Dick’s Two Dads and a Bromance: The New ‘LEGO Batman Movie’
The new LEGO Batman Movie (2017) combines the universe’s most versatile toy and iconic comic book heroes, rewarding children and their parents with 104 minutes of action-packed, visually gripping, mostly comical tragicomedy—and maybe an awkward conversation with your kid a few years before you want it. (Minor spoilers follow.)
True to form, the medium of the animated LEGO proves its power to melt some of the Batman brand’s most intense moments into buttery popcorn parodies fit for a king or, more importantly, a kid. This is impressive, considering the new depths of darkness and violence occupying the most recent three human Batman films. These include The Dark Knight (2008), in which the Joker (Heath Ledger) “disappears” a pencil by driving it through the eye socket and into the brain of an unsuspecting henchman. (Ledger died of an overdose of prescribed narcotics before the film hit theaters.)
For parents who recognize it is futile trying to isolate kids from Hollywood’s latest top-grossing grown-up flicks, kid-friendly LEGO adaptations are a relief. Observe: “Dad, can I see Batman?” “Heck no, son! Mom’s not even allowed to see Batman.” “I mean LEGO Batman.” “I love that you love LEGOs. You’re gonna build something to change the world someday. Let’s go.”
LEGO builds Gotham City well: Bruce Wayne/Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, Robin, and the deranged underworld lords terrorizing the unsuspecting population—all sanitized and humorized to delight and inspire children. And don’t forget the orphan adoption by two dads, homoerotic attraction, and penis jokes!
Let’s unpack that last part for the bigots and prudes, while giving credit where credit is due. LEGO Batman could do a lot worse as a kids’ movie. The writers could have clumsily stacked topics such as gender identity, gender roles, and gender neutrality all over the story board like so many LEGOs. Instead, these topics hide in plain sight, because they are the foundation. Few parents and fewer kids will question any of it, because there’s a way to interpret all of it as technically innocent. That’s what makes these messages subliminal (and potentially powerful). LEGO Batman makes them seem plain as vanilla and American as apple pie.
For example, two men adopting a son together sounds like a dream come true to Richard, the orphan Bruce Wayne adopts without telling him he’s Batman. That’s why, when Richard hesitates to board a bat vehicle without Bruce-Dad’s permission, Batman tells him he and Bruce-Dad share custody of him. Richard doesn’t need Bruce-Dad’s permission; he has Bat-Dad’s!
This solution thrills Richard, who unblinkingly climbs aboard (and later becomes Robin). The bubbly young man is tickled as he spells it out for viewers: Yesterday he didn’t have a dad, and now he has two dads! Viewers may laugh, because they know it’s a farce: Bruce-Dad and Bat-Dad are one. Richard doesn’t learn the truth until the end, when Bat-Dad pulls off his mask to reveal Bruce-Dad’s face and tells Richard to call him “Dads.” Funny, right?