Written by Daniel Simpson
I doubt anyone would disagree that of all the superheroes out there, Batman has had the most interesting cinematic legacy. Perhaps it is because much of the character’s inspiration is rooted in cinema, but Batman has had an incredibly diverse series of films, including some of the best films of the superhero genre, as well as some of the worst. Just focusing on theatrically released movies, there have been 13 (debatably 14) Batman films so far with more on the way, and that isn’t including dozens of direct to video films. With so many different interpretations, it’s inevitable that some be a little strange. One of the most atypical was the animated spoof version presented in 2014’s surprise hit The Lego Movie. As with anything that is successful, Hollywood is happy to run it into the ground and so that version of the Dark Knight has been given his own film with The Lego Batman Movie.
Set in a world of Lego, The Lego Batman Movie sees Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) at the height of his crime-fighting career. The opening action sequence sees Batman thwarting a plot of The Joker (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) which incorporates many of Batman’s most dangerous rogues, as well as the not so dangerous like Calendar Man and the Condiment King. Despite Batman’s success in crime-fighting and general ego, is personal life is empty and unfulfilling. Batman is forced to face this loneliness when the new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) strives to create a Gotham City which doesn’t need Batman. Simultaneously, Batman happens to take in young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Batman initially has no use for the kid, but faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) urges Batman to take on a father role and soon the boy dons the Robin costume. Meanwhile, The Joker, feeling neglected by Batman, hatches a sinister to plot to prove once and for all that he is the caped crusader’s greatest foe.
Part of what made The Lego Movie special is the fact that, on paper, the film seemed to be entirely emblematic of everything wrong with Hollywood. Namely, a cheap cash grab exploiting people’s brand recognition and nostalgia. Thankfully, the film proved to be quite clever and funny, but it’s success has prompted an onslaught of more LEGO movies that seem…less encouraging. A sequel to The Lego Movie is in the works, there’s another Lego movie due out this year called The Lego Ninjago Movie, and something called The Billion Brick Race has also been announced. True, these movies might all have the same creative spark as the original film, but there’s a general whiff of corporate cash grab surrounding these projects and the notion of yet another cinematic universe to bombard the general public with yet more spin-offs and sequels every year is somewhat depressing. I bring this up because I had reasonable concern that The Lego Batman Movie would mark the first in the line of soulless cash grab spin-offs but thankfully, that isn’t the case.
While the film certainly isn’t as creative as The Lego Movie and generally lacks that films fresh feel, The Lego Batman Movie does possess a greater degree of insight into the lore of Batman than it perhaps needed to. It’s quite clear that the filmmakers have a lot of love for Batman. There are of course a ton of references to elements of Batman (both subtle visual Easter eggs as well as more overt referencing) and the film pokes a lot of fun at the character’s history. That can be pretty enjoyable, but the film also displays a solid understanding of the character. The theme of surrogate families making up for the loss of Bruce’s parents and his fear of losing another family is a classic part of the Batman mythos and the film also pokes fun at the strange intimacy found in Batman’s relationship with arch-nemesis The Joker. The film’s presentation of an uber-alpha Batman who always believes himself to be the smartest and most capable guy in the room pokes fun not just at aspects of the character, but fans who frequently insist that Batman can get out of any situation and that he is, “the greatest and most awesomest hero ever”. It’s good stuff, but I also don’t wanna go too far in praising the film’s presentation of the character. I’ve read a lot of pieces and bits claiming that this is the greatest and most accurate cinematic take of Batman thus far and I found that to quite frankly be nonsense. I don’t know if it’s click-bait designed to garner more views, but the hyperbole that comes with every new superhero adaptation being praised as “the best ever” is short-sighted and generally annoying. So yeah, The Lego Batman Movie does a good job presenting the character in a way that’s both fun and true to the source, but let’s not go nuts.
Moving beyond the character specifically, The Lego Batman Movie does a pretty serviceable job at providing some light entertainment. The film is fast-paced, firing jokes at the audience left and right, and dressing the content up with some colourful and charming animation. It’s entertaining enough, but it’s also definitely a step-down from The Lego Movie. That film had a novelty value this didn’t, it was more creative, and I also remember the jokes landing harder. The Lego Batman Movie, on the other hand, is very much a kid’s movie at heart. It has a simple message about family which is telegraphed heavily from the start and while it has fun reaching that goal, it is nonetheless a standard path that hits the beats you expect it to. And while there are some funny jokes (particularly for Batman fans), the film’s comedy has limits and after the first twenty minutes or so the film has already hit its comedic high. Not that the rest of the film doesn’t have some funny stuff, but a little bit of this sort of manic comic energy goes a long way.
The Lego Batman Movie was met with a lot of optimism on opening weekend and its easy to see why. It’s an enjoyable little reprieve from your typical superhero movie that has some fun with the character’s mythology while still respecting the source and its generally an entertaining ride. I imagine most people will probably respond pretty positively to the film and I certainly did too. That said, I don’t see this film having much staying power in the weeks to come. I enjoyed the film in the moment, but I can already feel it slipping from my memory banks. It isn’t funny enough to stand out as a full-on comedy, most of the film’s charms are surface level, and the story is built on very familiar tropes. Still, I would give The Lego Batman Movie a modest recommendation, both for comic book fans, as well as for people who just want some breezy entertainment.