Dark themes and dank memes in Lego Batman
[If you haven’t seen the movie, there are a few vague plot lines ahead but no major spoilers.]
Here I am, sitting in the movie theater on opening night of Lego Batman. The theater is full of 7-year-olds and their parents (who hopefully will not get mugged and shot when they leave). There is the occasional adult couple, but I am alone. That’s how I roll. Why do you think I like Batman?
The Lego Batman movie is another Batman film in a long line of Batman legacy. The themes in the movie are not new, but they are explored in somewhat novel ways. I mean, everything is a Lego, for one.
Theme 1. The movie’s opening scene sets the tone for the entire movie. Batman is a badass and he knows it. Though Batman is typically humble throughout the history of Batman lore, it’s not a huge leap to portray him as prideful and self-aware of his badassery. While in Batman’s history he doesn’t go around basking in his own self-righteousness and talking like an arrogant narcissist, his character generally screams I’m the most badass. There is even a trope in the online/comics community that Batman always wins, and the reason is essentially because he always, always, always, outsmarts his opponent. So the Lego movie really took this implicit Batman theme to the extreme, because it’s funny, and half true.
Theme 2, The struggle of teamwork. Of course Batman prefers to work alone, but throughout his history there’s been time and time again where he is forced to suspend his lone-wolf preference and, when necessary, work together. Batman never liked working with others for the very reason he became a lone crime fighter — he thought the job wasn’t being done properly, and other people just get in the way. But he always realizes, at a certain point, that he is only one man. No man is an island, not even Bat Man!
Theme 3. Batman is… ineffective. Again, this is not a totally new theme in Batman history —just one example in the recent movie Batman vs. Superman has Bruce Wayne lamenting to Alfred that “I take one down and another will always crop up in its place.” It may be true that Batman always wins, but it’s also true that he never wins. He doesn’t actually solve the root problem. This is made explicitly clear in the Lego Movie, and it’s another reason why it’s not just a movie for kids. I’m not even sure if kids are capable of understanding this.
Theme 4. The relationship between protagonist and antagonist, and one of the greatest examples in film history is Batman vs Joker. Some would say these seminal enemies are two sides of the same coin, and they could not exist without the other. Joker is upset in the Lego Movie because Batman doesn’t seem to realize they are in a kind of “special relationship,” and Joker tries to convince Batman throughout the movie that it’s true — they do complete each other.
Again, this is not new for Batman and the DC Universe, but the Lego Movie does a good job of making the theme explicit by poking fun at it.
There are more elements to the movie — of course, how could it be a Batman movie without Batman’s parents—and then there’s the sidekick, the struggle and meaning of good and evil, and so on.
Go see it at night, when all is dark and the color is black.
And try going it alone… if you can.