The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.
Traditionally, the character of Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) has always been celebrated for his dark, morose and broody traits, with the most popular film interpretations being the bleaker ones — Tim Burton’s Gothic masterpiece Batman Returns (1992) and Christopher Nolan’s ‘oh so serious’ The Dark Knight trilogy. When The LEGO Movie dropped in 2014, voice-actor Will Arnett did something different with the character, and that was deliver a fun tongue-in-cheek parody of Batsy, an incarnation of the Caped Crusader that audiences hadn’t yet seen before. He was still that egotistical, selfish loner guy but he was also quite affable at the same time. Given that Arnett’s sepulchral Batman was such a breakout scene-stealer, it’s not surprising to see studio Warner Bros. use the character for their first solo LEGO spin-off movie, filmmakers opting to give Batman a proper arc that explores several facets of his ‘lone wolf’ psyche, whilst giving Arnett another chance to play-up the growling, campy attitude.
Batman is still that one-man-army vigilante, defending citizens of Gotham City from villains such as Joker (Zach Galifianakis), Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), Riddler (Conan O’Brien), Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams), Poison Ivy (Riki Lindhome), Mr. Freeze (David Burrows) and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), just to name a few. While Batman is depicted as a Howard Hughes type of recluse, he’s still happy to bask in all the glory of his triumphs, as long as he can sink back into the solitude of the cavernous Wayne Manor afterwards, where he lives with his loyal butler and father figure Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes). Although Alfred has been very tolerant of Batman’s narcissistic ways up until this point, he thinks that it’s time for the Winged Avenger to ‘lighten up’ a little and start connecting with others again, particularly after newly instated Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants the boys in blue to join forces with the big black bat. *Holy Smokes, Batman*
Despite all of his best efforts to avoid any sort of teamwork, the Gotham Guardian is forced to change his solitary ways after he inadvertently adopts a young, optimistic orphan named Dick Grayson, who eventually becomes Robin (Michael Cera). It’s a good thing, too, seeing as Batman could do with the extra help. You see, after hurting his arch-rival the Joker’s feelings by failing to acknowledge their special hero/ villain bond, the Clown Prince of Crime hatches a hair-brained scheme to wreak vengeance on Gotham and the Bat — a plan that involves all of the world’s most dangerous supervillains, who are trapped in a realm called the Phantom Zone, a shadowy netherworld of confinement for the worst of the worst.
Energetically directed by Chris McKay, Robot Chicken (2005), who worked as an animation supervisor/ co-director on the original LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie shares the same barrage of pop culture references and irreverent comedy that’s evident in all of McKay’s other sketch work — a gag about the many iterations of the Caped Crusader being a hilarious highlight — the manic energy, this time, bordering on frantic, the Master Building even crazier then before. Beautifully rendered and visually striking, each brick has, once again, been brought to life by the award-winning Australian-based animation company Animal Logic, McKay ensuring that his construction is always gorgeous to look at, even when the film overstays its welcome. Alas, those who thought 2007’s Spider-Man 3 had too many baddies should, perhaps, brace themselves, as The LEGO Batman Movie throws (wait for it) Lord Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), King Kong (Seth Green), the Eye of Sauron (Jemaine Clement), the Wicked Witch of the West (Riki Lindhome), Agent Smith (and his clones), the Gremlins, the Daleks and the Kraken into the mix for a bonkers, off-the-wall last-act smack down — the whole thing a tad too ADHD for me.
Working from a story by Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), the film’s five writers do their best to ensure that The LEGO Batman Movie is more than just a one-joke spin-off, even if the screenplay lacks the layered subtext of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s superior The LEGO Movie, which delved deeper into the mythos of the (dare I say it) LEGO-verse. Still, there’s oodles of fun to be had here, with the movie exploring themes of friendship and family, whilst emphasizing the need to be honest about what scares us, filmmakers remembering to pepper the flick with enough in-jokes and DC Comics iconography to entertain both hardcore Bat-fans along with general audiences by way of its relatable gags and visual puns. When you break it down, however, this cinematic toybox, just like its predecessor, exists as a 104-minute commercial to sell toys and build brand recognition, The LEGO Batman Movie succeeding in this department, too, selling both the Masked Manhunter and the titular plastic construction blocks, along with its many other studio tie-ins.
With all of its sharp fan service and kooky liveliness, it’s still Will Arnett who manages to hog the spotlight, his low-octave voice-work really bringing Batman (and his unwillingness to connect with others) to life, the 46-year-old as good a Batman as any of the other ‘greats,’ even with his silly portrayal. Then there’s funny-man Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover (2009), who delivers the most kid-friendly depiction of the Joker to date, his character yearning for some kind of validation from the Bat, chiefly for what he brings to their good-guy/ bad-guy relationship. Michael Cera, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), bounces well off Arnett’s coarse bravado as Batman’s eager-beaver sidekick, Robin, the pair sharing great chemistry together, Robin’s constant adoration for his idol both creepy and touching, whilst Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), showcases his exemplary comic-timing as Batman’s charming yet deceptively cheeky butler, Fiennes doing his best to give his ‘tough-love’ caretaker a cracking personality of his own. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprise their roles as Batman’s not-so-inclusive Justice League buddies, Superman and Green Lantern, respectively, with Adam DeVine, Pitch Perfect (2012), also joining them as The Flash.
A rip-roaring parody of all things ‘Batty’ — complete with those ‘Bam! Kapow!’ Bat-Fight words from the old-school Adam West incarnation — The LEGO Batman Movie should appeal to both young and old, even if the LEGO pieces don’t click together quite as nicely as they did in 2014’s The LEGO Movie. Nevertheless, for all of its manic anarchy, the film does deliver a surprisingly gentle message for the kids, one that emphasizes that no man is an island, not even … na-na-na-na na-na-na-na … BATMAN!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie