The Lego Movie charmed audiences back in 2014 with its mix of humor, heartwarming story and expert use of licensing from the companies decades-long history. It was choc-a-bloc full of blink and you miss it cameos, but front and center was Will Arnett’s Batman. His bad boy attitude, was matched only by his master builder skills and love of everything black, or at least really, really, really dark gray. Undoubtedly he was one of the movies highlights, being almost the exact opposite of Chris Pratt’s ordinary guy Emmet. Aiming to capitalize on the popular reception this version of the dark knight is The Lego Batman Movie.
Reprising his role, Will Arnett is joined by The Hangover’s Zack Galifianakis as the Joker, fellow Arrested Development alumni Michael Cera as Dick Grayson, aka Robin, Daredevil’s Rosario Dawson as Barbra Gordon, and Voldemort himself, aka Ralph Fiennes as Alfred. Everyone does a pretty good job, with Cera being the best of the bunch. I enjoyed every moment spent with his Robin, and he manages to convincingly sell Grayson as Batman’s biggest fan and also Gotham’s loneliest orphan. His performance is helped along by probably the cutest looking robin we’ve every seen, with puppy dog eyes magnified by Wayne Szalinski looking glasses.
Alfred is presented slightly differently here than in other Batman stories, acting as Bruce’s parent rather than his guardian, punishing bad behavior by removing internet access and getting him properly dressed for formal occasions, with Fiennes feeling appropriately authoritative in the role. Dawson lets you know that Barbra is every bit the butt kicker Batman is, except she manages to do it wearing a badge, one she inherits from dear old dad within the first 20 minutes of the film.
The Joker is voiced solidly by Galifianakis but if you didn’t already know he was behind the jagged-toothed smile then you wouldn’t guess. The interplay between the Joker and Batman does provide some of the best laughs though and, somewhat surprisingly, some the most tear jerking moments too.
The plot starts off as pretty standard fare, with the Joker leading Batman’s entire rogue’s gallery, and I mean entire, in your standard blow up Gotham scheme. This results in a fantastic set piece where Batman takes them all on simultaneously, and although the action takes place using Lego pieces it’s seriously impressive. The action involves gadgets, vehicles and good old-fashioned fists, with the choreography easily on par with the best that other Batman films have had to offer. This is all helped along by the glorious Lego version of Gotham and the environments within it. Atmospheric lighting and a sort of neon dinge make it feel like a love child between the Burton and Schumacher Gothams, but definitely in a good way.
At the end of this set piece, it’s Batman’s refusal to acknowledge the Joker as his arch nemesis that gets things rolling properly. After this brutal rejection, Joker makes plans to recruit the big bads from the phantom zone to show him what real villainy looks like, and more importantly show Batman what he’s missing. Meanwhile, Batman struggles with loneliness but outwardly maintains he needs only himself to be happy. Alfred is determined to prove him wrong, and after Grayson is accidentally adopted Alfred recruits him as Robin to help Batman realize he needs to be part of a family again. Barbra comes into play as the new police commissioner who wants to have Batman work for the police force, rather than have the police force rely on him for every tricky situation, which puts them slightly at odds due to his egomaniac personality.
Just with the Lego Movie, Lego Batman’s real appeal isn’t in its plot, but in the opportunities within it for off the wall humor, visual gags and inside jokes. In this aspect, Lego Batman succeeds in spades. Seemingly every second of Batman’s long history has been mined and all that shimmers has been crammed into the film in some form or another. Whether it’s Billy Dee Williams finally getting his turn as Two-Face or bat shark repellant on display, anyone remotely familiar with Batman will spot something to point at and laugh. I often found myself wishing I could pause the screen and soak up all the tidbits. Like the Lego Movie before it, this is definitely a film that you will get more out of in repeat viewings. This doesn’t mean that encyclopedic knowledge of Batman is necessary for enjoyment though and there are funny references to other Lego licenses like Jurassic Park, Doctor Who and Harry Potter, and the written Jokes are genuinely funny.
With the gags firing on all cylinders all the time, inevitably not all of them hit their mark. For me, this was most evident in Arnett’s return as batman. He is as comically dark and brooding as ever and doesn’t fail to let the audience know so every few minutes he’s onscreen. Whilst this was amusing in the Lego Movie, having him un-tempered by the rest of the ensemble here did start to lose its appeal towards the end. This is more of a case of the jokes being too much of a good thing though than the jokes being bad. I do think that a small aspect of some of the jokes missing the mark is due to some of the visual and inside jokes only being noticeable to hardcore Batman fans, which I would count myself as, and fatigue had set in earlier than I think it may have done for those oblivious.
The films score and sound design also deserve a mention. Whilst there isn’t really an equivalent to ‘Everything is Awesome’, the score by Lorne Balfe meshes familiar elements from Batman’s musical history, which fits nicely with the cameos and chaos on screen where it should. The sound design also elicits a few laughs, with the Batcomputer voice control operating sound matching apple’s siri, and the pew pew gun sounds have been carried over from the Lego Movie.
By the time the credits rolled, which is another great sequence in itself, I was left smiling like I’d had a heavy dose of Joker Toxin. Lego Batman is a worthy continuation of the Lego Movie universe and by far a better Batman film than last year’s Batman vs Superman. Whether you know the password to the Batcomputer or not, this film is easy to recommend, with great visuals, funny and diverse characters, a solid, if fairly standard plot, and jokes galore. You can catch it in cinemas February 10th.
- Use of licensing and inside jokes
- Visual style and action choreography
- Interactions between Batman and Robin + Batman and Joker
- Batman being brooding and a loner overplayed towards the end
- Too many jokes to absorb in one viewing