So I decided last year that the movies were all so mediocre that I could not compile a “best of” list. And this prompted a reader to write a long comment about his disgust at how movies suck now. And since then its been in my head to think about why there are few good movies and what makes a “movie of the year” and why it’s somehow important to categorize movies this way. I say all this as preamble to the fact that several times during this, The Lego Batman Movie, I said to myself: “My God, THIS is the best movie of the year!”
Let’s tick off some reasons:
- It is hilariously funny, causing me to laugh out loud several times [this is a rarity, I am at most a mild chuckler]
- Many of those laughs were about how clever and insightful the jokes were
- It is more emotionally involving than most films, including most Batman films
- It is the third-best Batman film, behind Tim Burton’s Batman and The Dark Knight
- It is a real Batman film, the entire story hinges on Batman’s psychology and history
- It satirizes not just Batman, but action films and heroic tropes in general
- It has cooler Batman gadgets and vehicles than any of the movies
- It is visually stunning throughout
So yeah, imagine my shock. I liked The Lego Movie well enough, and like others was taken off-guard by its absolute silliness, but had more attachment to this, since one is familiar with Batman [it is one of those ingrained cultural stories I asked about] and so much of the satire here also targets films in general and other well-known pop culture properties [all of which are owned by Warner Brothers, you will note]. I was surprised to be really laughing, and I mean not just because a cat pooped in someone’s soup or something, but because the humor has real insight about Batman’s emphatic macho posturing, his clueless self-regard and his insistence that he’s a lone wolf. Then the movie—more than any other Batman film—explicitly ties his whole loner thing to fear of loss if he gets attached to anyone, and this is the first film in which I made the connection that the loss of his parents is the cause of this.
So you see, this is the first and only Batman movie to really explore Batman’s psychology in a way that made it emotionally compelling. It was surprisingly moving to see Batman contemplate a picture of himself smiling and being happy before his parents were killed, and—why have we never seen that in a serious Batman film? It’s so simple, yet so evocative. Then, when Batman finally lets himself get attached to people and suddenly is frozen with terror at the prospect of losing them—why have we never seen that before? It completely illuminates the whole deal with his parents and why he is the way he is. All I got from all the other films is: “Yeah, he’s got trauma.”
I admit I rolled my eyes when I saw that Robin was back and was going to be a big part of this film—because let’s face it, Robin is just annoying—and was surprised that he’s charming here, but more than that, his interactions with Batman are genuinely sweet. Batman’s excitement when Robin successfully completes a dangerous task is lovely, and it’s clever [and alludes to their historic homo subtext] that Robin’s main superpower is obeying Batman.
What else? There’s a surreal meta pop fizz that we’re watching a representation of toys enacting such an epic story. The absolute goofiness and unrelenting geyser of silliness of The Lego Movie is also present here, only I found the jokes here to have more resonance and, at times, to be very, very clever. This film is entirely CGI, yet the level of detail they went to in order to make it look like real, plastic toys being stop-motion-animated is remarkable—note the reflections of lights on the plastic waves of Joker’s hair, for instance. Oh, and the whole thing is absolutely visually stunning and Batman has cooler bat-gadgets than in most of the serious films.
So yeah, Elle, Things to Come and The Lego Batman Movie. That’s pretty much how it is. You may not believe everything I said, but you owe yourself a laugh, so go see it and maybe you’ll be surprised. I sure was.