IF The Lego Movie proved to be a surprise success back in 2014, then perhaps the standout character was even more surprising.
Amidst a raft of cameos from various characters, Lego Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) proved to be the highlight of the film, and unsurprisingly, the clamour for him to have his own film was such that, three years later, here we are with The Lego Batman Movie.
Arnett returns to voice the Dark Knight, who, depressed with his life as a playboy by day and vigilante at night, and after crime has been eradicated, is encouraged by his faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to throw his energy into something else; namely raising his ward, Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera), which proves to be as taxing as battling the villains of Gotham City, such as the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) and many more...
After Zack Snyder’s rather po-faced, super-severe take on Batman in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it seems the world is ready for a slightly less intense take on the Caped Crusader; after all, The Lego Batman Movie was never likely to go down the path of Snyder’s Darker-than-Dark Knight.
Instead, we get a film that is a superb addition to the Batman film canon, one that is both committed to, and playfully pokes fun at, the mythology of the character and his supporting cast, and one that skewers its subject matter with loving mockery.
The only downside is that the film front loads this irreverent take on the character, and the second half of the film reverts to traditional storytelling and humour, which slightly takes the sheen off proceedings.
It’s always hard to take a secondary character (as Batman was in The Lego Movie) and see if they can sustain and hold up their own 100-minute film. With Batman it’s made easier by the fact that the character and story has 78 years of backstory and no end of characters (even the Condiment King) to bring into the plot.
So what you get is a story that amplifies the character we met in The Lego Movie; a loner with a strong sense of self-worth unable to see the world around him.
With such a character, spending this amount of time around him could become tiresome, but thanks to Will Arnett’s ability to play the role completely deadpan it never does, and as the story amplifies Batman’s issues (adopting Dick Grayson, battling the Joker and an assorted pick ’n mix bag of adversaries) his frustration and anger become ever more entertaining.
While the underlying message of the film is all about teamwork (a noble one that kids will digest amongst the brightly coloured visuals), there are also so many gags for both grown-ups and Batman aficionados to savour.
Whether it’s the mocking of the Joker’s evil schemes, Batman’s seeming inability to catch his most well-known villains, or subtle digs at the past films, the humour comes from a reverential angle, while the number of Batman TV series jokes show where the film’s writers get much of their influence from.
It all works superbly well, but then loses its direction a little come the final third; the sharp humour that plays with the character’s history is replaced by generic gags, and the plot lays on the teamwork message a little too broadly.
The oomph and fizz of earlier just lags a little (a common issue with the majority of comedy films to be fair), and the climax, while thoroughly inventive visually, just lacks the narrative invention to end the film on a high.
That said, there is much right with this film. The use of Barbara Gordon as the commissioner rather than her father is a nice note, as is her moral superiority over Batman, while the Easter eggs are a treasure trove of DC comics references that are a joy to behold.
A slightly cumbersome conclusion aside, The Lego Batman Movie is a hugely entertaining piece of work.
VERDICT – A funny film not afraid to bite the hand that feeds, The Lego Batman Movie is a wonderful watch.
Packed with enough minute detail to satisfy the most ardent Bat-fan, and working broadly enough on its own terms, it’s only undone by a lag in pace come the final third; that aside, it’s a superb effort. Recommended.
SEE THIS IF YOU LIKED: The Lego Movie (2014), Batman Forever (1995)