happen. We only had to sit back and wait for the inevitable. The excitement from the movie was entirely generated by the peripheral, surface-level effects of cool vehicles, sight gags, and visual effects – in other words, the shallowest kind of storytelling. The meat of the story was as overcooked and shoe-leather gray as a steak at the Cracker Barrel.

The movie knows all this, by the way. Egg Man?

The movie knows all this, by the way. Egg Man?

What else can we milk from Batman, exactly? Anything? The same tired villains, the same dull monologues, the same staid Alfred, the same basic style…ugh. We are all going through the motions, now – there’s nothing left interesting to delve into. So, you know, it might as well be funny in the same way that Airplane! made airports funny or Caddyshack made golf-courses funny – because, by themselves, those places just aren’t that entertaining. It’s not the same kind of parody that is done out of love for the source material, either (the Star Wars episodes of Family Guy come to mind), but rather the kind done because every other thing has already been said and we are all collectively tired of it. Is anyone out there actually looking forward to the next Ben Affleck Batman movie?

Didn’t think so.

What a sad fate for a character I used to love so much. I wonder how this happened, but I think the answer is rather complicated: a combination of over-saturation and over-reliance of formula are the primary contributing factors. And, you know, maybe I’m wrong – maybe ol Bats has a few tricks left. I do know, though, that we’re gonna have to wait a while before we can appreciate it and, when they do get around to it, they are really going to have to break the Bat-mold wide open.

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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on February 22, 2017, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I saw this Monday with my boys. I fell asleep in the theatre, although that also happens in really good movies. I think two problems are going on here: taking Batman too seriously and everything’s a remake. These are related since to keep making remakes you have to plumb the depths of the characters. The problem comes when there really isn’t that much there. Star Wars, for instance, is a fun romping adventure through space, with enough depth (merely a hint) to make it a good story. Rogue One, I thought, went way too far. It was a good movie but it wasn’t much fun. I would have rather seen something totally new with that much drama.

    • I actually *loved* Rogue One (the Dirty Dozen in space is an easy sell for me). The thing about Batman is that he *had* depth to his character, but we seem to have lost it somewhere. Same thing with Spiderman, honestly–we keep retreading the same *one period* of the character’s development until it’s worn away. What about *old* Batman? What about Spiderman the *father*? Lots of room for development there, I think (well, a lot has been done in the comics, but still).

  2. Brittany Constable

    My problem with the emotional arc was that it was about as unsubtle as a chainsaw. (The story was developed by the guy who did Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so it’s not exactly surprising.) Like, if you directly state your theme once, it’s a little on the nose but whatever. If you can’t go five minutes without directly stating your theme, you either think you’re playing to a coma ward, or you don’t actually have any thoughts about your theme beyond simply stating it. I’m fine with my emotions being manipulated, but I object to them being manipulated transparently and clumsily.

    I was fine with them taking the piss out of the Batman mythos. The character went off the gritty deep end with Frank Miller, so it was nice to get some recognition that the early years were straight-up goofy. Superheroes in general take themselves far too seriously these days, and Batman has gotten it worse than anyone.

  3. Not even Ben Affleck is looking forward to the next Ben Affleck Batman movie.

  4. Batman is a cool character, but I suspect audiences are suffering from Dark Knight fatigue. Warner Bros rely on him too much because their other heroes have flopped at the box office.

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