(Slight spoilers, but not really!)
After seeing gritty Batman, detective Batman, real-world Batman and dozens of other Batman variations, from comics to cartoons to films, where do you go? Lego Batman has the answer. The sequel to the 2014 surprise hit The Lego Movie gives us the greatest Batman love story ever told. It just so happens to be a gay love affair. And it just so happens to be with the Joker.
There are so many guest appearances, movie references, sight gags and homages in this film it feels forced at times. It’s saved by the great interplay between Batman and Robin (Will Arnett and Michael Cera re-igniting their Gob and Michael act from Arrested Development), the neediness of Zach Galifianakis’ Joker and the plot-stabilizing, straight-woman hilarity of Rosario Dawson as Gotham Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon.
What really makes The Lego Batman Movie special, however, isn’t the plot, it’s the motivation behind the plot: the intense and unrequited love between Batman and the Joker.
It’s funny, at first, using the bromance subtext common in movies like Superbad, The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard and on TV shows like The League, or just about anything from Lonely Island. The “humor” is supposed to come from the gay double entendre and witty banter between two presumptively “straight” men arguing with each other in a way that sounds suspiciously like a man and woman the audience knows deep, deep down, really just want to screw each other.
This is not a gay subtext mined for laughs, this is essentially Brokeback Batman. Amid the jokes, action, obsession with tight abs, rainbow color scheme and dance routines, this movie isn’t a nod to gay love between Batman and the Joker, this movie is head-banging to it.
Film critic Wesley Morris pondered in 2015, in a review of Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell’s Get Hard (which is more than on the nose), that eventually Hollywood would acknowledge these “bromance” types of movies had as much romantic potential as straight films. Why can’t two ostensibly straight men fall for each other like any other unlikely odd couple in a rom-com? Lego Batman seems like the unlikely, but incredibly successful, evolution he was predicting. Even if it comes in the form of talking plastic blocks.
It’s not as if Batman and the Joker’s sexual or homoerotic relations haven’t been mined in the past. Batman’s relationship with Dick Grayson (the original Robin and a gay icon in his own right) spawned the “Ambiguously Gay Duo” parody on Saturday Night Live. Wildstorm-DC Comic’s Midnighter character is a gay Batman allegory (with a gay Superman allegory boyfriend). The Joker’s sexual obsession with Batman and Batman’s complex reactions to it have been touched upon in comics, too.
The gayness of The Lego Batman Movie is made more apparent by the fact that Batman and Joker’s relationships with women seem perfunctory at best.
At one point in the movie, Batman and the Joker are just staring at each other, painted-on Lego eyes intensely locked. A kid in the front of the theater screamed out, “Just tell him!!!” to the muffled laughter of the entire audience. This is a reaction usually reserved for a Bridget Jones movie, or whatever Seth Rogen-Jennifer Aniston rom-com got churned out in the last month. The fact that it was so obvious to a child what was going on in this film was revolutionary. By the time Batman finally, painfully, admits, “I hate you” to the Joker near the movie’s climax, there were audible “Awwwws” in the audience. Ace and Gary would be thrilled.
If you like Batman the comic, the cartoon, or the movies, you’ll love The Lego Batman Movie. If you want to see a version of Batman you’ve never seen, you’ll love The Lego Batman Movie. The only way you won’t like The Lego Batman Movie is if you’re against action, laughs, costumes and love. Whether he intended to or not, even the Dark Knight learns to embrace all of those by the end of this movie.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.