DC movies are seemingly in the doghouse among both fans and critics after the double-whammy disappointments of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad last year, with many people accusing them of severely misunderstanding the tone fans of these characters want to see on screen. That’s a fair criticism, but one thing that I have always respected DC for, is their willingness to let filmmakers take their characters and interpret them however they see fit, leading to multiple, wildly differing variations on their most famous characters, in particular Batman, without any one in particular considered the ‘correct’ one. Case in point, as they were heavy into production on the 3-hour, super-violent and overtly grim and serious Dawn of Justice, they allowed Batman to be used as a supporting character in the utterly brilliant, expectation-shattering comedy that was The Lego Movie.
It wasn’t just Batman’s mere appearance in a theatrical animated comedy that was so satisfying though, it’s the fact that The Lego Movie was allowed to use the official licencing to openly mock the character and some of his more ridiculous traits. The interpretation’s reception was positive enough that the green light was given to give this silly, arrogant Batman incarnation his own feature-length spin-off, and indeed one that can, and hilariously does, crack jokes at the expense of both Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Batman’s amusingly antagonistic attitude towards Superman here being questioned by The Joker himself makes for one of the most memorable exchanges in the movie, while the two Suicide Squad jokes are far more subtle but equally on-point.
Basically, The Lego Batman Movie has cracked the formula for a top-notch family movie; its overall storyline is entirely suitable for newcomers, and most importantly, children. It’s a highly entertaining kids movie that just happens to be filled with a bunch of Batman (well, DC in general) references that will go down a treat with the older viewers. Case in point; the film references, both visually and verbally with great success, almost every single on-screen iteration of Batman, going back to the 1940s serial even, but you won’t need to have seen any of those to find these nods amusing due to the way they’re framed (as different phases Batman went through). Just as the campy sixties TV show (mentioned frequently here) was an introduction to Batman for many kids, this preposterous Lego version could prove to be the same for a whole new generation.
When a silly villain named ‘The Condiment King’ threatens Batman with ketchup and mustard firing guns, you’ll laugh at some of the nonsense concepts used for superhero villains but perhaps with a slight cringe if you remember the character from the generally well-received nineties animated series. Similarly when Alfred makes a reference to Batman’s sixties phase and the film cuts to a live-action clip of it, it’s funny if you’ve never heard of it before, and equally so if you have fond memories of it as a child. An advanced knowledge of Batman’s history will certainly enhance a lot of the jokes here, but the film’s humour thrives on inclusivity; expertise on the character is by no means required to enjoy The Lego Batman Movie. The Lego animation aesthetic employed by director Chris McKay (editor of The Lego Movie) again leads to some innovatively amusing action scenes and some highly effective sight gags that assist the movie’s light-hearted tone.
As he was in The Lego Movie, Will Arnett’s Batman is introduced as a self-obsessed narcissist, who fights crime sound-tracked by songs sung by himself about himself, before returning to his vast mansion along and enjoying laughing at Jerry Maguire while eating microwaved lobster thermidor. The new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) isn’t too happy about Batman’s antics however, while The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) plots a grand scheme to defeat him once and for all. Batman’s obsession with working alone, and his relationships with those around him, which also include a wonderful Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth and an entertaining new take on Dick Grayson/Robin as a dangerously naïve optimist from Michael Cera are what the film’s plot primarily revolves around. There’s a particularly amusing thread regarding his and the Joker’s attitudes toward one another that lovingly pokes fun and one of the most discussed Batman theories, and gives us some hilarious exchanges, including the aforementioned one that also mentions Superman.
So, even with the knowing parody element, this could very well be the substance of a standard Batman introductory story, but it packs in so many cameos, both heroes and villains, that it becomes something else, more of a celebration of everything that is fun if admittedly a bit ridiculous about Batman. Even with all this, the film goes one step further, taking advantage of Lego’s extensive licensing agreements to allow some cross-universe appearances as well, it’d be a shame to spoil who, but it’s here where the film embraces the Lego Movie’s ‘anything goes’ attitude for a mostly, if not entirely successful third act. Other than becoming slightly excessive and a tad overlong at this stage, the only other missteps in the movie are its few attempts at meta-humour. The film begins with Batman narrating over the studio logos implying that he knows he’s in a movie, but then this angle is completely dropped until the final seconds. It could have opened up a whole other comedic element to the film had they decided to explore it further.
There were two big question marks hanging over The Lego Batman Movie, one being, was there enough to this interpretation to warrant a whole movie, and the other whether this was going to risk being a long string of in- jokes that were aimed primarily at long-time Batman fans (i.e. adults). Well both of those turn out to not be concerns for The Lego Batman Movie, this film lacks any ingenious wrap-around structure such as the first Lego Movie had, taking place entirely within a Lego DC universe, which admittedly removes any chance for it to possess the sheer emotional power The Lego Movie’s third act revealed but it still manages to revolve around a generally positive, wholesome message. And for all those who’ve bemoaned the recent incarnations of Batman as being too grim and serious, here’s a colourful funny, Batman movie that’s not simply a parody, but a self-aware yet still valid entry into the ever-expanding Batman multiverse.