Spinning off from 2014’s bricktacular blockbuster, The Lego Movie, Gotham’s Caped Crusader returns to screens in his very own adventure, complete with more cameos from his extensive rogues gallery than any fan could ask for, a surprisingly engaging story line, and the eclectic sense of humour that made it’s predecessor so successful. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is not only a fun family film that appeals to a vast age range; it stands as one of the Dark Knight’s most successful cinematic outings to date.
Bringing together a huge crew of Batman villains, ranging from the unparalleled to the unthinkable – Looking at you, Condiment King – The Joker attempts once again to gain control of Gotham City. When the plot inevitably fails, however, it’s not the defeat that has him struggling to keep his trademark smile on his face; it’s learning that Batman doesn’t think of The Joker as his greatest enemy. Hurt by the lack of reciprocation of his rather extensive feelings, The Clown Prince of Crime sets out to make Batman miss him, while the Dark Knight himself is stuck dealing with the over-enthusiastic orphan/fanboy that he accidentally adopted.
Having had worked as the animation co-director/supervisor on the Lego Movie AND directed over forty episodes of Robot Chicken, first time feature director Chris McKay was really an obvious choice for a film about animated children’s toys, and he doesn’t disappoint. While most of the humour is derived from either mocking or lauding Batman’s storied cinematic history (everything from the comics to Adam West’s camp 1960’s jaunt all the way up to last year’s Suicide Squad are targeted here), a fair amount of the physical comedy – as well as some interesting narrative points – make great use of the Lego format, making the presence of the little foot-stabbing blocks feel like a worthwhile choice, rather than a cheap marketing gimmick.
Will Arnett’s Batman is a whirlwind of ego and repressed feelings.
Seeing as the film boasts no less than five screenwriters (Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Eric Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington) it comes as no surprise that the gags can be a little hit and miss in some places, with most of the biggest laughs emerging from the first act. The jokes that do land, however (and there are more than enough of them to excuse their weaker counterparts), excel thanks to the outstanding voice talent.
Batman (Will Arnett in all of his deadpan, gravelly goodness) is a whirlwind of ego and repressed feelings as he struggles with his fear of being a part of a family again, clashing somewhat with the fact he accidentally adopted an orphan son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera channelling the well-meaning Russell from UP), who couldn’t be happier to finally have a dad. The rest of the Bat-family are equally well cast: Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes) is demure and dutiful as he tries to help his belligerent, often bratty employer/surrogate son learn to let others into his life again. In a refreshing take that hasn’t been seen thus far in Batman’s cinematic history, Jim Gordon steps down as police commissioner at the start of the film, to be replaced by his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson) who uses her strength and determination to show Batman in no uncertain terms who the new sheriff in town is.
Operating on the other side of the law, Zach Galifianakis heads up the crew of mischievous marauders that threaten the safety of Gotham City, as a much more emotional Joker than Batman has ever faced before. While it’s refreshing to see a take on the Jester of Genocide that isn’t just a rehash of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill or Heath Ledger, it’s a shame that such a family friendly, overtly silly Joker doesn’t make use of his vast array of cartoonish weaponry – Legoified chattering teeth or a moment with his electric joy buzzer would have surely gone down a treat. Not one to hoard all the glory, Joker is backed by a number of villains, ranging from iconic Batman baddies – Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams finally getting to voice the duplicitous delinquent after playing Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman) and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate doing fine work with the unfortunately small role she is afforded) – to a few from other Warner Bros’ properties, including Voldemort (Eddie Izzard) and the Eye of Sauron (Jemaine Clement).
The film successfully explores Batman’s inner pain, yet remains appropriate for a younger audience.
The enormous cast of heroes, villains and cameos from The Lego Movie are used sparingly enough that while each character is given time to shine, nobody is allowed to detract from the overarching themes of family, connections and loneliness that thread throughout the manic action sequences. While these high-octane, brick-busting set pieces are as visually impressive and well-choreographed as any found in Batman’s history, it’s the quieter, more character focused moments that really give the film it’s heart. A particular stand-out occurs early in the film, when Batman returns to the Bat-cave after once again saving the city, only to change into a velvet robe (leaving the cowl on, of course) pop some Lobster Thermidor in the microwave, and settle in his home theatre to watch romantic comedies, all alone. The isolation felt here is palpable, and made all the worse when he gets caught up staring forlornly at a family photo. By focusing on the loss of his parents – and by extension, any lingering sense of family – the film successfully explores Batman’s inner pain, yet it still manages to remain appropriate for a younger audience.
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE takes Will Arnett’s show stealing performance from The Lego Movie and drops it into a well realised Gotham, complete with a horde of characters who look like they were ripped straight from the pages of a comic book. The plot manages to be intricate enough to interest adults, while remaining simple enough to not lose any of the entertainment factor for children. Acting as the next building block in a shared universe, this energetic, heartfelt film does as much for the Batman franchise as it does for Lego; bringing the laughs alongside poignant, emotional notes that show the vulnerable side of the hero who likes to “fight around”.
Verdict: 4/5 Paddles