The Lego Batman Movie **** / *****
Directed by: Chris McKay.
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Jared Stern & John Whittington.
Starring: Will Arnett (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Michael Cera (Robin / Dick Grayson), Rosario Dawson (Batgirl / Barbara Gordon), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred Pennyworth), Siri ('Puter), Zach Galifianakis (Joker), Jenny Slate (Harley Quinn), Jason Mantzoukas (Scarecrow), Conan O'Brien (The Riddler), Doug Benson (Bane), Billy Dee Williams (Two-Face), Zoë Kravitz (Catwoman), Kate Micucci (Clayface), Riki Lindhome (Poison Ivy), Eddie Izzard (Voldemort), Seth Green (King Kong), Jemaine Clement (Sauron), Ellie Kemper (Phyllis), Channing Tatum (Superman), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern), Adam Devine (The Flash), Hector Elizondo (Jim Gordon), Mariah Carey (Mayor McCaskill).
Let’s be honest – Batman has had this coming for a while now. Back when The Dark Knight Rises came out in 2012, I felt that Batman had probably gone about as dark as it possible for it to go without becoming so dour that no one would actually want to watch him anymore. The character, who throughout his decades of his publication history, had gone from light to dark and back again repeatedly, had swung so far into the dark, that you want to tell him to lighten up already. It was because Christian Bale’s performance was so good, Christopher Nolan’s direction even better, and the rich storytelling, and villains, that the Nolan trilogy stands as the best Batman series of all time, but it came dangerously close to be too self-serious. That danger was fully realized in last year’s dismal Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where poor Ben Affleck had to play a Batman completely and totally devoid of any human emotion other than rage. He was such a loner, he did CrossFit by himself in the Batcave. He was miserable, and we all had a miserable time watching him be miserable. Now, comes The Lego Batman Movie, which seems like it was engineered in a lab specifically to mock the hell out Batman v Superman, and all the Batman fans who think that Batman needs to be dark – or else, people won’t take him seriously. While I don’t think The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie ever made – it is clearly the most fun.
The film opens with Batman (voiced, as he was in The Lego Movie, by Will Arnett), once again saving Gotham City from The Joker, as well as a massive host of other villains (all of which are real Batman villains, no matter how stupid they seem). Batman angers The Joker however not so much by foiling his plan – but by not acknowledging that The Joker is his greatest adversary. Batman, you see, is a serious, brooding loner – he doesn’t need anybody, and that includes not needing an arch nemesis. The Joker then decides to launch an even bigger plan – one that requires him and all the villains to be locked up ion Arkham Asylum – the new commissioner Gordon, Barbara, and Batman doesn’t trust The Joker – but what are you going to do. Batman even end up inadvertently adopting an orphan of his own – Dick Grayson – and while he doesn’t like him, he does see how the kid could be of use when he needs to steal something from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
The first half of The Lego Batman Movie is pretty much spot on. It is a comedy in which the in-jokes have in-jokes, and someone like me, who loves Batman, but is hardly an expert of every facet of him, knows that there are jokes that flew way over by head, but it hardly mattered, because every frame contains even more jokes. It is cleverly written and performed by Arnett, and Michael Cera who is hilarious as Robin, and an all-star cast, some of whom only seem to have a few lines, but all of whom make the most of them. This is a movie that is at its best when it isn’t trying to tell its story, or develop its character, but when it’s simply riffing. Last year’s Deadpool contained a lot of meta-jokes about Superhero movies – this one contains far more, and that is when the film is at its best.
If there is a problem with the film, it’s that the plot ends up being very kind thrown together – basically, Batman needs to learn to be a part of family – part of something greater than himself. We know that early in the narrative, and the film does nothing to surprise us throughout. As well, as the film progresses, it – like many a superhero film before it – becomes a series of action sequences in which a lot of crap crashes into a lot of other crap. Now, to be fair, because the film is brilliantly animated using Lego, a lot of that crap crashing into each other is brilliantly staged, and inventive – but still, there’s only so much you can see before it becomes repetitive.
Those are, relatively speaking though, minor gripes with a film that I basically had a blast with from first frame to last. Superhero movies continue to get bigger, they continue to try and raise the stakes, and continue to take themselves so seriously – even the good ones. It’s about time something came along to take Batman down a peg, and get him to lighten the hell up.