An entertaining, self-aware take on cinema's grumpiest superhero.
"Black..." growls Will Arnett's gruff hero from deep within the movie's opening darkness, “…all important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos". On and on he goes, making cracks at a production house whose contribution to the film escapes him, having a dig at both Superman and DC comics, quoting Michael Jackson and, eventually, informing us about his huge pecs and impressive 'ninth ab’. All, mind you, before the first frame of the movie has even been seen.
This is LEGO Batman, aka Captain Meta, where the self-referential humour comes thick and fast from the opening scene to the last. It’s a film that gleefully acknowledges the nine that preceded it, including ‘that weird one in 1966’ (“I have aged phenomenally” notes the hero). And yet, for all the in-jokes and winks to camera, LEGO Batman is, at least thematically, somehow more of a Batman movie than Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin or Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman in that it faithfully explores its protagonist's single-most defining characteristic: his crippling isolation.
Batman is a loner, a recluse, a vigilante misanthrope whose only joy (and, indeed, purpose) comes from battling criminals. So what would happen, then, if all the criminals were locked away and all of Gotham were crime-free? Such was the premise at the opening of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, and here, too, it forms the basis of the entire story. It’s very one-note, certainly, but the (many) writers of LEGO Batman manage to extract enough out of it to forge an enjoyable hour and a half of screen time.
Led by a terrific Will Arnett reprising his role from 2014’s The LEGO Movie, the cast of voice actors in LEGO Batman is enormous and impressive. Alongside Arnett we find Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, Ralph Fiennes as Aflred, Michael Cera as Robin and Rosario Dawson as Barbara - the new Police Commissioner of Gotham. There’s also an extensive cameo list boasting the likes of Channing Tatum (Superman), Conan O’Brien (The Riddler), Zoe Kravtiz (Cat Woman), Eddie Izzard (Voldemort) and even Siri as ‘Computer’.
There’s no getting around the fact that this is, on the one hand, crass commercialism taken to an extraordinary extreme. How many studios would ever deign to include their corporate sponsor in the actual title of their movie (Daniel Craig stars in…Aston-Martin Bond)? As with its predecessor, LEGO Batman is designed to, and succeeds in, showcasing the extensive LEGO catalogue of movie and TV-based products, ranging from Harry Potter and Doctor Who through to Godzilla, King Kong and The Wizard of Oz. On the other hand, though, it’s a funny, clever and engaging piece of cinema that holds almost as much interest for adults as it will the film’s target younger audience. Not as finessed or layered as The LEGO Movie, LEGO Batman is nonetheless an entertaining and refreshing take on cinema’s most brooding hero, and well worth the price of admission.