Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Lego Batman Movie
This weekend’s box-office champion, The Lego Batman Movie, is rife with allusions and callbacks to the Dark Knight’s rich cinematic history from the Caped Crusader’s days as a ‘40s serial star up to last year’s face-off with the Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But one of the cartoon’s slyest deep-cut references involves Tim Burton’s 1989 Bat-blockbuster, Batman, which helped launch the contemporary comic book movie wave. Early on in Lego Batman, Gotham City’s champion (voiced by Will Arnett) inadvertently adopts a ward, young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). A brooding loner by nature, Batman willfully ignores the kid much to the consternation of his butler companion, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), who takes it upon himself to push the soon-to-be Dynamic Duo together by granting Dick access to the Batcave.
Holy security breach, Batman! And not the first one either, as Alfred has gone rogue like this before. In Burton’s Batman, the elderly manservant (played by the late Michael Gough) admits comely photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) to his boss’s secret hideout while Bruce (Michael Keaton) is out of his cape and cowl no less. (Watch the notorious scene above.) As in Lego Batman, it’s a decision motivated out of Alfred’s deep concern for Bruce’s mental health, as well as a desire to see his surrogate son — whom he effectively raised following the double murder of his parents in Crime Alley — make a human connection.
But Alfred’s choice to personally escort Vicki into Bruce’s lair has since become one of the most controversial moments in Bat-lore, frequently held up as an example of what Burton’s movie gets wrong about Batman. For example, it topped IGN’s list of Batman’s Worst Decisions, with the authors suggesting that Alfred’s action is a fireable offense. And Digital Spy named it one of the worst-ever moments in a Batman film, alongside the infamous Bat-nipples from Joel Schumacher’s two contributions to the film franchise, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
Leave it to noted Bat-fan, Kevin Smith, to characterize the Alfred’s indiscretion in the harshest — and most colorful — way possible. Re-reviewing Batman on a 2013 episode of his podcast Fatman on Batman, the once and future Silent Bob couldn’t keep quiet about his passionate distaste for this scene:
“The worst butler that ever butled in the history of butling brings your f**king girlfriend down to your f**king Batcave and shows her that you’re Batman. Really? It’s the equivalent of you send her a selfie of your dick hanging out and she puts it on her Facebook page. You’re like, ‘No! You’ve just seen everything I’m about.’ He’s exposed right here. If you’re Bruce Wayne, you have the argument to Alfred, ‘Dude I told you nobody and you brought her in here. And now this woman has to die and her death is on your head, you old butler f**k.’ If I’m [Vicki] in that moment, I’m like ‘Let me be the new butler. I’ll be better and I’ll keep s**t quiet.’ And then go and strangle Alfred.”
Even Burton eventually seemed to recognize the ridiculousness of that moment. In his 1992 follow-up, Batman Returns, Bruce goes out of his way to needle Alfred, telling him, “Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I’m sitting there working; I turn around, there she is. ‘Oh, hi, Vick — come on in.'”
To be fair to Alfred’s Lego counterpart, he doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of blowing Bruce’s secret identity. The millionaire is still suited up in his costume when Alfred allows Dick to enter the Batcave, and the blissfully unaware kid remains in the dark about the fact that his new guardian and favorite hero are one and the same until the very end of the movie. Furthermore, the butler’s plan to pull his boss out of his self-imposed funk succeeds brilliantly. Fighting alongside a boy wonder opens Batman’s heart and mind to the idea of building an extended Bat Family. So blame it on the butler if you must, but maybe — just maybe — Alfred is onto something by selectively granting civilians tours of the Batcave.