We’re always saying that superhero movies have become too dark. Although I don’t disagree, this gripe is exasperating when geek-culture at large is berated for ruining what we’re told is a children’s genre (and aren’t we ashamed of ourselves?). Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the source of much grumbling in 2016, for instance. I’d imagine this year’s Justice League will have a similar effect, so it’s not a topic that’s going anywhere fast.
With that in mind, The LEGO Batman Movie is an ideal tonic. Funny, heartfelt and unfailingly bizarre, it’s a love-letter to comics and every era of the Dark Knight (even those we’d rather forget). As an example, the neon thugs of Batman and Robin make an appearance while Bane speaks with an accent that is unmistakeably ripped from The Dark Knight Rises. Billy-Dee Williams even gets to play Two Face at last after missing the chance in Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s simply wonderful.
Accordingly, I wonder if this isn’t the solution to complaints about age-appropriateness. Rather than re-tooling films like Wonder Woman or Aquaman so they’re suitable for kids, why not create another DC universe alongside it that’s built from the ground up to be family-friendly? LEGO Batman demonstrates that there’s enough room to accommodate both approaches.
It may overcomplicate things, but I’m loathe to ring-fence these characters for one audience or another. Despite being designed with children in mind, it’d be wilful ignorance to deny how popular they are amongst adults. This is a genre that’s grown far beyond its original demographic, and classic stories like The Dark Knight Returns only accentuate the point. As such, it makes more sense to keep these approaches separate than compromise the vision of either one.
The question then becomes how to go about it, of course. Continuing with the LEGO series is one (very good) option. We’ve seen that those at the helm know exactly what makes DC special, and the Justice League have already made an appearance in LEGO Batman to boot. It wouldn’t take much to pivot into a team-up film or Superman movie, especially when the latter was voiced by Channing Tatum last time.
Another option would be starting fresh with an animated universe akin to Marvel’s Big Hero 6. The perfect jumping-on point would be a Superman story. After Man of Steel ruffled feathers, I can’t think of anything better than going back-to-basics with a boy-scout who doesn’t need to contend with a grounded universe. Want Krypto the super-dog? Cool, you’ve got it. If we can create a world where it’s OK to have often-ridiculous superheroes wearing their pants on the outside, why not? A lighter, kid-friendly film opens doors that just aren’t accessible elsewhere.
With luck, this would right the ship without throwing our baby out with the bathwater: there’s still something worth salvaging from the DC cinematic universe, flaws aside. To me, this is the best way of getting the best of both worlds without hobbling either. Everyone wins.
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