Nearly everything is awesome in this Bruce Wayne-centric addition to the Lego cinematic universe
Quite literally a block-buster, the computer generated actioner The Lego Batman Movie is perhaps the antithesis to what you’d expect from DC’s brooding Dark Knight, so masterfully re-envisaged for the Christopher Nolan series.
And yet, the family-size fun of the film actively embraces everything that makes Batman tick (his neuroses and soaring loneliness) and throws it through a Lego prism, giving it a meta-sheen and splashing it all with a degree of contagious lunacy.
Given a cameo in The Lego Movie, where everything was indeed awesome, Will Arnett’s gravelly take on “Bats” was a great tonic to the film and it’s obvious to see why he’s been brought back for a full-length adventure.
Riffing on the Adam West era of Bat-movies and cocking a snook at the overly clogged 1997 Joel Schumacher Batman and Robin that threw all the villains together in a fight against the Caped Crusader, The Lego Batman Movie feels almost Pixels-ish in its narrative.
When all of Batman’s greatest villains team up to take him down and take over Gotham City, Batman finds he’s got more than he expected on his plate. The situation’s further compounded when he discovers he’s accidentally adopted an orphan in the form of Dick Grayson (Arrested Development and Scott Pilgrim‘s Michael Cera) who’s trying to become his sidekick.
The joy of The Lego Batman Movie is in the insanity of its execution and the depth that lies beneath its surface.
From the opening credits where Batman’s voiceover actively mocks the logos (intoning that “DC is the House That Batman Built”) right through to the mayhem which transpires on screen, the film’s MO seems squarely to be in the fun stakes. And while it teeters dangerously close to feeling overlong in the final straight, the glee and relish that Arnett brings to the role helps compensate for the film’s feeling of overload.
The tone is squarely pitched at amusing the kids, ticking geek boxes and still managing to stay staunchly reverent to the Bat-history. (Affectionate nods to Adam West’s time and the silliness of the KAPOW era of the 60s just being one such part of what transpires, and further proof that to mock the present, you have to embrace all aspects of the past).
But as with the Lego Movie, scratch beneath the shine of the bricks and you’ll find there’s a lot going on under the surface.
Arnett’s arrogant Batman is so narcissistic, so selfish and so prone to delusion that even his butler Alfred’s taken to reading a book about setting “limits for your out of control child”, just one of many nods to problem parenting that pepper the film. There’s another thread about Batman’s complete ignorance to his loner perception from others; it’s a film that widely acknowledges the real-life implications of the loner life style that Bruce Wayne’s endured for years and the effect it’ll have inexorably had on his psyche, something which the live action films have always flirted with.
Equally, Galifianakis’ Joker is more damaged than ever, simply because of a throwaway line from Batman that he’s not the Bat’s greatest nemesis, and that he’s “currently fighting other people”. As Batman’s pushed to embrace the truth of his fears of being part of a family, the Joker’s equally pushed to embrace the yin and yang of their relationship.
These are oddly compelling and deeply interesting message to be found in among the frenetic and constant humour of a children’s movie, but it’s not to say that those minds behind the film aren’t afraid to pack a powerhouse of gags and vocal talents to the film.
From Jemaine Clement voicing Sauron to roundly mocking Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire’s declaration to Dorothy via a great throwaway nod to The Twilight Zone episode where William Shatner’s troubled by gremlins on his plane, it’s clear there’s plenty that’s gone into both the writing and execution of The Lego Batman Movie.
Pop culture references crackle, but never at the expense of the pace of the film and the plot itself; it’s a heady mix that entertains as well as pierces the myth of Batman and the evident contradictions and absurdities of having a Caped Crusader protecting the city.
Perhaps it helps that McKay’s had a hand in the satire and stupidity of Robot Chicken, but along with that, the confidence those behind The Lego Movie had is clearly an influence on this film.
While this Bat-outing could stand to lose a little of the narrative fat, those seeking a bit of fun and a little mocking of the occasional pomposity of the DC and Marvel Comics Universe will revel in its trappings, and delight in its occasionally scurrilous and frivolous take on the Batman mythos.
The Lego Batman Movie
Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
Length: 104 minutes