After more than a decade of dark and grim movies featuring Batman (first by Christopher Nolan, now by Zack Snyder), casual fans would be forgiven for thinking that interpretation was the limit of the character. But the thing that makes Batman one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time is the sheer multiplicity of interpretations. Over the years, comic creators have written Batman not just as dark and violent, but also colorful and campy, quick and witty, brooding and tragic; he’s been pitted against not just nihilistic art-punks but also crooked cops, giant monsters, genocidal maniacs, and everything in-between. The LEGO Batman Movie gets this.
While other big-screen Batman films like The Dark Knight feel rooted in ‘80s comics like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, The LEGO Batman Movie effortlessly synthesizes decades of fictional history. While still remaining accessible to the general public, the new film threw quite a few nods to some of the stranger and less-acclaimed eras of Batman history. In the process, it signaled what it found compelling about its subject matter. Here are some of the past iterations of Batman given new life in The LEGO Batman Movie.
Adam West’s Batman
The Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman films, and the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton duo that preceded them, could perhaps be seen as a direct counterweight to the lingering influence of the ‘60s live-action Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. With its loud fonts and campy Bat-dancing, Batman represented everything these dark Batmans were trying to be. It wasn’t self-serious in the slightest but still managed to create compelling and colorful stories that have endured over decades. The LEGO Batman Movie’s loving odes to that show (from Alfred donning West’s version of the Bat-suit to the glorious return of Bat Shark Repellent) signaled that it was carrying that.
The Grant Morrison era
The tone of Batman stories does not have to be a choice between grim darkness and colorful camp. There are multiple valences, as demonstrated in Grant Morrison’s recent run on the Batman comic. Morrison’s take was remarkable for the way it fit the stranger eras of Batman together in with the “grittier” modern understanding. One such concept is, of course, Robin, the iconic sidekick who was nonetheless a little too colorful for the Nolan films and so far exists in the Snyderverse solely as a ghost, murdered by the Joker. One of Morrison’s great ideas was to make Robin’s upbeat color a totally intentional and vital counterweight to Batman’s natural self-destructive darkness. Such is the role Robin (Michael Cera) inhabits in The LEGO Batman Movie, as a much-needed dose of sunshine, who arrives at the perfect time to jog Batman (Will Arnett) out of his depressed isolation.
‘50s Batman comics
The grim avenger familiar to modern Batman fans is a far cry from the character that inhabited DC comic books in the ‘50s. Back then, Batman and Robin mostly spent their time fighting aliens and out-there monsters, even teaming up with Superman for some superpower adventures in the pages of World’s Finest. The LEGO Batman Movie utilizes both of those, beautifully. The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) unleashes a horde of fantasy and science-fiction villains, all set into motion by Superman’s Phantom Zone projector (itself a psychedelic concept not often used by the modern Superman). In the process, it shows how Batman’s quest for justice is relevant far beyond the narrow alleyways of Gotham City.
Deep cut villains
Batman has the best gallery of villains in all of superhero comics. By this point, even casual fans are probably familiar with the top tier (Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman) but Batman’s list of interesting foes extends almost infinitely. Although The LEGO Batman Movie brings in a ton of iconic villains from other media properties as a backup, it also combs Batman’s own long list of foes for deep cuts like Calendar Man and Killer Moth. In addition, it shows different sides to Joker (who abandons his chaos theory and Iggy Pop cosplay in favor of grand romantic gestures here) and Bane (who, hilariously, appears in the form of his old-school steroid luchador self but talks in a parody of Tom Hardy’s guerilla revolutionary).