There are many reasons to love The LEGO Batman Movie. It’s funny, it continues the irreverent approach of The LEGO Movie, Will Arnett’s performance as the caped crusader is as terrific as in that movie (all Donald Trump’s tweets should be read in this voice), and it’s a Batman film that we can actually take our children to see.
But another reason I love it, is that it features Batgirl.
Batgirl was created for the sixties TV show, and has been in and out of comic book continuity ever since. She is Barbara Gordon, Librarian daughter of the unsuspecting Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.
In The LEGO Batman Movie she is still daughter of Jim Gordon, but she is now the Gotham City Police Commissioner, as her father has retired. She is also depicted as a great cop, immensely qualified (she went to the ‘Harvard for Police’), supremely confident, and can kick ass just like Batman. So a great role model character for any little girl.
Another key difference to this Barbara Gordon, is that she is now a woman of colour (voiced by mixed-race actor Rosario Dawson). Representation matters – and as the father of a mixed-race superhero loving daughter, I couldn’t be happier about that.
Batgirl specifically isn’t in the movie anywhere near as much as Barbara Gordon. When she does become Batgirl, she dons the familiar purple and yellow cape & cowl – with a bit of a nod to the modern Burnside version. There is a nice series of gags with a pink outfit, and whether she can call Batman ‘Batboy’ if she’s Batgirl.
Batgirl is one of those characters who I’ve done my best to source merchandise of for my daughter ever since she was born. But I struggled to find that much, especially ones that were affordable and available in our country (we’ve lived in NZ and the UK since our daughter was born).
So the best part of the inclusion of Batgirl in The LEGO Batman Movie is that she’s a big part of the marketing onslaught, and the amount of readily available Batgirl merchandise has increased exponentially. There are LEGO sets, books, accessories, posters, clothing, and more – all featuring this iconic female superhero (who is also now a woman of colour).
The role of Barbara/Batgirl isn’t without its shortcomings. She is of course still a supporting player (this is the LEGO ‘Batman’ Movie after all), and there’s more than a hint of the Trinity Syndrome about her place in the story (that also blighted Wyldstyle in The LEGO Movie) – a role that in part needs to enable the far less competent male lead to complete his heroic journey.
Don’t get me wrong. Having strong female characters is great. My daughter was enamoured with LEGO Batgirl (like Wyldstyle before her). But one day she’ll notice the trend of these awesome women being male hero-makers. Having more strong female action movie protagonists, not just characters, is the goal.
But with the merchandising payoff, I’ll happily take this Trinity Syndrome-lite Batgirl/Barbara Gordon for now. I hope she’ll have a bigger role in what I hope is the inventible sequel.
This remains a terrific movie. Batman’s inherent silliness is perfectly suited to this approach, and Gotham City offers such a rich cast of characters to work from. The film as has only heightened my daughter’s Bat-fandom.
Some days after seeing the movie, my daughter said “I want to fight crime like Batman”. I pointed out the fact that Batman/Bruce Wayne was a very, very rich person, which might be a hinderance to her copying him. But I reminded her about LEGO Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, who without being rich trained to become a very clever & kick ass police officer and then superhero. She pondered this, and then revised her wish. “Ok, I want to fight crime like Batgirl”.
The LEGO Batman Movie is released on February 10th.