On a few occasions (but growing more over the past few years) you see films get released in the UK before the US and thankfully, this was one of the times, getting to see this film before I saw any spoilers. Now The Lego Movie was one of my favourite films of 2014, I thought it was one of the funniest, smartest family films to come out in a long time, and one of the main reasons for the strong comedy was their version of Batman, voiced by Will Arnett and when I found out there was going to be a film dedicated to this version of Batman, I was excited. My excitement grew with the release of each trailer, those being some of the funniest trailers I’ve seen so my expectations were high, and this film still found a way to surpass my expectations. It’ll be hard for any other animated film released in 2017 to top this one.
The plot of the film focuses on Batman who, aside from spending his nights fighting all of Gotham’s villains, is struggling to deal with the emotional weight of losing his parents and his increased feelings of loneliness. Originally not wanting to start any new relationships he starts getting feelings for the new police commissioner of Gotham, Barbara Gordon, whilst Alfred forces him to look after Dick Grayson, an orphan he accidentally adopted. Whilst dealing with this, The Joker, angry due to the lack of attention he is given by Batman, hatches up a new plan to destroy Gotham with a set of villains never before seen in the city. Now when I went into the film, I didn’t expect a film with emotional weight but that is exactly what I got here. This film does a great job at exploring the psyche of Batman, understanding the damage that Batman is doing to himself psychologically by driving people away and being unwilling to let people into his life. It also shows why Batman is unwilling to do that, the pain of losing his parents still weighing heavily on his mind, creating a brilliant new interpretation of Batman which shows how this attitude of pushing people away is turning him into a bad person.
However, the film is not just a strong exploration of Batman’s psyche, it’s also one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time. Like The Lego Movie, the jokes in the film come thick and fast, a lot of them being based on gags in the background. I know I’ve not seen all of the jokes in the film and I look forward to seeing the film again to try and catch more jokes. There are also a lot of jokes making fun of the other versions of Batman, virtually every other version of Batman getting referenced at some point in the film. Most of the references are making fun of either the overt serious of the Christopher Nolan and DCEU versions of Batman, or having some fun jabs at the silliness of the 60s TV series and the Silver Age of comics, using a lot of the more obscure villains from that era in the film. Aside from the DCEU, which gets a lot of jabs, it does feel like the film respects the different versions of Batman and understands how, no matter if it’s treated seriously or ridiculously, Batman is an enduring character.
The performances help both the emotional and hilarious tone of the film throughout. Will Arnett is fast becoming one of the best versions of Batman in media. This version of Batman isn’t really serious, acting more like a petulant teenager and unwilling to commit to anything, even his relationships with Alfred and The Joker. This egotistical nature of Batman creates some of the funniest moments in the film whilst later on in the film, Arnett is able to create a more nuanced, emotional performance for Batman. The heart of the film really lies with two characters though. The first is Michael Cera as Robin, there being an earnestness and love for Batman that Cera brings to the role, plus the animation helps make Robin one of the most adorably sweet characters in an animated film. The other heart comes with Ralph Fiennes as Alfred. His version of Alfred plays up the father figure role to Batman and the quiet dignity in Fiennes’ voice helps sell both the love that Alfred has for Batman and a strength to the character. Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon meanwhile is a very compelling character, being one of the most intelligent characters in the film and understanding that the police needs to work with Batman rather than relying on him and through Dawson’s performance and the animation we see the skill Barbara has that shows why she is the new police commissioner. Zach Galifianakis as The Joker meanwhile is as funny as you’d expect from that casting, having the strong laugh required to play The Joker whilst also being one of the more effective versions of The Joker in enacting his plan, and having some emotional depth regarding his relationship with Batman. There are also from fun cameos from Hector Elizondo as Jim Gordon, Mariah Carey as the Mayor of Gotham, Billy Dee Williams finally getting to play Two-Face, Kate Micucci as Clayface, Doug Benson doing his best Tom Hardy impression as Bane, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprising their roles as Superman and Green Lantern, along with fun roles for Eddie Izzard, Jermaine Clement, Seth Green and Ellie Kemper (which I won’t spoil here). There are some underutilised performances though, mainly Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, Jason Mantzoukas as Scarecrow, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman and Riki Lindholme as Poison Ivy, each of them only getting one line. There are some good visual gags with them though, along with the gags coming from reminding people of villains like Egghead, Gentleman Ghost, Eraser, Crazy Quilt, Polka Dot Man, Orca and Condiment King, along with old heroes from the Super Friends TV series.
On a technical level, the film keeps the same standard of quality set by The Lego Movie. The animation once again keeps the chopped up, stop motion style and elements like fingerprints and chipped paint (although there are less of the distinct touches that Phil Lord and Chris Miller brought to The Lego Movie that gave it more of a stop motion feel like strings holding up characters and arms not being connected to bodies for certain actions), and keeps the element of using Lego pieces for every element in the film (most impressively seen with characters like Clayface). The colour scheme meanwhile has a different feel to The Lego Movie, clearly setting this out as it’s own thing, mainly with a greater use of orange and green throughout the film. The colours also add to the humour of the film, mainly making fun of the lack of stealth Robin’s costume provides. The music also creates some good jokes, a lot of it being a send up of Hans Zimmer’s score for the Christopher Nolan films, adding to the tone of the film making fun of the serious nature of Batman in films over the past few years.
Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is easily the best film focused on Batman since The Dark Knight and, over time, will probably rank up as one of the best superhero films I’ve seen. The humour in the film is strong throughout, mainly the references to the Silver Age and the jabs at the DCEU, whilst also having an emotional depth that I didn’t expect from a Lego Batman film. This film shows why the Batman mythos needs characters like Robin and Batgirl, why the goofy Silver Age is just as valid an interpretation of Batman as the DCEU and Nolan films and the damage that is being done to Batman by his lone vigilante attitude helping this film aimed at kids show a greater level of emotional maturity than anything in works like last years adaptation of The Killing Joke or every film in the DCEU. I would say that Warner Bros. should put the makers of this film in charge of the DCEU, but they already burned that bridge after Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Seth Grahame-Smith left The Flash.
My Rating: 5/5