The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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“Always be yourself… unless you can be Batman.”

Directed by Chris McKay
Starring Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes

In crime-ridden Gotham City, the Joker (Galifianakis) launches a devastating attack in concert with a vast assortment of other villains, only to be soundly (and rhythmically) defeated by Batman (Arnett). When Batman declines to acknowledge his greatest foe (because he doesn’t do ‘ships,) however, Joker concocts a plan of breathtaking audacity to take his nemesis down a peg or two.

While Alfred (Fiennes), new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Dawson) and Bruce Wayne’s adopted son Dick (Cera) struggle to persuade Batman to open up, Joker surrenders the entire Gotham rogues gallery to the police and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) deploys cunning psychological strategems to trick Batman into stealing the Phantom Zone projector from Superman (Channing Tatum) and sending Joker into the company of the worst villains imaginable, including Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), Sauron (Jemaine Clements) and the (unnamed) Daleks.

Faced with a Phantom Zone breakout, Batman must come together with friends, family and unlikely allies to defeat the greater foe. Or, you know, he could go it alone and get his butt kicked.

What’s wrong with it?

The Condiment King; the point at which the movie got too obscure even for me.
The Condiment King; the point at which the movie got too obscure even for me.

When you’ve already got Ralph Fiennes in the studio, why get Eddie Izzard to voice Voldemort? Not that Izzard is bad; it’s just seems… odd.

In a lot of scenes the screen is absurdly busy, which makes some of the action hard to follow.

So. Many. Characters.

What’s right with it?

For what is, on the surface, a silly movie made with Lego, the film's use of space and light is superb.
For what is, on the surface, a silly movie made with Lego, the film’s use of space and light is superb.

 While Lego Movie Batman (distinct from Lego Batman, it turns out,) is portrayed every bit as smug and obnoxious as in The Lego Movie, the film drills down to the heart of him, to the deep-seated trauma at Batman’s core, and dares to say ‘this is not healthy’. Not just in the sense that Batman stifles Bruce Wayne, but that as he is, Batman is not all that good for Gotham.

Batman’s growth arc in this movie is basically unprecedented in the character’s cinematic history.

Barbara Gordon is usually pretty awesome, and this film is no exception. Bonus points for teaming her up with a competent, female version of the sixties series’ Chief O’Hara.

Excellent use of the Joker/Batman relationship to confront Batman’s generalised commitment phobia.

Also, superb use of music, sound, light and space. For a film made entirely of CGI Lego, The Lego Batman Movie is gorgeously shot and composed.

The film doesn’t forget that it’s a Lego movie, with Batman preserving his master building skills from The Lego Movie.

Way better Harley Quinn than Suicide Squad.

How bad is it really?

Batfans!
Batfans!

I ran into an old friend at the cinema while I was watching this and he noted that it might be the best Batman film ever made. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but given that its primary ambit is to be a Lego movie, in which anyone with a gun shouts ‘pewpewpew’ while firing it and the SWAT sniper team make a point of proudly noting their stun guns (‘Non lethal! Yeah!’) it certainly remains a startlingly good Batman movie.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Batman does not hug.

Batman does not hug.

The film has a lot of great moments. One of my favourites has Batman beginning to unbend and working with his new team to defend the Scuttler, an adorable bat-shaped vehicle with expressive ears, from gremlins. Not only does Robin claim to know infamous fictional gymnastics-based martial art gymkata, but the gremlin attack is a sly reference to the Twilight Zone episode ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’.

Soon after this, his fear of losing those close to him causes him to send the others away in the Scuttler, and the vehicle itself looks so adorable crestfallen that it’s heartbreaking.

What’s up with…?

  • Why not Ralph?
  • Lego? It’s like the Muppets back in the day, when everyone wanted to be on The Muppet Show. They’ve got like every license under the sun.

Ratings

Production values – So, we’ve got to judge this on what it is. There’s a jerky, stop-motion quality to some of the animation, but that’s entirely deliberate. The screen is sometimes a little too busy. 4
Dialogue and performances – There’s very little deathless prose, but the jokes are sharp, the vocal talent is on point and the animators bring an astonishing level of facial and physical expression to Lego minifigures. 2
Plot and execution – On this ground, I was genuinely impressed. Honestly I was expecting a cursory plot as a frame for gags, but what I got was an emotionally powerful story of loss and recovery, framed in the medium of Lego-based comedy. 1
Randomness – Condiment King. ‘British Robots’. The Bat-Kayak? 5
Waste of potential – The Lego Batman Movie is as good as most straight Batmovies, and for my money better than The Lego Movie0

Overall 11%

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