Starring: Will Arnett (Bojack Horseman), Michael Cera (Superbad), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Rosario Dawson (Daredevil), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter)
Director: Chris McKay (Robot Chicken)
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (Community) and Jared Stern (The Internship) & John Whittington
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes
Release Date: 10 February (US, UK)
I do love Batman, but I don’t think I’m quite as enamoured with him as the rest of the world. I find him interesting as a character but I feel that, especially after the success of the Nolan films, he is taken way too seriously. This is an issue that plagues all the DC movies at the moment, but Batman needs to be taken down a peg. Thankfully, The LEGO Batman movie seems aware of this issue and does everything in its power to not only alleviate this problem but also parody it.
In terms of tone and style, the film successfully carries over everything that made the first LEGO Movie so entertaining. The movie is filled to the brim with jokes both verbal and visual, many of which only the most die-hard of DC fans will get. It targets every interpretation of the Batman pop culture mythos at least once, even the most recent movies, and finds a clever way to send it up. It doesn’t stop there though, as just like its originator it expands its satire to all sorts of unexpected areas; to say any more would spoil the fun. The film will have you laughing consistently throughout, but where it falters is cramming all of this humour into a flowing narrative. The plot is mostly an excuse to make all these remarks on Batman lore and they are all amusing (seeing The Caped Crusader treat The Joker like an unrequited lover or render the Gotham police useless are amongst the highlights), but it results in a film that feels overstuffed especially in its third act. There are so many moments where it feels like we’re heading to the climax, but then it just keeps going. Also, whilst the film certainly has a lot of the spirit of The LEGO Movie, it doesn’t manage to deconstruct on as much of an ingenious level. This film does a good job of parodying its main target, but that movie went way beyond that to analyse Hollywood storytelling and socio-political issues with the same amount of aplomb. I wasn’t expecting The LEGO Batman Movie to top the original and it’s certainly not trying to, but I think there’s a way they could have at least reached par.
Will Arnett’s subversion of The Dark Knight was one of many highlights in The LEGO Movie and he continues to impress with his performance here. He still portrays the character with self-aggrandising arrogance, but he also gets the chance to show more of the character’s insecurity and denial. Batman’s realization and arc is not only what makes the movie so fun, it’s key to the entire goal of the movie: make Batman fun again. The only other returning players are Channing Tatum’s Superman and Jonah Hill’s Green Lantern in small roles, but the film has a fantastic new set of supporting characters all gamely played by an impressive all-star cast. Michael Cera’s wide-eyed interpretation on Robin is adorable and his manic but well-intentioned personality is a perfect contrast to Arnett’s glowering. Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon is arguably the best interpretation of the character ever outside the comics, modernising her but also serving as a counterpoint to Batman’s antics. Zach Galifiankis takes the idea of The Joker needing Batman to its natural comedic conclusion, creating not only the funniest version of the character since Mark Hamill but also the most sympathetic. Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred is probably the weakest of the main cast, but maybe that’s just a side effect of his extremely deadpan delivery; he says every line so lethargically that it’s sometimes hard to know which ones contain jokes. The rest of the cast is a smorgasbord of talent providing a sparse amount of lines between them, which is a little disappointing but, considering how jam-packed the movie already is, that’s probably for the best.
Getting beyond the humour, one of the most impressive things about The LEGO Movie was how it emulated traditional brickmation through CGI to make what essentially looked like the greatest fan film ever made. The LEGO Batman Movie continues that impressive visual feat with its gorgeous rendering of Gotham City, which combines pretty much every interpretation of the locale under the sun into a gothic paradise. This movie is far more action-packed than its predecessor and is full of memorable set pieces that take full advantage of both the Batman and LEGO brands for awesome and humorous purposes. The soundtrack choices are also excellent from the cheesy 80s love ballads and even a few cues from previous DC scores, but Lorne Balfe’s original compositions end up taking a back seat. They do sound appropriate, but they aren’t as memorable or inventive as Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for the original.
It may not be fair of me to constantly compare this film to The LEGO Movie but it does so many of the same things that it’s hard not to. The LEGO Batman Movie is a hilarious and fun film on its own terms, providing a much-needed satire of the hero after years of taking itself so seriously; without any irony, I can say it’s the best Batman movie in general since The Dark Knight. However, when compared to its predecessor and fellow superhero parody Deadpool, it only settles for funny instead of reaching for groundbreaking. I look forward to seeing where they take the LEGO franchise in the future, and if they can all be at least this good then I don’t see any real danger ahead.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10
P.S. I’d argue the LEGO Ninjago short that plays before this movie is actually better than the main movie. It makes me actually look forward to the full Ninjago feature this September.