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Life Lessons With ‘The Lego Batman Movie’

The plastic caped crusader’s lovely, cheesy message resonates

(Warner Bros.)
(Warner Bros.)

Who was the best actor to play Batman? The answer is easy: It’s Christian Bale. If you want to get specific, it’s when Christian Bale played Batman in 2008’s The Dark Knight, the best Batman movie that’s ever been made.

Who was the worst actor to play Batman? That answer is even easier: It’s George Clooney. If you want to get specific, it’s when he said, “This is why Superman works alone” in 1997’s Batman & Robin, because Clooney said it like he says all of his lines in all of his movies, which is to say, like he’s filming an Ocean’s 11 movie. That’s why the Ocean’s 11 movies are so great but why this particular Batman movie was so bad.

Somewhere in between those endpoints on the Batman Scale of Excellence is Will Arnett’s Lego Batman in The Lego Batman Movie, which I watched this weekend with my youngest son (4 years old), his older brothers (twin 9-year-olds), and my wife (___ years old). It’s a fun enough movie, and had it come out before 2014’s The Lego Movie, an exceptional and truly special outing, I’d probably have liked it even more. But it didn’t. It’s a Lego movie, but not the Lego movie, you know what I’m saying?

The Five Best Parts of ‘The Lego Batman Movie,’ Ranked

(And of course there are some spoilers here, but if you’re the type of person who gets upset at spoilers in a Lego movie, then maybe you have some bigger things to worry about than spoilers in a Lego movie.)

5. The scene where the kid who eventually becomes Robin chooses his outfit. (It’s not quite as good as that scene in Toy Story 3 when the Ken Doll goes through his wardrobe, but it’s energetic enough to be sweet.)

4. The scene where Batgirl pokes Batman in the eye because she has to be BatGIRL while he gets to be BatMAN.

3. The scene where Batman comes home after defeating some bad guys and he microwaves lobster thermidor and then eats it alone, in silence, while floating in his pool, and then as soon he’s done he takes out an electric guitar and starts playing it.

2. The scene where they point out that Batman has been fighting crime in Gotham for decades and that Gotham is no better than when he started (and, in fact, it might have gotten worse on his watch). This, to me, was the most profound moment. I guess I just never really thought much about it. I like when movies do things like this — when they point out a thing that you should’ve noticed. The whole point of the movie is that working alone isn’t as good as working with a team*, and that’s fine. That’s a fine philosophical premise. But I liked the Batman Isn’t Effective At All reveal more.

*Most every animated movie has a Main Point like the “Work together” angle in The Lego Batman Movie. To wit: Inside Out = “Humans are complicated”; Wall-E = “Stop looking at your phone”; The Lion King = “Sometimes your family sucks”; Up = “Old people love balloons”; Ratatouille = “Rats should not be allowed in kitchens no matter how good they are at cooking”; Monsters, Inc. = “People are terrifying, until they’re not”; Beauty and the Beast = “Date ugly men”; Pocahontas = “Don’t trust white men”; Big Hero 6 = “Your whole family is going to die eventually so good luck, bro”; The Princess and the Frog = “Here, we finally gave you a black princess”; Toy Story = “Stay 10 toes down for your people”; and Zootopia = “Animals are racist, too.”

1. The revelation that the Joker is mad that Batman will not admit he’s his nemesis, except they treat it like when two people are in a relationship and one wants to get serious and the other is afraid to. The Joker says things close to, “Admit that you hate me, that I’m your greatest enemy.” Batman says things close to, “I don’t hate you. I don’t feel that toward you. I don’t feel anything. I’m not just fighting you. I’m fighting a lot of people. I like to fight around.” It’s a funny moment, but also touching, because as Batman explains several different ways that he doesn’t feel feelings, the Joker — that poor lovebird — his face just keeps getting sadder and sadder and sadder. Let me tell you something: It’s a weird feeling to be a 35-year-old nearly tearing up because a Lego version of a bad guy is getting his heart broken over and over again, but sometimes that’s just how life goes. (The movie ends with Batman finally admitting that he has feelings for the Joker, which he had denied because he was afraid of admitting he had any kind of emotions because his family was blahblahblah-ed when he was a kid. Then they save the city together by having really good abs. For real.)

Three days after we’d watched the movie, I asked each of my sons if they had learned any big lessons about life from watching it. Boy B, the slickest of the three, said, “Yes, sir.” Then he started to walk away before I could ask him to explain because that’s about how long our conversations last. I said, “Really? Like what,” and he had a look on his face that very much said that his answer was reflexive and had been given with absolutely no intention of providing a follow-up. He said, “Well … I guess … the main lesson of it was … Oh, that it’s better if you work with a team than if you work alone,” and he was proud of himself, and I was very proud of him too for being able to materialize an answer that quickly. He’s a smart kid (or a sneaky kid, which is basically the same thing when you’re 9 years old).

When I asked the youngest one, the Baby, he just looked at me and laughed one of those halfway laughs you do when you’re not sure how you’re supposed to respond to a situation. I said, “Do you understand the question?” He said, “No, sir.” I said, “That’s fair, given that you’re a 4-year-old. What about a favorite part? Did you have a favorite part?” He thought for a second, then he smiled real big and said, “Yes! When Batman was eating a crawfish,” and I was like, “It was actually a lobster,” and then I felt like a dick for “Well actually”-ing a 4-year-old talking about his favorite part of a movie starring Legos. Then he said, “Daddy, look, I have one big foot,” and when I looked at him I saw that he’d shoved both of his feet into one of my slides.

When I asked the other twin, Boy A, I caught him as he was walking past me into the hallway as I finished my conversation with the Baby. He said, “No, sir,” and I could hear in his voice that he was crying. I said, “Hey. Why are you crying? Turn around.” He turned around. His eyes were red and wet and he was very obviously crying, so I silently and very quickly in my head went through a list of all the things I’d said and done in the prior five minutes to see if it was something I’d done or said. He didn’t answer. Again, I said, “Why are you crying?” And again, he didn’t answer. Then I realized he was holding a large comb and that the kitchen faucet behind me was running, which meant that he was minutes away from getting his hair — otherwise a tangled palm tree growing out of the top of his head — washed and detangled. To hear him describe it, getting your hair done is no different than getting your fingers closed in a door for 45 minutes straight. “You getting your hair done?” I asked. He shook his head yes. I said, “Got it. Just think on the question. Because I’m going to ask you again when you’re done.”

When he was done, his hair was beautiful and he was no longer crying. I said, “Did you think of any big life lessons you learned from the movie?” He looked up toward the ceiling for a second, then he said, “Yes: Don’t be selfish.” I said, “Who was selfish in the movie?” He said, “Batman.” I said, “How was he selfish?” He was quiet for a second, and I panicked because I thought he was going to start crying again, because I can never tell the difference between a child being quiet and a child being on the verge of tears. After, say, 10 seconds, he said, “I don’t know, daddy. I was just saying that. Can I go in my room?” Then he went in his room. And I was just sitting there in the front room, alone, and I guess that’s the closest I’ll ever be to being Batman.