When The Lego Movie was released in 2014, many assumed it’d be nothing more than a soulless cash grab in order to boost the mighty toy brand and make some easy money in the process. What we actually got was a heartfelt and incredibly funny movie for the whole family, and plans were quickly made to spin-off one of the movie’s main characters – Batman. Now, the Dark Knight of the brick has his own movie, combining the incredible visuals and writing of the Oscar award winning first movie with the pop culture phenomenon known as Batman. But now people know what to expect, can this spin-off handle the weight of expectation?
Everything about this movie is designed to poke a little bit of fun at the Batman concept. From the story, the characters, the design and everything in between, this is first and foremost a satire that just happens to be wrapped up in the fun Lego dynamic. The master builder aspect from The Lego Movie returns, but the building brick takes more of a background role this time around, mostly there to serve the quirky aesthetic. Although perhaps the greatest asset of the Lego connection comes in the other brands that appear in this movie, with some fun cameos from beyond the DC canon leaving their mark on the movie.
The Lego visual though is fantastic, and really stands out as an animation style. There is a lot of creativity on display, and the construction of a Gotham City built entirely out of Lego is the fever dream of every kid and adult who’s played with Lego in the past. It plays to its strengths and knows its limitations, and the rich colour palette really pops on the big screen.
The true charm of this movie comes in its humour. This film is filled to the brim with jokes, and it’s nearly impossible to be able to pick up everything in just one viewing. It wasn’t just the writing, which combo’d jokes in rapid succession in such a way that by the time you’ve finished laughing at one line you’ve missed two more. There are also small visual jokes that are ‘blink and you miss it’ which will make The Lego Batman Movie one that earns a rewatch. Thankfully the whole movie doesn’t go at this blistering pace and lets the audience breathe, but when it wants to it is almost too fast for its own good, and I suspect some of the clever writing will fall on deaf ears.
Will Arnett is great in this iteration of Batman, following on from his ensemble performance in The Lego Movie into the starring role here. It’s very much his movie, and it’s clear he and the rest of the cast had a lot of fun with this film, but is Michael Cera’s Dick Grayson that provides the glue that holds this piece together. Much like his role in the comics, his Robin helps keep the story from veering too far away from what it aims to be, and his boundless optimism and joy counterpoints the grumpy and narcissistic Batman perfectly here. Ralph Fiennes sounds perfect as Alfred, and Rosario Dawson captures the heart of this Barbara Gordon well, with both serving as an important intermediary figure for Arnett to bounce off of.
Like most Batman media in recent years, the story is intertwined with The Joker, who is played by Zach Galifianakis in a performance that works for the film, but compared to Mark Hamill (and John Dimmagio) is pretty forgettable. But it’s the quantity of villains here that works more so than the quality. Even hardcore Batman fans will have trouble naming all of the D-list rogues that appear, and they’re not all relegated to background roles (Condiment King gets about three jokes centred around him, and Orca gets more screentime than many of the A-listers). There are Batman references for everyone, whether you’ve barely followed the movies or if you’re like me and have spent far too much time reading obscure comic runs.
The one area it perhaps falters is that it lacks the coherent and engaging story of The Lego Movie. Both follow a similar base narrative construct of helping the protagonist grow amidst the frenetic chaos of the primary plot, but where as both movies go for an emotional punch in the final act, it’s not quite as effective here amidst the humour. That’s not to say the audience at my screening wasn’t “aawww”ing at the key moments, and the payoff is worth the journey, but it feels a step away from really nailing the story. But as a comedy first and foremost, this is a small issue within the grander scheme.
When it is all said and done, The Lego Batman movie delivers what could end up being one of the funniest movies of the year, with more jokes hitting in the slower moments than some movies can deliver through their entire runtime. While it is clearly a spin-off from The Lego Movie, beyond the visuals and comedic style this movie feels quite different, leaning heavily on the Batman motif that it really does end up feeling like comic book movie. There’s plenty here regardless of your knowledge of he character, but it is definitely rewarding to know the parade of obscure characters that are paraded, and a cursory knowledge of the superhero cinematic climate will treat you well. For those that wanted a lighter DC cinematic universe, this is the movie for you. For those that can’t get enough of the Caped Crusader, this is the movie for you. And for those who just want a fun film experience and gag-a-minute comedy, this is the movie for you. The Lego Batman movie is relentless, and that’s exactly why this movie works so well.