Batman’s back, but you’d be forgiven for wondering whether he’d ever gone away. As Alfred describes the numerous ‘phases’ the Caped Crusader has been through, you realise just how well established the character’s mythos is. It is, therefore, rather fitting that this Lego incarnation both leans on and lampoons this chequered past, and delivers a fast-paced, imaginative and comic revival.
Gotham, as ever, is under attack – it’s rivalled only by Midsomer for the number of crimes committed per capita. The Joker is up to his old tricks, and soon desires to form the most despicable Rogues Gallery ever assembled. Here, the film’s reliance on intertextuality and a working knowledge of pop culture comes to the fore. In fact, a strength of Lego’s involvement is that they have the licence to just about every property you could imagine.
Yet director Chris McKay, at the helm for the first time, always manages to pull the film back tautly when it threatens to run away with its own imagination.
This endless supply of pop culture nods and references, however, can at times feel utterly frenetic. The action, dialogue and visuals explode onto the screen so quickly that it can be difficult to know where to look. The extended prologue and third act, in particular, are kaleidoscopic viewing. Yet director Chris McKay, at the helm for the first time, always manages to pull the film back tautly when it threatens to run away with its own imagination.
This is mostly due to the anchoring influence of the titular hero. Will Arnett’s gruff delivery as the eponymous hero is spot on, and his comic timing is excellent. Equally, Michael Cera plays Dick “Kids are cruel” Grayson with doe-eyed optimism. Their interplay is especially fun, and Batman’s transition to fatherhood is a comic thread that always delivers.
We may have seen Batman before, but few films have understood the internal dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego.
Yet below the non-stop gags, and against all fathomable reason, this film plucks at your heartstrings with a deft degree of poignancy. We may have seen Batman before, but few films have understood the internal dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego. The film simply gets the importance of Bruce Wayne’s backstory without dipping into sanctimony – and with a positive degree of self-deprecation (and without screaming the name ‘Martha!’ to Superman, but that’s by the by.)
Despite my protestation to my girlfriend (Happy Valentine’s, and all), this is first and foremost a kid’s film. Accordingly, the moral points can at times feel a little heavy-handed. Equally, though I believe it to be funnier, the film suffers slightly by comparison to The Lego Movie, which naturally stole a march in providing such refreshingly imaginative animation and storytelling. Be that as it may, these two films have provided a solid foundation for a Cinematic Brick-verse worth of films.
In a film full of spinning plates, there may be the odd wobble, but none of the crockery ever comes tumbling down. This is seen most keenly through the comedy, as there are jokes which hinge on a working knowledge of Bat-lore, popular culture writ large, sharp scripting and a healthy dose of slapstick. Simply, the script for this film is much better than it needs to be – a compliment which, in relation to kid’s films, is often only levied at the really top echelon of Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks fare.
Within the opening five minutes, The Joker says that his plan, and by extension this film, is going to be better than “the one with the two boats.” With The Dark Knight in its comedic and critical sights, The Lego Batman Movie soars. It’s a film which has a bounty of moving parts trying to pull it in different directions. Thankfully, it’s held together by a strong central message, imaginative direction and effervescent humour. With all of this considered, perhaps Batman was indeed right; all you need to succeed is a rock-solid core.