Emerging from the ashes of last year’s lukewarmly received Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, in what may be the largest tonal shift witnessed by cinephiles since Matthew McConaughey’s dramatic departure from rom-coms is The Lego Batman Movie. Stepping in as a pseudo-sequel to 2014’s The Lego Movie, David McKay’s newest directorial outing stars Will Arnett, reprising his titular role from the original film. Alongside the Arrested Development alum is a cast of unlikely actors for a Dark Knight flick; Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, and Mariah Carey all make appearances but the diamond of these side characters is Zach Galifianakis. Taking the reins from Suicide Squad’s Jared Leto, the Hangover star matches Arnett’s riff on Batman and brings forth a Joker that is both unprecedented and, somehow, heartwarming.
It is this twist on the Dark Knight canon that sets Lego Batman apart from the established versions of the Bat seen in the Nolan trilogy, or Zach Snyder’s recent entry, or even George Clooney’s nipple baring anti-hero in 1997s Batman and Robin. And while there is a big bad evil to be dealt with, the greatest villain in this just short of two hours romp is new to the Dark Knight, it’s his issues with intimacy. By exploring the bonds between the block-built protagonist and his team, as well as the homo-antisocial relationship between Bruce Wayne and The Joker, Lego Batman delivers what few caped crusader capers do, an original superhero plot that is not fraught with elements ripped from the pages of DCs comic books. However while this story may be fresh for Batman, it is not novel for the franchise. With many of the major themes from the original Lego Movie being rehashed here, it begs the question of whether or not a Lego film can be made whose conclusion can’t be summed up by the theme song, ‘Everything is Awesome’.
Alongside this twisting of superhero tropes is the newfound humour within the Batman canon. Aside from those subjects that occupy the realms outside of PG ratings, nothing is safe from the self-aware comedy that is churned out here at breakneck speeds. From jabs that extend past the fourth wall and reach into rival cinematic universes, to meta references that reel back the years and expose the cracks in Adam West’s 1960s take on the Dark Knight, Lego Batman has it all. Even including the BAMS! POWS! And BIFFS!
Framing this self-referential action are some stellar technical details. Lorne Balfe, the man behind both Rango and Kung Fu Panda 3’s music, delivers an engaging soundtrack that is sprinkled with both cheesy and classic pop numbers, all while the plastic looking visuals are vibrant throughout. Keeping up to the standard of animation these days, the colours and style of Lego Batman are without fault, but are also without awe. Given that the source material of the franchise leaves little room for new interpretations of Lego’s aesthetics, the film does what it can to animate the inanimate.
And while life is breathed into the pieces of plastic that made their way onto the silver screen, Lego Batman falls short of being amazing. While the twists and turns taken with the Dark Knight’s history aids the film, it is the franchises willingness to play it safe with their own canon that is the disappointment here. However, I am sure that this will be just a bump in the road for adults going to see this, and an unnoticeable hitch for the children that are eagerly dragging them into cinemas.
CT Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis
Brendan Garrett | Film & TV writer