Franchise films can still be full of surprises: Sony and Marvel are working together with Spider-Man, apparently we’re getting a Warner Bros. Extended Monster Universe (where King Kong, Godzilla and a bunch of retro baddies will fight it out), and one of the best DC films of recent years is now a LEGO movie. Like I said, full of surprises.
But it’s not that surprising for anyone who loved the original LEGO Movie, as the new LEGO Batman Movie takes the standout character from that epic adventure, Will Arnett’s Batman, and gives him his own standalone film to make jokes about abs, lobster Thermidor, and other less successful DC movies.
Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) seems to have it all: fancy house, infinite money, super-secret identity – everything except a family to share it with. But when the new Gotham police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) announces that she wants to team up with Batman, the Dark Knight must work together with his new friends to foil the Joker’s (Zach Galifianakis) secret plot to the down the city with an army of the world’s greatest villains.
Just like the LEGO Movie before it, the LEGO Batman Movie is a joyride from start to finish, taking the world’s most iconic sour-faced superhero and giving him a lot of heart and laughs. LEGO Batman takes all the central themes to the other Batman films – isolation, grief, guilt – and boils them down to make them the relatable and real emotions of a human being, not just the weight to bear for a billionaire, layering them through the simple story to give it more depth and making it stand out from the Batman films before it. We feel Batman’s trepidation to get close to people again, with his too-cool act with newly adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), Barbara, and even the Joker, allowing us our first look at a really insecure Bruce Wayne – here, he hides behind the mask because it’s easier than being Bruce (we only see Bruce himself twice in the film, his chiselled LEGO features uncanny to those of Christian Bale). And if this all sounds way too dark for a kids’ movie, you’re right; where Nolan’s Batman trilogy was grounded in a darker world, McKay’s Batman puts the dark in the Dark Knight himself.
The rest of the movie makes up for this, though, keeping very much in line with the LEGO Movie’s colourful world and off-the-wall humour. With the Joker’s plot to gain entry to the fantastical, top secret prison The Phantom Zone, and unleash every Warner Bros. villain dating back to the golden age of cinema, a lot of fun and jokes are to be had, with the Joker and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) riffing off everyone from Voldemort to the Wicked Witch of the West. And with Batman basically being an overdramatic child, complete with super cool gadgets and all, his competence is always questionable but fun, swinging from expert Master Builder to being babysat by Arthur (Ralph Fiennes) on a dime. Then there’s the new take on Batman and Joker’s relationship, playing it out like a troubled relationship, creating by far one of the most entertaining and interesting Batman relationships to date. It’s all a little silly, but so earnest and in good spirit that you can’t help but smile throughout the whole film.
Because despite all the darkness, LEGO Batman is very much a kids movie, with most of Batman’s humour aimed at a younger audience. Regardless, there are still many jokes that will delight adult viewers, like meta-references to Batman’s history and the current DCEU, and a very well placed Dick Grayson joke that steals the whole show. Combine this with the most extensive voice cast ever assembled, from Channing Tatum to Eddie Izzard, Billy Dee Williams, Mariah Carey and even Siri, plus Will Arnett’s impossibly gravelly Batman tying it all together, and there’s certainly fun to be had for older Batman and film fans.
It’s hard to not compare superhero films sometimes: Civil War is better than BvS, Suicide Squad couldn’t quite pull off what Guardians did a few years before, and so far, little LEGO Batman has a better track record than dark and gritty live action Batfleck. But none of these comparisons are ever to say that DC is a failure, because we all want DC to succeed, to take note that audiences don’t just want a highlights reel of superheroes, but an interesting, individualistic story that does justice to the characters. So if there’s anything for DC to take away from LEGO Batman, perhaps it’s that Batman doesn’t always have to be gritty, and neither do all their other films: audiences respond to humour, and heart, and that’s what makes LEGO Batman so damn enjoyable.
It’s such a huge cast, this is probably the easiest top five list I’ve ever written, so here’s my top five favourite films and TV shows starring the cast of The LEGO Batman movie:
- Daredevil – Rosario Dawson
- Arrested Development – Will Arnett and Michael Cera
- Parks and Recreation – Jenny Slate and Will Arnett (in one episode)
- The Whole Harry Potter Series – Ralph Fiennes
- 21 Jump Street – Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill
Photos taken from IMDb.com: