TL;DR – It takes the very best of Batman, adds in some great animation and adds an interesting villain, I highly recommend it
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
“I’m Batman”, it is a phrase so common I bet you just said it in your head Christian Bale style or indeed Will Arnett style. Batman is one of those unambiguous pop-culture references and touchstones that everyone knows about even if they have never read a comic or seen a movie. So if you are a marketing executive you are loving this exposure, however, the Batman from the Lego films is a parody and an almost one-note parody at that. This is a problem because we have seen over and over again when you take the zany side character and give them their own film it often doesn’t work, see the last Pirates of the Caribbean. So with today’s review, we are going to take a moment to look at what lead to the creation of this film, then look at the animation, story and characters, and see if it holds up.
So before we start we have to look at the twin worlds that birthed this film, as it is like two colliding trains that somehow pulled off the impossible. So on the first hand, we have the gem that was the first Lego Movie, a movie that should not have worked but did. Seriously, could you imagine a few years ago that a film whose main purpose is to try and make Lego relevant again, this is of course after a slew of half-assed, mediocre straight to video Lego films that piled into barging bins during the 2000s? However, even with this history and the nature of the film, The Lego Film was not only good it was amazing. Not only was it well acted, written, and animated, it also criticised the very brand it was meant to be promoting which is a baller move when you think about it. However, on the other hand, we have the DC universe which while it has been profitable, it has not been a critical success yet and while making money the movies have underperformed. Now I could go into detail as to why that is, and I did in my reviews of Batman v Superman (See Review) and Suicide Squad (See Review), but generally, the DC films have been lacking narratively on every front. So we have a movie about selling Lego sets smashing into a blockbuster franchise that is underperforming, this is a recipe for disaster, yet it just works.
The first thing we have to look at is the animation and here once again Animal Logic shines. It is a difficult task to make the world that looks like it could come out of a Lego set, but also animates well, however, like the first Lego Movie they make it work. This universe looks like it is built out of Legos, the buildings are built from blocks, all the characters have those classical Lego designs, the fires and exhaust from the assorted batmobiles have that tell tail plastic flame, the lobsters are well lobsters, the hair, all the details are right. As well as this, they make the most of the Lego setting, like Gotham being built over a chasm and so everything is been held together by support bricks, now there are more example but then we start to head into spoiler territory. All the animations flow really well, and the film is not afraid to break the Lego premise if they think it will get a bigger laugh or enable the animations to look better, which is a bold but effect move.
The setting is where Lego Batman shines because more than any DC film in recent years it gets Batman, it gets the universe, and it understands how to tell an effective story inside that universe. The first thing I have to say is thank you for not forcing us to watch another origin story again, it is at this point the Death of Bruce’s parents is one of the most filmed sequences in cinema. But more than that Lego Batman shows a respect for the character in a way recent movies have forgotten, as well as this, they also show an immense understanding of the wider canon. Seriously, Lego Batman is a love letter to the character of Batman (Will Arnett) giving him the personality of a more current dark brooding Batman but setting it in a world more reminiscent of the wonderfully camp Adam West Batman. This juxtaposition leads to some of the Lego Batman’s funniest moments, because the writers get Batman and Batman’s universe, and also know how to tell a joke both verbally and physically. Now a lot of this is down to both the script and Will Arnett’s fantastic delivery that gives a surprising amount of range to a character that is intentionally one-dimensional. Also, we actually get a Joker (Zach Galifianakis) that was an interesting character for a change, with a clear motivation other than just ‘he’s freaky’ so you actually understand why he is doing what he is doing. Also on the scale of getting trapped on purpose which is kind of a villain mainstay, see Bond and the Avengers, Jokers plan actually makes sense. You also have an interesting take on both Dick Grayson / Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), with Robin being the voice of innocence and Batgirl being the voice of reason, oh and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) being the voice of don’t mess with my family or I’ll end you.
In this section, there may be some mild spoilers so be careful. It was also interesting to see that it was just not the DC villains that got a run with some old time favourites like Agent Smith, Sauron, King Kong, and British Robots (someone couldn’t get the right to the name Dalek it seems). Indeed like The Lego Movie, it is not afraid to take a few passing shots at the very companies it is meant to be a shameless add for. It not only makes a farce out of how ridiculous a setup Batman v Superman was, but makes sure there are more than a few barbs sent in Suicide Squads direction, Killer Kroc announcing that he actually did something was a wonderfully absurd moment. That being said, the story is a bit predictable, and they foreshadow a bit too heavily in the first act, so there are no real surprises going forward. When it comes to the casting it’s almost a who’s who of talent, and they all give amazing vocal performances. Though there are some oddities like Siri the apple computer program that plays the part of the Batcomputer which is an interesting and possibly groundbreaking choice going forward, also you have Ralph Fiennes who plays Alfred Pennyworth in the movie but he does not voice Voldemort who he played in the Harry Potter films, it is voiced by Eddie Izzard for some reason.
In the end, did I like it as much as The Lego Movie, no, but I did have an amazing time in Gotham City and it has been a long time since I have been able to say that. The animations are excellent, the voice work is top notch, the story is solid and the movie gets the characters it is portraying. I highly recommend Lego Batman, and oh DC this is how you do a Batman film.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Chris McKay
Screenplay by – Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington
Story by – Seth Grahame-Smith
Based on – Characters by DC Comics & Lego Construction Toys
Music by – Lorne Balfe
Edited by – David Burrows, Matt Villa & John Venzon
Starring – Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Héctor Elizondo, Lauren White & Siri, with Mariah Carey, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Billy Dee Williams, Riki Lindhome, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Doug Benson, Channing Tatum, Ellie Kemper, Jonah Hill & Adam DeVine
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: U; USA: PG