The LEGO Batman Movie, 2017.
Directed by Chris McKay.
Featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Billy Dee Williams, Hector Elizondo, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Doug Benson, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Siri, and Adam DeVine.
As well as defending Gotham City from criminals, Batman must now face the challenge of raising the young boy he adopted.
As the hilarious trailer pointed out, Batman has appeared in many different incarnations and films over the last fifty years, but The LEGO Batman Movie is the first one that’s out-and-out comedy since the days of Adam West (or arguably, George Clooney). Although technically a spin-off from 2015’s surprise smash The LEGO Movie, there’s no real connection to that film’s world or narrative (apart from Batman still being a ‘Master Builder’), but with his debut feature director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken) continues the same blend of madcap pace and silly/clever humour. However, while the character of LEGO Batman is still funny, what the script sadly lacks is a story that justifies a feature-length film, and the hit-rate of inspired moments that The LEGO Movie had.
The story opens with Batman (Will Arnett, his Bale-imitating growl and deadpan delivery suiting the character perfectly) foiling a plot by his entire Rogue’s Gallery to blow up Gotham. He saves the city, but just as the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) makes his escape, Batman admits that their hero-enemy relationship isn’t particularly special or meaningful to him. This sends the Joker spiralling into depression, and like a spurned lover he vows to show Batman just how wrong he is. Meanwhile, Batman accidentally adopts young orphan Dick Grayson (Arnett’s Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera), and, at the insistence of his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), tries his best to be part of a family again.
The first twenty minutes of the film are an absolute joy – I can’t recall another film that made me laugh during the studio logos! The subtle nods to previous Batman films, his new self-written theme song, and the way the villains are introduced (Killer Croc saying “I actually did something!” was pretty genius) are all done superbly. Which is why, when Batman gets back to Wayne Manor, the film seems to stop dead – the scene showing how dull his home-life is compared with his thrilling crime-fighting activities goes on a bit too long (although I did love how he found the sentimental parts of Jerry Maguire hilarious). Michael Cera’s Dick Grayson is then introduced, and he’s amusing at first – his boy-scout enthusiasm compared with Batman’s gruff sarcasm makes them a potentially funny odd couple, and the way he chooses his Robin costume (an old ‘Reggae Man’ outfit) is inspired – but their dynamic quickly becomes repetitive. The other main characters fare even less well – Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes are forced to play Barbara Gordon and Alfred as sensible and restrained, and therefore not very funny. And much like how Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad was rather undefined, Zach Galifianakis’ Joker feels a bit generic – not wacky enough, and not ironically-sensitive enough.
The story isn’t particularly gripping either – the two main arcs (the Joker’s desire to feel special and Batman’s stubborn refusal to let anyone get close to him) are really dragged out. There’s a scene where they break into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude only to find there’s a Justice League party going on that Batman wasn’t invited to, and it felt like such a wasted opportunity to have Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash there and not milk them for a few good gags. Similarly, the third act sees Joker unleashing an army of villains from the Phantom Zone onto Gotham, including Gremlins, Velociraptors, King Kong and Voldemort – very specific villains who were chosen for unknown reasons and to very little comic effect (Voldemort just shouts ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ a couple of times – er, haha?) The only villains who gets a laugh during this scene is the Daleks from Doctor Who when they’re introduced – “British robots – ask your nerd friends!”
Sometimes a great comedy can get away with a thin plot if it has enough laughs to make up for it, and that’s what this film is lacking – funnier jokes and more genuinely memorable lines. It’s never dull, and the jokes aren’t groan-inducing, it’s just that the superb opening sequence sets a standard that the rest of the film never really lives up to (when I laughed at a third act gag about the ‘Bat-fax’ it made me realise how long it has been since I’d actually laughed out loud). The film also peaks too early in a visual sense – Wayne Manor and the Batcave are cool and epic, but Gotham City (especially when it’s under attack in the final set-piece) doesn’t really have a distinctive or interesting look, like all the different worlds in The LEGO Movie did.
This was one of those cases where giving an awesome side character his own film seemed like a good idea, but it turned out that less was indeed more. They should have done what they did with Scrat from the Ice Age films and given LEGO Batman a series of cartoon shorts – for someone who is, essentially, a one-joke character, it would have been a much better fit. A decent film for kids and families, just not the film that Batman (or DC) needs right now…
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★