Stop what you’re doing. Whatever it is, it’s not important. Block out your baby’s cries, they’re just being dramatic. That phone call to your mum, forget about it. You can tweet an emoji at her later or something. Most important of all, stop watching your newsfeeds filled with nothing but a filthy rich and overpowered egomaniac man-child with anger management issues and zero sense of responsibility…and go see a film about a filthy rich and overpowered egomaniac man-child with anger management issues and at least SOME sense of responsibility. And a way cooler headpiece. Best decision you’ll make this week, period.
Let’s be honest, no one expected 2014’s The Lego Movie to be anything remotely like the juggernaut it turned out to be. Near-universal critical acclaim, a box office gross almost four times its budget, it even caused an actual Lego shortage that year! Seriously, Google it. But amongst all the colours and craziness of its cast of characters, it was one distinctly black-and-yellow personality who stole the show: Batman. Now he’s back with a spin-off film all his own, because who else could carry a budding Lego Cinematic Universe to the next level? Besides, it’s not like his live-action gigs have been turning out so well.
The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. Master Builder. It’s a hardcore hero’s life for Batman (Will Arnett) as he defends Gotham City from its relentlessly villainous hoards. His home life, however, needs work, and to that end his butler/surrogate father figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) insists he take responsibility for raising wide-eyed orphan adoptee Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Between that, the efforts of new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) to make him a team player, and the threat of an almighty villainous plot by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), Bruce Wayne may have to make the ultimate sacrifice: his solo career.
With any surprise hit, there’s always the same attitude sequence: the mania stage, and then the ‘lightning never strikes twice’ stage. Even when something comes so completely out of left field and blows everyone away, something that says anything is possible, as The Lego Movie did, we still tend to revert to a more sceptical view. Maybe that’s just the general ‘sequel fatigue’ of modern times, maybe we’re all just negative people but in any case, this is a film that determinedly defies disappointment. Think Lego Batman’s impact was best served by his ‘in moderation’ cameo role? Lego Batman will take your entire hour-forty-five-minute experience and you’ll be grateful for it! Arnett’s career seems to have been deliberately cultivated for this role, considering his work on Arrested Development and Bojack Horseman. Long-time Batman fans will never recognize any voice-actor better than Kevin Conroy for the role, but for who this Batman is and the context of the character in general pop culture today, Arnett more than earns his cowl. The rest of the film’s vocal talent only adds to the film’s strengths, with Cera the obvious choice for Robin (in the best way), a pitch-perfect turn from Fiennes as Alfred, and a solid Joker from Galifianakis (though again, no one can top the legendary Mark Hamill’s Clown Prince). Special mentions must include Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, returning as Superman and Green Lantern from The Lego Movie, Eddie Izzard’s wicked wand-waver (no spoilers here), and Doug Benson’s hilarious impression of Tom Hardy as Bane. Oh, and Siri. Siri’s the Batcomputer in this. Good job Siri.
It may seem ridiculous to say, but when you think about it, The Lego Movie had it easy. All it had to be was a good film that didn’t seem like a feature-length commercial. The Lego Batman Movie had to be a good film on its own, a good follow-up Lego film, AND a good Batman film. Struggling as the character might be amidst Warner Bros’ current DC Cinematic Universe efforts, Batman continues to enjoy just as iconic a cultural status as Superman, and with more consistently demonstrable success on film and TV. Like Lego Batman himself says, “DC…The House that Batman Built”. Director Chris McKay, here making his feature debut, is clearly an adoring fan and it’s his clear prioritising of both the mythologies and contexts of Batman that elevates the film from generic and cynical spin-off territory to sincere, robust cinema. By caricaturising the classic comic book dynamics, from Bruce Wayne’s maniacal inwardness, to Batman and Robin’s mentor-protégé setup, to even the Joker’s twisted infatuation with his arch-nemesis, the ultimate Batman experience is delivered in full. Even come the third act, when things venture more towards The Lego Movie’s unencumbered and frenzied way of doing things where a lesser film would probably lose its focus, the Bat-Signal shines through. The climax does suffer somewhat from clumsy execution, awkwardly flipping between scenes of emotional reconciliation and all-out action and chaos the stuff of any child’s (or inner child’s) dreams, making it harder for the audience to connect with either, but such stumbles are easily forgivable for a first-time director whose triumphs so clearly eclipse his missteps. Better that the experience be a consistent B than an A in parts and a C in others. Even better when it’s a B+.
Part-celebration of all-things Batman throughout his 75+ year history, part joyously anarchic action-adventure in the true spirit of the 2014 hit, The Lego Batman Movie is a worthy addition to a franchise that looks set to be Warner Bros’ true golden goose, and a tremendous work of self-deprecation, retro (and intro)-spection, and relentless fun.
Final Score 4.5/5