Whenever my friends and I talk about superhero films, there always seems to be a single eventuality. A certainty that no matter who I am talking to, no matter what subject we start with, someone always ends up shitting on the DC cinematic universe. Don’t get me wrong, I love DC comics (and some DC movies). But the last few films have been unbearable to watch. Between Zach Snyder depressing us all with his bland and “dark” Superman films and the Academy Award-winning garbage, Suicide Squad, the DCU has been grasping at straws for almost an entire decade. Seriously. HOW DID YOU FUCK UP BATMAN v. SUPERMAN?*
One of the major gripes most movie-goers have with these films is that they take themselves way too seriously. They try so hard to emulate the dark and gritty world built by Christopher Nolan while their competitors are crushing it with bright, vibrant films. The fact that they reshot Suicide Squad to make it “more fun,” aka “more like Guardians,” is telling. The fact they couldn’t deliver is even more telling.
With the DCU all but dead to rights, it looked like there might never be another great DC superhero film. Then it happened. A DC superhero got a movie that wasn’t a complete turd. In fact, it was spectacular. Who would have thought the saving grace of the DC filmography would be an animated kid’s movie? About LEGOs.
What makes this film stand out is that The LEGO Batman Movie is a fun DC movie. It makes Batman fun. F.U.N. fun! Shocking, I know. The dark and brooding vigilante of the night is brought out of the dark underbelly and into the spotlight and allowed to have a gay old romp around Gotham. From the opening fight sequence between Bats and the entire Rogues Gallery to the final musical number (YES! MUSICAL NUMBERS!), you can’t help but feel sheer joy at seeing these beloved icons going back to their silly, campy, 1966 roots.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t go dark. Scenes where Batman has to confront his loneliness, deal with the loss of his family, and the fear of becoming attached to a new one, all hit hard because of the levity of the rest of the film. It’s that stark contrast between watching Batman clobber Condiment Man to a self-aggrandizing song and watching him wrestle with the loss of his parents that gives the latter the weight it deserves. It’s hard to make out these dark moments in other films where the entire film is dark.
Credit needs to go out to the incredibly talented voice actors who brought these characters to life. Will Arnett may be the single greatest voice actor working today (a possible topic for another day), and Zach Galifianakis steals the show with his unique take on Joker. The most surprising performance by far was Michael Cera’s incredibly heartfelt portrayal of Robin. It was nice to see The Boy Wonder portrayed as an actual child for once, and Cera brought out that childhood wonder and innocence that played well against the harsh and cruel-toned Batman.
Moving forward, I hope the producers, directors, actors, and literally anyone working on a DCU film take the lessons learned from the first successful DC film in a decade and incorporate them into their films as soon as possible. That or let Justice League die before sinking hundreds of millions into it to watch it disintegrate into a pile of ash and sadness in the hands of Zach Snyder. Honestly, it’d be a mercy killing.
*Editor’s Note: You do so by making the film about everything but Batman v Superman. Also Jesse Eisenberg.