Having saved the world virtually single handed inThe Lego Movie, Batman has returned to Gotham to keep the peace in a lawless city, alone, by himself, and definitely needing absolutely no one else. Fighting battle after battle against a seemingly endless roster of super (and not so super) villains, Batman lives a life envied by many. Nightly adventure and excitement, fast cars (and boats, planes, submarines, helicopters…), the adoration of crowds of Gothamites, what could possibly be missing from such a perfect life?
Returning to a needlessly grandiose but empty Batcave below Wayne Manor (on Wayne Island, of course), alone but for the ever present paternal figure of Alfred, not even his favourite Lobster Thermidor can vanquish the loneliness consuming Gotham’s unappointed protector.
That emptiness is highlighted when the Joker, having been spurned by Batman who claimed the Joker was not his arch nemesis, summons the multitude disreputable elements of the city to stage a major attack on the city… only to confound him by surrendering. Heartbroken by Batman’s rejection, the Joker is determined to show Batman how much the Dark Knight needs him.
There is always a risk when taking a small but extremely popular element of a movie or show and turning it into its own larger project. Sometimes this succeeds beyond expectation, but for every Frasier there are a dozen forgotten Joeys, and this was the risk with The Lego Batman Movie. The crime fighter who stole every scene of The Lego Movie in which he first appeared, can that level of entertainment be sustained through a feature length solo project? Apparently, yes it can, and everything is still awesome, though this is in fact far from a solo project.
Joining Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Will Arnett in the dual roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman are Birdman‘s Zach Galifianakis as the Joker, Scott Pilgrim vs the World‘s Michael Cera as the excitable orphan Dick Grayson, clearly influenced by Burt Ward but with visual nods to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil‘s Rosario Dawson as Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon and Spectre’s Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth alongside innumerable cameos including the first movie appearance of the whole Justice League of America.
The scope more outrageous than any previous Batman film, it references the origin story but fortunately does not feel the need to offer yet another version, instead moving swiftly to an overcomplicated plot involving overcomplicated bombs faster than the atomic batteries of the Batmobile can be switched to power.
Rather than a series of repeated simple jokes director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken) and his writing team have created a story arc with actual character development and a vast cast allowing a wide range of elements to keep scenes fresh, all the while squeezing in references for every level of Bat Fan from Alfred’s recap of the various “phases” Batman has gone through to making cracks about the Joker having a parade to the music of Prince.
The needy Joker’s appearance referencing different incarnations such as Cesar Romero’s costume and Heath Ledger’s imperfect smile, while the unusual addition of sharpened teeth could be a reference to Suicide Squad’s metal toothed Clown Prince of Crime it is more likely an attempt to give the Joker a more villainous look and wider range of distinct facial expressions, and his co-dependent relationship with the egotistical and self-deluded Dark Knight is both touching and hilarious.
Having Barbara Gordon take over from her retiring father Jim is a stroke of genius, preserving the “Commissioner Gordon” role while putting a prominent female character into the group, and she does a great job calling Batman out on his errant ways and trying to raise him up to work with her to make Gotham better, while Fiennes joins the ranks of award winning British actors to play Alfred and also finds himself opposing a previous incarnation of himself, with a “villain who cannot be named” recruited to the Joker’s mob along with many surprising cameos from various other properties licensed to Warner Brothers.
Sadly no main characters from The Lego Movie guest but Billy Dee Williams finally gets an all too brief chance to play Two-Face, a role he has been preparing for since his appearance as Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and there are a wide array of cameo voices from Mariah Carey as Gotham’s Mayor to Jupiter Ascending’s Channing Tatum as Superman, heralded by an excerpt of John Williams’ Fortress of Solitude theme.
With the kind of dramatically overlit primary colours only a comic book adaptation can carry, The Lego Batman Movie is a fun and entertaining treat from start to finish in the tradition of the best animated movies with jokes pitched for the younger and older audiences, keeping whole families entertained throughout.
Echoing the original film but never repeating it, The Lego Movie’s message of teamwork is continued as is the clear desire to put heart into their movies and help bring some light to a dark knight. With Lego looking to continue their cinematic adventures with The Lego Ninjago Movie it seems they are only starting to put pieces together and there is a lot more fun to build.
The Lego Batman Movie is currently on general release and also screening in 3D and IMAX 3D