I recently got a chance to see The Lego Batman Movie, and it was amazing. Funny, heartfelt, and the perfect treat for a fan of Batman like myself. It functioned as both the ultimate fan film, and also the best cinematic Batman story since The Dark Knight. I also happened to enjoy it more than the original Lego Movie, which I thought was terrific, but was something I only liked rather than loved. What happened here? How could I prefer a spin-off that was admittedly less ambitious than the film that precipitated it? Well, the answer to that question lies in that ambition itself, and to explore it, I’m going to have to get into some spoilers.
The thing that really put The Lego Movie over the top for most critics and fans was that daring third act twist, the reveal that the entire film was actually just a conflict between a child and his obsessive dad. The story of Lord Business, whose rule over the Lego World brings to mind an adorable 1984, was all just an elaborate metaphor for how overbearing some kid’s dad can be. And the super weapon that freezes everyone was actually just that dad’s plan to immortalize his Lego collection’s composition by supergluing everything in place. This twist is admittedly pretty brilliant, hinted at throughout the film, and fit perfectly in a Lego film about embracing the power of creativity and the problems with obsessive rigidity. Yes, I got the twist and everything it was trying to say, but I still kind of hated it in the end. Partly because of the way it was executed, but mostly because of what it meant to the film.
My issues with its execution mostly have to do with how it played out in the Lego world we were just told was actually some kid’s imagination. Showing that world in peril after we were told it was basically nonexistent felt pointless on its own, but the way they played out the resolution felt hackneyed. Our hero Emmett basically just talks the film’s villain out of it, which makes absolutely no sense in the context of the film we were watching for the past hour and a half, but works for the conflict between a father and a son. Of course we could believe a father would capitulate to his son if the son really felt hurt, but in isolation from the twist, the resolution makes no sense and kinda makes the film fall apart on itself. What we saw before this point was an extremely fun hero’s journey through a dystopian society against an evil, controlling, and heartless monster of a dictator told with the presentation of a funny kid’s film romp. The twist that there really was no chosen one, but really just a guy with imagination was great on its own. The implications about society, consumerism, and themes about the human spirit against the crushing weight of social norms were all there too and made for a great story without the need for yet another twist. The film successfully got me to care about these goofy Lego characters, and then basically told me nothing they said or did even mattered and it was all
a dream some kid’s imagination. The second that twist is revealed, the world we grew attached to while watching this film gets deconstructed. All the evil dictator needed to stop being evil was for someone to talk to him, the singular super glue weapon everyone was so afraid of had several duplicates that get introduced with no weight (“MORE CRAGGLES?!”); oh and the main character’s sister wants in on the action so the film ends with a cheap sequel hook that you can tell the writers were being ironic about, but the fact that they already told us what we’re really gonna see is some kid agreeing to let his sister play with his toys in the next film makes me ask “who even cares?”.
What the filmmakers did for The Lego Movie was ask me to care more about the message than its characters, and that is just anathema to me. I grew too attached, and got burned for it. It’s pathetic because it’s exactly that sort of nerdy obsessiveness possessed by some adults that this film was partially criticizing with its message. Is the fact that I hated the twist evidence of my deficiencies as a person? It feels pretty clear the film was aimed at pleasing adult and child audiences alike, is the fact that I hated the twist proof that I’m in that embarrassing space in between? The dreaded “manchild” that the internet has warned me about? Too old to simply enjoy the colourful action, and too immature to appreciate the message conveyed by that father and son twist? Definitely something I’ve been thinking about ever since I walked out of that theater vaguely disappointed.
With The Lego Batman Movie I enjoyed the way things resolved because it kept with the internal logic of the film. There was no “real world” metaphor, no humans playing with Legos that explain the plot, just character’s and their conflicts and their paths to a better understanding of themselves and those around them. I guess I felt like I enjoyed the spin-off film more because it felt like the writers cared about their own characters this time. By the end of the first film, I felt like they didn’t care about most of the story they just told, so it made it tough for me to do so as well, as lame as that sounds. The best way to explain how I feel is to compare the resolutions each of the stories had between their heroes and villains. I could buy that the Joker would join hands with Batman at the end of their movie, I couldn’t grasp at all the idea of Lord Business as presented in isolation from the twist ever doing the same. It just made The Lego Movie feel disjointed, overly saccharine, and a wee bit pretentious. Everything is awesome sure, but not for this sad nerd!
Quote of the Day:
“Always bet on black.”
– Batman, The Lego Batman Movie.