2016 – USA
Director: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes
Words: Nathan Scatcherd
OK, full disclosure: I f*cking love Batman.
Ever since I could read, I’ve spent countless hours poring over the comics, watching the movies, playing the games… my earliest memory is of five year old Nathan watching the animated movie with Mister Freeze – SubZero – while pushing around a spiffy new Batmobile toy (the gaudy, neon, still badass version from Batman Forever) I’d just got for my birthday.
And so this review comes from a certain perspective; one which has shifted over time as the character itself has changed – a perspective which is frankly a bit sick of the grim, depressive, PTSD-ridden violent fascist version of Batman which seems to have become the modern standard (The Dark Knight Returns was very much a product of its time, and while it still holds up today as an excellent Batman story, all the wrong lessons have been learned from it in the years since).
Last year’s atrocious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a profoundly horrible experience, not only because it was a sloppily put together, nonsensical mess, but because of how it made my all-time favourite fictional character someone I did not identify with. Someone I was not proud to call my hero. This personal delving into my history with Batman probably seems ridiculous, but I feel like it explains just why I honestly feel like The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best Batman movies ever made. It is a breath of fresh air; a funny, heartfelt, wonderfully animated celebration of 78 years of the Caped Crusader in all his forms.
Our story begins with Batman (Arnett) working alone, as an omni-capable badass casually saving the day, every day, without anyone’s help. However, his lone war on crime has left him emotionally stunted, living half a life. His lack of a family, and subsequent fear of letting anyone get close to him, begins to change when he accidentally adopts plucky orphan Dick Grayson (Cera). New Gotham police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Dawson) further complicates his self-imposed loner status as he finds himself working with her against a vengeful Joker (Galifianakis), who has unleashed an army of bad guys from other Lego properties (Sauron! Daleks! King Kong!) upon Gotham in a kind of possessive, almost romantic anger (stemming from the absurdly funny ‘lovers tiff’ that occurs after Batman spurns Joker, who craves the Dark Knight’s recognition of him as his greatest foe).
Aside from the constant stream of genuinely funny gags, many of them stemming from the treasure trove of references to Batman’s history both in print and onscreen (some of them obvious and some of them real ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affairs – seriously, this film is a gift to Bat-fans), the best thing about the film is its portrayal of Batman as a self-important ‘grimdark’ blowhard who learns to grow and accept the help and love of an extended family. There are many versions of the character which work equally well, depending on context and intent, and that The Lego Batman Movie somehow manages to call back to pretty much all of them, while tying everything together into a fun adventure narrative, and poking some affectionately sarcastic fun at the dead horse that is ‘Super Serious Darker Than The Blackest Black Batman’, is kind of a minor miracle.
And yes, the elephant in the room for all Lego movies; there’s no denying that the whole thing is basically one huge toy advert. The camera almost swoons as the Master Builder stuff kicks in and our Bat-team begin assembling multiple Awesome Bat-Vehicles™, but when the advertisement is this full of heart, humour, respect and love for the characters being portrayed, it’s difficult to get too up in arms over it.
Simply put, for fans of Batman of all ages, The Lego Batman Movie is nothing short of a delight.