Movie Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Certificate U, 104 minutes

Director: Chris McKay

Stars: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson

The Lego Batman Movie is, perhaps, a sequel to The Lego Movie, although there is no real connection between the two films and it’s more of a spin-off, and it opens with Batman – voiced by Will Arnett, reprising his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne from the first film, and the major connection between the two – narrating over, and commenting on, the opening credits and logos, before going to a plane containing a ridiculously large amount of explosives that is asking permission to fly over Gotham City, the most crime-ridden city in the world (both of these points are carefully pointed out).

The Lego Batman MovieThe aircraft is promptly hijacked by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and a team of villains. Joker carefully names all of the villains, many of these well known big names, such as Scarecrow (Jason Mantzoukas), The Riddler (Conan O’Brien), Bane (Doug Benson), Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams) and many more, gradually going down the list to ones such as Polka-Dot Man and Condiment King, at which point the person that Joker is gloating to accuses him of making some of them up. The Joker says that no, these are real, they’re worth a Google (and, indeed, they are, some of Batman’s silliest and least impressive villains of past years that will mostly be recognised by a true fan of the Dark Knight).

The Joker plans to destroy Gotham City by attaching a stupidly complicated bomb to the reactor in the power plant, blowing it up and causing the whole city to collapse into the abyss beneath the town. When all seems lost, Batman naturally shows up, quoting, it would seem, Wesley Snipes from Passenger 57 – “Always bet on black.” During the fight, the Joker is escaping, leaving Batman to deal with the bomb, and the Dark Knight hurts the Joker’s feelings by saying that he doesn’t have an arch-enemy – not even adding the Joker to a list which includes Superman, to the Joker’s disgust. The rest of the film is caused by said hurt feelings, as the Joker really wants to get Batman to admit to the two being arch-rivals. After defeating the Joker (again; the Joker was told by another character that Batman always beats him) and saving the city, Batman makes a quick stop at the orphanage where he covers the kids with merchandise.

Allred (Ralph Fiennes), Bruce Wayne’s butler, is concerned about Bruce Wayne/Batman, as the latter is leading a deliberately lonely and insular life, so that he will never have to cope with the hurt caused by the loss of his parents again. He mentions various incidents from Batman’s past, with clips; these are all references to every previous Batman films, animated series and serials, all the way back to the 1940s serials, all done in a Lego style, bar the Adam West series from the 1960s, which has a live action clip instead (there is another reference to that series as well, as Batman says “Atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed” when starting up one of his vehicles).

Batman, as Bruce Wayne, is going to Commissioner Jim Gordon’s (Hector Elizondo) retirement gala, where his successor – his daughter, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), is taking over as commissioner. Most of Jim’s actions over his career have been turning on the Bat Signal to summon Batman to deal with the problem. Barbara has a new approach; she points out that, despite Batman having fought Gotham’s various villains for a long, long time, the city is still crime-riddled and none of said villains are actually in prison. Instead of having a costumed vigilante acting outside the law, she wants Batman to team up with the GCPD to help properly stop crime in the city. Batman is not impressed with this idea.

All this gets put on hold when the Joker turns up with the villains from earlier to the gala, and puts into place his latest plan – he surrenders, both personally and on the behalf of all the other villains. This coming as quite a shock to them. With all of Gotham’s most notorious villains locked up, crime in Gotham plummets. Alfred points out that this would be a good time for Bruce to deal with the orphan he adopted; at the gala, he was rather struck on Barbara and wasn’t listening when one of the orphans – Richard “Dick” Grayson (Michael Cera) – asked if Bruce would adopt him. So he accidentally adopts a child.

Neither Batman, nor Barbara, think that the Joker’s turning himself in is genuine. Batman takes matters to stop this (which include getting his new adoptee to help him steal something from Superman’s (Channing Tatum) Fortress of Solitude¬† in Antarctica in order to send the Joker away permanently. Unfortunately as Barbara realises, this was just what the Joker wanted, as it allowed him to meet with villains from many different franchises, including the Eye of Sauron (Jemaine Clement), King Kong (Seth Green), Lord Voldemorte (Eddie Izzard) and the Daleks (although these are never actually referred to by name – “British robots; ask your nerd friends” – for some reason) amongst others; some of these, like the Gremlins, are unlikely to be recognised as easily by children, but older generations should have less of a problem. With access to the greatest villains across time and space, the Joker launches a new attack on Gotham City.

The film is available in 2D and 3D, with the 2D version being the one watched although, as a completely animated film, The Lego Batman Movie is of a type that usually works quite well in 3D. As with the original film, there is enormous attention to detail in the animation, with the various blocks bearing the Lego logo and many having the slight scuff marks and scrapes that would be expected from Lego that is in regular use. There are many, many references to various elements of popular culture, from the clips from all the Batman series to quotes and characters from other properties, to a dig at Iron Man with Batman’s password for the Bat Computer. Some of these children will get, but there are plenty in there for their parents and, frankly, their parents’ parents and perhaps beyond.

There are also two main threads to the film. The first is in the funny, beautifully animated action-centric sequences and plot, that should appeal to all, but there are also elements that are more probably aimed at older generations, such as Batman’s self-inflicted loneliness caused by grief and loss, and how he deals with this as the film progresses, causing him to actually grow as a person. This may be too subtle for the youngest audiences, who may just focus on the shiny action sequences, but it is a major element to the film, as Bruce/Batman deals with Dick/Robin and his feelings for others. This is a really family friendly film – although their is violence, it’s all done with Lego, and people shooting go “pew, pew, pew” – but it is one that definitely has elements for all ages.

Everything is perhaps not quite as awesome as it was in the original film, but this is another good, fun, and funny film with a whole host of superheroes, Batman and popular culture references, some of which are really quite obscure, and perhaps it’s one that those responsible for the live action DC Comics films should take inspiration from because it is, quite frankly, far superior to any of the much grittier live action films to date. Certainly, the live action films don’t have to be as silly or funny as this is on occasion, but they could certainly be a lot more fun to watch than they are (there is an aside about how teaming up with a bunch of criminals is a stupid idea; perhaps a reference to the somewhat disappointing Suicide Squad film). The Lego Batman Movie may not be quite as good as the first, but it has a different tone and is a different type of film, and it is still enormous fun to watch.

 

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