Can lightning strike twice for everyone's favourite rag-tag bunch of cosmic defenders? Critic Amelia Bacon certainly thinks soWritten by Amelia Bacon on 9th May 2017
Review: The Lego Batman Movie
After the huge success of The Lego Movie, Redbrick Film's Todd Waugh Ambridge finds out whether The Lego Batman Movie lives up to its predecessor
I’ve been thinking a lot about Oscar ‘snubs’ this week and the one that always stands out to me is 2014’s The Lego Movie. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller created something that was intelligent, amusing and genuinely touching while somehow portraying the joy of building with LEGO in a narrative format. Nobody thought the movie would be anything more than “a big advert for LEGO” – especially myself, who only saw it because Batman was in it for some reason, and I found that hilarious. Will Arnett (who must now have a permanently sore throat) voiced a caricature of the caped crusader whose egotism and emotional repression were heightened to a cartoonish scale. The hero’s ‘lone vigilante’ act that we had seen taken seriously for seven movie adaptations was instead poked fun at. Rather than being the film’s hero, he was often its comic relief. But now that he has his own sort-of-spin-off movie, Arnett has to play the role of protagonist and simultaneously recapture this sense of moody silliness (he’s been practicing with the far-more-adult BoJack Horseman) and also make us care about his parody of the caped crusader. Fortunately for us, under director Chris McKay who worked with Lord and Miller on the original, he has achieved exactly that.
“The Lego Batman Movie opens with a genuinely perfect twenty-minute sequence
The Lego Batman Movie opens with a genuinely perfect twenty-minute sequence that hits every single one of its intentions, being all parts hilarious, captivating and action-packed while also setting up the film’s primary characters, settings and themes. After defeating the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) for the umpteenth time, Gotham City enjoys an era of peace wherein a vigilante seems no longer necessary. But with no crime to fight, who exactly is the Batman? It is a question that Batman comics and films have asked time and again, but which – surprisingly – has seldom been explored before in this much depth. Batman is soon prompted by Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to reconsider his loner lifestyle, with some help from Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Batman’s unwillingness to let people in is both the film’s central joke and its emotional core; with satisfying motivation, exploration and conclusion.
The Lego Movie managed to capture a look reminiscent of amateur stop-motion LEGO films, but if they had been injected with tens of millions of dollars. This same look is here evoked on a bigger, denser, darker scale, transforming the infamous Gotham City in to a CGI LEGO metropolis. Meanwhile, the film’s humour is a game of quick fire; jokes come thick and fast throughout. While most of these stick their landing – a great feat considering they have to appeal to kids, adults, Batman fans and the general audience – there are moments that a more revised script may have skipped over, such as Batman’s repetitive rapping. That being said, people of all ages will struggle to find time to catch their breath between each onslaught of laughter. If watching a lonely, grumpy, LEGO miniature of The Dark Knight microwave a lobster thermidore for one before watching Jerry Maguire alone in the Wayne Manor theatre room sounds even slightly hilarious to you, you will love what else this movie has to offer.
“People of all ages will struggle to find time to catch their breath between each onslaught of laughter
But it is not just Arnett’s Batman who excels here. Cera’s wide-eyed version of the boy wonder is played with such emphatic innocence (“Batman lives in Bruce Wayne’s basement?”) that it is impossible not to endear him. Meanwhile, Galifianakis steals any scene in which he features by giving The Joker actual heart. We are given a version of the villain that feels fresh while staying true to the character’s iconic motivations. Eat your heart out Jared Leto! And while it is a shame that Fiennes and Dawson aren’t given a little more to do – their characters seem to fizzle out before the end – they both still do their best (which is a lot) in making the roles their own.
“This isn’t just a love letter to the Batman canon, but a worthy entry in its own right
If you have any trepidation as a Batman fan over seeing this movie then let me tell you that this isn’t just a love letter to the Batman canon, but a worthy entry in its own right. Batman and The Joker here are, surprisingly, amongst their most faithful interpretations on film. Their adversarial relationship – which we’ve seen before in Batman (1989) and The Dark Knight – is spoofed, and yet represented to perfection here. I never believed versions of The Joker that just wanted chaos for chaos’ sake, it has to revolve around his obsession with the caped crusader, and writers Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna truly understand that. As well as this, every conceivable Batman villain shows up, tens of references to movies new and old are made (there’s a great, if hypocritical, swipe at Suicide Squad) and there’s probably hundreds more easter-eggs that I missed. Although many of these are great nods to the audience and humorously mix areas of the enormous franchise that you never thought would meet, I sometimes felt the film was relying on these references a bit too heavily.
My key issue with The Lego Batman Movie is that it has an overlong introduction and an equally overlong climax. What this means is that the middle of the movie – where our characters are supposed to interact and develop – feels a bit rushed. Of course much of this is because the film has the running time of a kids’ movie (unfortunately Hollywood studios don’t think children can sit down for longer than 100 minutes), but I feel the pace of the movie needed to be more consistent. This is, of course, a minor criticism compared to how much is brilliant about the movie. This is a kids’ movie that everyone will enjoy; especially Batman fans, who will not just appreciate its respect for the source material, but also how well it embodies it.
Verdict: Funny, visually stunning, and armed with a great story with surprising depth, The Lego Batman Movie is a love-letter to Batman fans everywhere, giving us both a parody of the series and a noteworthy entry to it.