To some degree, there’s an argument that The Lego Batman Movie is a concept too far.
There were plenty of people surprised enough that The Lego Movie of 2014 did so well. But the curation from plastic clicking bricks to silver screen animation success proved surprisingly seamless, delivering a well made, if flawed, exercise in entertainment and even earning an Oscar nomination.
The decision was made to green-light a spin-off starring the film’s Lego Batman character after Will Arnett’s character proved to be a surprisingly popular character in the 2014 production. But it could still be easy to think of a concept plugging 2 big entertainment monoliths and think it might sink under its own weight.
But at a time when DC’s superhero franchises have been falling over themselves to convincingly sell dark tales, this provides a breezy and fun counterpoint.
The film is a very hyperactive production, feeling closer in tone to comic books, the animated series or even the famed 1960s Adam West TV series. There is an essence of celebrating and mocking all iterations of Batman – not least in one sequence when Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) reads off his earlier mishaps that helpfully correspond with all of Batman’s film iterations.
The picture begins with Batman performing his latest rescue act on Gotham City, in order to stop The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and a whole cabal of villains – right down to the big name likes of Calendar Man, Egghead and Condiment King – from blowing up a power station and taking the city with it.
A Batman played with all manner of arrogant bravado stops the bomb, takes the glory and insults The Joker along the way, and he celebrates by going home to party. Or least that’s the theory.
The film does a fair amount of exploration of Batman’s loneliness, and has a surprisingly well done quality in exploring this while keeping up the film’s high gag rate. There’s a similarity in some respects with outlets such as Bojack Horseman, which uses zany comedy to look at subconscious turmoil the characters seem unable to express fully until too late.
It also gives a strangely poignant touch to the comedy that can be found in Batman preparing then eating a microwaved lobster dish alone, or laughing alone to Jerry Maguire in his huge personal movie theatre.
Along the way, Batman is informed of his obsolescence at the unveiling of new police chief Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), accidentally adopts orphan child Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), and then winds up enlisting him on a plot to put The Joker away in the Phantom Zone by stealing a device from the Fortress of Solitude, while Superman (Channing Tatum) is hosting a Justice League Party they didn’t invite Batman too.
Plot-wise, its fairly formulaic, and may well have been more subversive had it taken other tacks. At times, it also feels too hyperactive for its own good, with a sea of blaring bright colours, loud musical cues, an overload of gags to the point where some slip past unnoticed and all the rest, there are moments when it can overwhelm.
But for what it is, it hangs together fairly well for an excellently high gag rate, and a string of highly watchable voice performances. There are plenty of compelling performances, ranging from Galifianakis’ frustrated attempts to make Batman hate him, to Dawson’s own attempts to make Batman work with her, to Cera’s wide-eyed enjoyment at his new surroundings. Naturally, a lot of attention is focused onto Arnett, but he does extremely well in his work as the film’s centrepiece and selling the character of Batman – or at the least this iteration – as well as he does.
It all adds up to a highly compellingly watchable production. There is a lot to admire about The Lego Batman Movie, which serves well to provide a unique take on one of the comic book genre’s old stalwarts, as well as an amusing diversion through different elements of the cinematic landscape.