The opening gambit in THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE has Will Arnett’s gravelly Caped Crusader passing comment on the logos of all the production companies involved, and this made me wish he could do the same for some of the Oscar front-runners. The self-referential tone continues throughout the film, though you wonder if they’d have been more brutal in their dismantling of BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD if they weren’t all in production at the same time. And if Warner Bros let them. The fact remains that this nearly the best cinematically-released Batman movie since THE DARK KNIGHT.
After saving the day once again, Batman (Will Arnett) denies the Joker’s (Zach Galifianakis) place as his arch-nemesis, and thus drives the Clown Prince of Crime to seek the biggest, meanest supervillains around in order to make a statement. Batman must gather his allies Robin (Michael Cera), Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to face the biggest threat in Gotham City’s history, and in the process perhaps he will learn to stop being such a miserable loner.
Lego Batman digs playfully at Batmen past and present, with Tim Burton/Michael Keaton coming under fire for “the parade with the Prince music”, Adam West being “That weird one in the 60s” and even Christopher Nolan’s much-lauded serious treatment of Batman is mocked with the deadpan”All the important movies start with a black screen”. While this film gets very big and very silly towards the end – to the extent that there’s sometimes far too much visual information on screen at once to get the desired toybox car crash effect – at least they acknowledge the ridiculousness of the enterprise. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting the bizarreness of comic book material, with emphasising that this isn’t real life and these worlds operate according to their own laws. Just have fun with it. If you’re going to have an invasion by outlandish threats from another dimension and an entire city teetering on the edge of a literal void, make it bold, colourful and over-the-top, don’t just do a shower of grey rubble.
They dip into Warner Bros’ vast back catalogue of IP in addition to DC Comics (having the characters from the two biggest fantasy franchises in history at the ready is certainly handy from a marketing perspective) and cast an impressive array of talent to cameo. It’s great that Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Two-Face after 28 years, but why not give him more than two lines?
The film plays with Batman and the Joker’s complex relationship in the unexpected manner of a kind of twisted rom-com. It’s Arnett’s show, but he bounces beautifully off the ensemble, chiefly as a reluctant father to Cera’s upbeat Robin and a reluctant frenemy to Galifianakis’ needy Joker. Everyone knows how good he was as a parody of the gritty take on Batman from THE LEGO MOVIE (“Darkness! No parents!”), but Arnett actually manages something few previous performers of the role have managed: genuine character development. This is a film about Bruce Wayne moving on, finally letting his guard down and embracing a new family. It’s about not being afraid to be hurt again. It’s pretty deep for a toy-based kids movie.
For years now, Warner Bros have been killing it with their animated superhero movies. Once again, by having a little fun and lovingly referencing, rather than worshiping, the source material, they have produced something hugely entertaining and worth your time. The gags come thick and fast, the busily detailed animation gives you plenty of eye-candy and the vocal talent provides plenty of feelings to feel. I don’t know how much further this particular joke can be stretched, though it’ll probably do for just as long as the live-action DC adaptations suck. SSP