In a week during which DC has had to quash more rumours about its stuttering cinematic universe, up steps the definitive Dark Knight in the form of Will Arnett’s egotistical, narcissist Batman, to not necessarily be the hero we wanted, but the one we needed, and boy doesn’t he know it.
Having swung in on his grappling hook to completely steal 2014’s Lego Movie, Robot Chicken alumni, Chris McKay is given the building blocks upon which to direct Batman’s own little big adventure. In doing so, The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t stray too far from formula when it comes to the shenanigans of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. He saves Gotham from The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), and his fiendish ticking time bomb plot, soaks up the adulation, visits an orphanage to fire Batman merchandise out of a canon, and then returns home to the vacuous loneliness of Wayne Manor and his trusted butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).
What follows is a series of existential crises, as Batman grapples with never having had a family, his parent’s tragic demise condensed to a hilarious photo in which they’re stood next to a street marked ‘Crime Alley’. The Joker questions his own purpose, needing Bats to validate his position as number one nemesis. Then there’s young Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who’s involuntary adopted by Bruce Wayne, eager for the father figure he’s never had.
It’s the kind of depth that the ‘Synderverse’ has struggled to deal with, but Lego Batman gets it. It just gets it, y’know? It acknowledges every iteration of the Batman, from the KAPOW days of the 1950’s, to 2016’s much maligned Martha mash-up, but it does so with a reverence which is often lacking from its live-action counterparts. Heck, the script even understands that Superman (Channing Tatum) is an overtly positive hero.
However, we don’t come to a Lego Batman movie for ‘Nolanverse’ darkness, we come for the laughs, and whilst the film can sometimes be too chaotic, both visually and in terms of the scattershot approach to joke-telling, it’s better than almost every comedy from the past twelve months.
There are so many geekgasmic moments littered throughout. References to the cinematic canon are plentiful, with an exchange between The Joker and a pilot flying the wonderfully named Macguffin Airlines plane, seeing the potential hostage state that he’ll be saved by Batman because “What about that time with the two boats, or the parade with the Prince music?” Or Batman’s threat to turn “two-face into black-and-blue face” during his opening rap. There’s also a playful dig at Marvel with Bat’s choice of password, the hilarious Justice League 57th Anniversary party, any number of pop-culture cameos from all of our childhoods, and the very, very, very funny Bane.
The voice work is great, with Arnett cementing his place as the best big-screen Batman. Maybe this is why Ben Affleck abandoned directorial duties on the forthcoming solo outing? He had this to live up to. Joking aside, Arnett has mastered this kind of unaware idiot shtick since Arrested Development, and his grizzled reading of the lines is at least 50% of why Lego Batman works as a character. He’s also reunited with an against type Michael Cera, who’s hyperactively wonderful as Robin. Honourable mentions to Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, Jemaine Clement, as a character we’d rather not spoil the identity of, and Ralph Fiennes, once again flexing his comedic chops with dual roles.
Images: Warner Bros.