(The Lego Batman Movie, 2017)
Batman’s triumphant return to fun – finally.
By Harry Faint
It has only been a year since Batman last appeared on the big screen in some form, but a lot has changed within our real world. In a previous endeavour into adapting the Batman story, director Christopher Nolan strived to blur the lines between our reality and the fictional crime dystopia of Gotham City, producing the sleek, less superhero more crime thriller The Dark Knight (2008). While Heath Ledger’s unhinged Joker is sorely missed, The Lego Batman Movie marks a welcomed return back to the outlandish otherworldly Gotham City, in this comically intuitive caper.
In this brick-built incarnation, Batman is voiced by Will Arnett, whose selfish, bold dark knight previously proved deserving of his own film in The Lego Movie (2014). In this film he continues his tradition of working entirely in solidarity against multiple villains, some iconic and well known, and some altogether ridiculous, drawing on the extensive vault of villains, epitomized by the doleful The Condiment King. His singular living circumstance is challenged through various avenues; by the arrival of big eyed Dick Grayson, voiced by the whimsical and inquisitive Michel Cera, by the Joker’s longing for the confirmation of their relationship, and by the request to work together with Barbara Gordon, the city’s newest Police Commissioner. As ever, chaos and hilarity ensues.
This is a film that is laden with intertextual references, in-jokes, and an onslaught of quick-witted lines aimed to poke fun at Batman’s own shaky history in literature and media – and every joke hits in succession. The film carefully treads the line of doing too much too quickly both visually and through storytelling. On paper the decision to stray outside the already rich universe of DC sounds like nonsense; the inclusion of hundreds of pop culture villains from Lord Voldemort to the Daleks would give the impression of information overload. Yet, this entwining of popular characters and worlds made The Lego Movie so enticing, and this is no different here. The story, though incomparably wild, is completely coherent. The non-stop extravaganza of film and television characters makes nothing but sense to this colourful tale. It is enriching. It simply works and the risk pays off yet again.
In addition to this, Batman in this version seems at his most human, most emotionally exposed and ‘real’ even though he is made of nothing but molded plastic and remains masked throughout the majority of the films events. The surrogate father-son relationship with Alfred the Butler (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) is both humorous and touching while driving the plot early on. Even though the film does not quite manage to reach the unexpected emotional poignancy of The Lego Movie, something not seen since the release of Pixar’s feature debut Toy Story (1995), the film makes up for this with an endless ride of thrilling fun and can easily be forgiven.