Review: The Lego Batman Movie
From the very beginning which parodies the ultra dramatic sensibility that comes with modern superhero epics, The Lego Batman Movie takes the meta-approach of The Lego Movie and uses it to create a remarkable pastiche of arguably the most famous comic book character of the modern era. Packed with the same kind of humour that's full of in-jokes and visual comedy, it also results in a plot that seeks to undermine the last decade of on-screen portrayals that we have seen the titular figure envisioned through.
The movie with a massively well-constructed set-piece which sees a number of well-known villains led by the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis) of team up to tear Gotham City apart, only to be foiled by Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) who takes them apart with ease (and a catchy theme song to boot). But while the people of the city celebrate his victory over evil, we see the empty, depressing life of solitude that Batman lives with only his companion Alfred (voice of Ralph Fiennes) to assist him in. The lack of relationships in his life on top of his constant insistence to be a lone wolf of sorts (even denying The Joker's assertions that they are sworn enemies) is what drives Batman's arc in the film, as he wishes for a family but keeps that side of him bottled up.
Batman's position as a lone vigilante defender is upended not long after after Commissioner Gordon (voice of Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter, Barbara (voice of Rosario Dawson) takes on the role, and instantly convinces the people of Gotham that they shouldn't have to rely on Batman anymore. Soon the Joker re-emerges, setting into motion a plan that spells doom for the city, and if the Caped Crusader wants to stop him, he must call on some extra assistance.
The Lego Movie set a high bar for this spinoff to strive towards, given how that movie ended up being more than your average extended toy commercial for kids. The Lego Batman Movie doesn't have the same sense of rapid-fire pacing that its predecessor had, but that's ok, as the creative team here have done a wonderful job of packing in tons of jokes and tons of references to Batman's legacy. Almost every previous incarnation of the character, from films, tv shows, and various costumes adorned in the comics, is featured amidst a stream of various other easter eggs for fans to keep a close watch on.
It's amazing how the film is able to pack in so many franchise characters into one story without feeling overstuffed. I will say that the 'surprise' reveal of third-party characters is a bit of a disappointment, as it definitely takes away from the primary focus in service of a cheap reveal (which had already been a fixture of The Lego Movie). More than anything, I wanted to have more comic banter between the entire rogue's gallery of Batman villains who are featured, with a wide range of comedic actors supplying their voice talents.
But of course the star here is Batman, and Will Arnett manages to convey a fantastic job here in the role, that's easily the funniest the character has ever been. It's interesting how like Michael Keaton, Arnett was chosen to play the role based on his work in comedy, but in this case, actually gets the opportunity to have that element play into his performance. He's also joined by his Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera as Robin, as the bulk of the film's primary story is a new take on their origin as partners in crimefighting. Cera, mostly known for his boyish roles excels here and gets a lot of the best lines. Equally good is Zach Galifianakis as the Joker, coming in somewhere between Caesar Romero's portrayal and Mark Hamill's voiceover work - in the process creating something more affable than the more gritty versions of the supervillain in recent years.
Given that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were producers on this follow-up, as well as director Chris McKay's work on Adult Swim shows like Robot Chicken, Moral Orel, and Titan Maximum, I knew that The Lego Batman Movie would be a fun ride. So many superhero films these days are fixated on being too super-serious and super-long, so its nice to see something made with the aim of pure entertainment and joy that runs under two hours. In short, it's easily the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight and the 'most' since 1966's Batman: The Movie, made with lots of love and affection for the character and his history.