Starring (voices): Will Arnett, Zach Galifanakis, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Chris McKay
Running Time: 104 mins
Synopsis: Gotham City is under threat from The Joker’s latest scheme meaning world-renowned loner Batman may just have to do the one thing he hates, working in a team, to defeat evil and save the city. And of course look super-awesome while doing so.
I think we can all agree that The Lego Movie was a surprise. When first announced it wasn’t hard to feel all cynical. A sign that corporate synergy had finally gone mad, a film inspired by a popular toy, how could that possibly work?! Thanks to the talents of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it turned into a delightfully subversive, witty, and oddly poignant ode to creativity and acceptance. Plus we can all concur that Batman was the true standout, and due to the immense success of the 2014 film we now find ourselves with the Mini-Bat leading his own film. Once more the cynic in you could accuse the filmmakers here of milking this for all it’s worth, especially considering a Lego Ninjago Movie and a direct sequel are soon to follow. However The Lego Batman Movie is anything but a cheap tie-in.
Starting as it means to go on the film opens with a bravura and incredibly chaotic (in a good way) action set-piece involving pretty much every villain the Bat has ever faced, yes including Condiment Man!! Similar to The Lego Movie it can be almost overwhelmingly fast paced, with jokes and visuals hitting you with the velocity of a thousand Batarangs. All this evil-doing is down to Batman’s one true enemy The Joker, here voiced by Zach Galifanakis with suitable menace and humour, not to mention some terrifically expressive animation. As the Batman leaps into the fray the film toys with the history between them with Joker feeling hurt and broken upon Batman’s declaration that he doesn’t really need him, against the grain of the usually symbiotic relationship they have.
The genius of this film is right there, it treats this Batman as canon, that all the previous iterations of him; the Keatons and the Bales etc, are part of his history. Bruce Wayne looks remarkably good for being 75yrs old, a fact the film calls attention to in one of its many winking nods to the character. And of course a key aspect of the DC legend is his notorious loneliness and isolation. The Lego Batman Movie hones in on this, delivering moments of sly poignancy as we see Bats wander his mansion in the dark, cooking lobster thermidor, watching rom-coms and mournfully remembering his fallen parents.
As the Joker comes up with his grand plan to finally bring down the Bat, involving some truly unexpected characters from outside the DC universe delivering big laughs in the process, Bruce realises that he may have to join up as part of a team to truly win. Foremost in this group is orphan Dick Grayson (voiced with naive hilarity by Michael Cera) who breaks down the barriers of Batman’s solo act through his innocent persistence, not to mention a knack for beat-boxing that speaks to the Dark Knight’s heart. Alongside the future Robin we have loyal butler Alfred (a measured calming performance from Fiennes) and no-nonsense new Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson, bringing the sass). The film slowly builds the central dynamics between them, each in their own way worming their way into Batman’s affections. Although familiar in its depiction of the Caped Crusader realising that the only way to protect those he loves is to shut them out, it is done with enough heart and warmth that it offsets these cliches.
Sometimes the film does over egg the family themes, with perhaps one too many scenes of people lecturing him about why it’s better to work in a group than apart. Lest we forget though, this is ostensibly a kids film you cannot blame the film for pushing this simple moral message out there enough for the little ones. On the flipside the sheer amount of jokes it fires at the audience offers enough for all ages. Embracing fart jokes, sly asides at comic-book films, visual gags and a number of terrifically catchy songs, it no doubt has some misses but there is always another joke right around the corner to give you the giggles.
Visually it has the exact same kinetic expressiveness that so drove The Lego Movie, but with perhaps a little less dynamism as it very much stays in the relative grey of Gotham City. Save for one wickedly hilarious trip to Superman’s home, or his Fortress of Loneliness as Batman calls it. Action scenes are filled to the brim with verve and carefully choreographed chaos, and all backed up by a Lorne Balfe score laced with superb musical callbacks to the past.
Through all this hyper-madness and whip-smart humour it is Will Arnett that steadies the ship. Nailing the brooding gravelly nature of the Bat, but with fine comedic timing and a subtle vulnerability. Dare I say it but he can stand alongside other great Batmen despite being only 2 inches tall!!
Verdict: Proving that The Lego Movie was no fluke, Lego Batman Movie is hilarious, creative and a jubilant celebration of the Man in Black. It will leave you with the biggest smile on your face, which is more than can be said for the last movie with Batman in it!