Director: Chris McKay Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes Running Time: 104 minutes
If there’s one thing the last decade of films by Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder have made abundantly clear, it’s that Batman can be rather a miserable fellow. You might not have heard, but his parents were murdered by a criminal and he processed this tragedy via a lot of punching, gutteral yelling and, with the deftness that only Visionary Director Zack Snyder could muster, by branding deviant criminals with a bat-branding iron so that they can actually be murdered in prison. One of the brightest spots in the surprise hit The Lego Movie in 2014 was its willingness to lighten up the Dark Knight a bit, playing up his serious streak into something over the top, egotistical and adolescent for big laughs. Lego Batman was such a treat that he’s been given a spin-off movie of his very own, a fun kid-pleaser that also shows a pretty good understanding of how Lego Batman’s Lego mind works.
With all his tragic backstory providing ample reason to hide behind bravado and hole up in Wayne Manor watching Jerry Maguire, Lego Batman’s greatest fear, as explained by Lego Alfred, is becoming part of a family again. It’s what causes him to neglect Lego Dick Grayson, the orphan he accidentally adopted while ogling Gotham’s new commissioner Lego Barbara Gordon and it’s what causes him to deny Lego Joker (okay, time to stop doing that) the status of his Greatest Villain, with even that being too much of a relationship for the emotionally stunted Batman to handle. Of course to him it makes sense that he remain alone, why should he need anyone else? He’s Batman, he’s awesome. But his standoffishness hurts poor Jokers feelings, leading to an elaborate scheme involving fake surrender, the Phantom Zone and a cavalcade of Warner Bros property villains descending on Gotham, all in the name of getting Batman to open up a little and admit that he hates the Joker. Unless Batman is willing to even consider the possibility of the people around him being as awesome as he is, the Lego Gotham set is going to come crashing down.
Admitting that Batman is kind of a jerk by means other than having Alfred make sad faces at him is honestly an emotional step up as far as Batman films go. Exploring these Bat-relationships, like how acting as a father figure can be healing for someone who lost his own family, or how Batman is fuelled by villains by the Joker and in many ways needs them for his own sense of purpose is mostly a launching pad for gags, but it’s a solid launching pad, making both for about as good a session of Bat Therapy the character is going to get on screen and for lots of jokes about how the DC movies are grim and serious and how Batman is a pretty silly idea when you think about it and you aren’t ten.
The Lego movies are in the same corporate court jester realm as old Warner Bros properties like Animaniacs and Freakazoid, firing out jokes and hard winks at their paymaster’s expense at a rapid pace. A lot of the jokes are nothing new-every webcomic of the 2000s had its take on Super Serious Batman after all-but keeping them coming as quickly as Lego Batman does makes for more hits than misses. Certainly it’s hard not to like a Batman movie that has King Tut and Eggman show up. And then ups the ante by bringing in Sauron and Lord Voldemort. For the opening half hour or so it’s almost throwing jokes out a little too quickly, zipping along with the manic pace of a child on a sugar rush who’s just read a joke book, but it’s a pace that the kids the film is aiming to please will appreciate.
Will Arnett’s gruff Batman made for a fun garnish in The Lego Movie, but it would have been difficult to take for a whole movie as the focal point without good supporting players, which thankfully Lego Batman has. As the wonderfully naive Robin, Michael Cera revives some of the old Arrested Development magic when paired with Arnett, with Batman making for a similarly negligent and self-centered authority figure to Uncle Gob. Rosario Dawson gets less opportunity to bring Barbara Gordon to life, surprise the main girl in the movie about toys marketed towards boys gets the short end of the stick, but there are faint traces of G-rated Archer banter in her dealing with the clueless Caped Crusader. Rounding out the main cast is Ralph Fiennes as Alfred (is it even possible to miscast Alfred?) and Zach Galifiniakis, a good pick for a funny and solid interpretation of the Joker as a desperately needy attention seeker. All he needs now is to tattoo ‘Damaged’ on his little Lego head. The many, many other characters both serve for fun Easter eggs and for keeping the numerous mid-tier comedians of Hollywood paid inbetween podcast appearances.
The great thing about Batman as a character is his versatility, shown in how he’s been slotted into stories from true crime to high camp and remained popular for nearly 80 years. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a more serious Batman, it works very well but it’s definitely something that could stand to be taken down a peg from time to time. The Lego Batman Movie deflates the power fantasy consistently, thoroughly and most importantly, amusingly. Though it doesn’t quite have the same upturned toybox mania and surprisingly justified emotions of its Lego predeccesor, Lego Batman still has plenty for Batfans of all ages to enjoy.(3.5 / 5)