“Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne’s basement?”
“No, Bruce Wayne lives in Batman’s attic.”
I have to admit, I thought the original Lego Movie was only okay. I really liked how it brought together so many different characters and how it utilised its Lego foundations, but I didn’t take to the main characters all that much. However, I’ve been really looking forward to The Lego Batman Movie for a while, both for the really great comedy which was on display in the trailers, and – as with the first movie – the mass of characters it was going to use. Plus I love Batman, and a new story built around this more satiric version of him, and the Gotham City he inhabits, looked like it would be worth watching. As it turned out, I wasn’t disappointed.
This particular incarnation of Batman (Will Arnett) revels in how awesome he is, and is strongly opposed to accepting help from, or forming a lasting bond with, anybody – his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is the closest thing he has to a friend. Neither his inadvertent adoption of young Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), nor the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) proposing more direct co-operation between him and the police, hold much attraction for Batman; he will not even acknowledge the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) as his ultimate nemesis, leaving the latter heartbroken. When the Joker abruptly turns himself and every other super-criminal in to the police, Batman is convinced that the Clown Prince of Crime has a trick up his sleeve – the alternative is the terrifying prospect of no crime in Gotham – and resolves to banish the Joker to the Phantom Zone, without considering that this alternate dimension already holds some of the most dangerous villains in all of fiction…
It’s very clear from the beginning that this movie’s tongue is so firmly in its cheek, it should be incapable of speech. After Batman gives a running commentary of the opening logos (“DC – the house that Batman built”), we are treated to an opening sequence that references the 1989 film, The Dark Knight, and even takes a shot at Suicide Squad when Killer Croc activates a bomb and declares “I did something!” This sequence is a classic example of the sheer indulgence that Lego makes possible, as Batman has a massive fight scene with all his major enemies, plus some more obscure ones (right down to the Condiment King). And once the Phantom Zone is opened, a whole bunch of non-Batman characters get thrown into the mix, making this feel just as much like a child’s game as the first movie: “Now Voldemort comes! And the Gremlins! And let’s have Velociraptors too!” It’s so much fun that if your favourite character doesn’t get much screen time – an inevitable consequence of having such a huge cast – you’re not likely to be troubled.
The barrage of jokes is practically constant – there’s some kind of quip or visual gag about every ten seconds on average – and most of them hit the target. The trailers may have given away many of the best jokes, but that’s still a small fraction. The animation and action is excellent; the film is fully aware that it’s taking place in a Lego world, where you can do things like ‘master-build’ using any convenient pieces that come to hand, and doesn’t see any need to explain itself – it’s just a Lego world.
The only thing I wasn’t entirely satisfied with was the story itself. As befitting a family film, it’s a moral tale in which Batman, the selfish, solitary jerk who is too afraid to form a real connection with people, has to learn the value of companionship and teamwork and become a nicer guy all round. It’s a nice lesson for kids, but it felt a bit too old and simplistic for me – and I didn’t really care as much as I should have about whether or not Batman learned his lesson. Maybe that was just because it’s Batman, and even though this is meant to be a different – and certainly not serious – incarnation of the character, I’m too used to seeing him remain stoic and brooding no matter what gets thrown at him. I did like how other characters were used, however, such as Barbara Gordon’s role as the competent, responsible and highly practical cop, and the Joker acting as much like Batman’s rejected boyfriend as he’s allowed to in a kids’ movie.
The Lego Batman Movie is a wonderfully indulgent pleasure to watch, with not just a laugh a minute, but several – most audiences should enjoy it, but if you’re already a fan of Batman, you should get a particular kick out of it. Rating: 4/5.