This frantic and funny spin-off lacks the emotional BAM! of its originator, but zips along at incredible speed
The biggest complaint levelled against the Batman movies of the 21st century is that for comic book adaptations, they’re chronically light on the comic. Earnest to the point of dour, the gritty vigilante has been nothing more than a scowl in a cowl since George Clooney’s latex nipples marked the beginning and the end of Joel Schumacher’s camp mid-90s interpretation.
That the feature title The LEGO Batman Movie most closely resembles in the much-maligned Clooney caper is both a blessing and a curse, but at least does not set a particularly difficult high bar over which to soar. The truth is that all Batman movies exist in the comic book paradigm of multiple Batmen, and comparing and contrasting each and every adventure to find the best of the bunch is a futile exercise. The LEGO Batman Movie is not the best Batman movie ever, but it is the best of its kind, a whirlwind of frenetic action and searing pop culture riffs, and certainly the most enjoyable version of the Dark Knight we’ve seen on screen since... perhaps ever.
The breathtaking pace of the film, matched only by its capacity to tear shreds out of the Caped Crusader’s canon (and itself), is made clear from the get-go, Chris McKay’s film opening with an even-better-than-Deadpool dissection of the opening credits sequence, with Will Arnett’s gravelly voice mined more than a quarry.
There follows a hair-raising opening sequence, immediately establishing the in-world universe as a Gotham straight out of Will Ferrell’s basement, where anything can happen, and where the blocky characters can move in oddly beautiful staccato formations in split seconds. The Joker (a forgettable Zach Galifianakis) has assembled a cohort of rascals so rubbish (Condiment King, Calendar Man, The Eraser, Egghead) they may as well be called the Assisted Suicide Squad, and while all the Clown Prince of Crime wants is for Batman to acknowledge their interdependent existence, Batman instead breaks into song to inform everyone that he works alone and needs nobody. No prizes for guessing how that will be resolved.
The opening 10 minutes, arguably better than everything that follows, is so funny and action-packed that it even manages to turn Christopher Nolan’s take on Bane into something that works.
The remaining hour and a half, chock full of sight gags and references, smashes together decades of Batman stories and mythology into a relatively straightforward story about a loner finding redemption in a new-found family. But the build up of the Bruce Wayne’s loneliness and isolation – he literally lives on an island – is blackly comic, seeing him moping around the house in a dressing gown and mask, reheating lobster dinners, and chuckling away to the end of Jerry Maguire. It’s only when he accidentally adopts Dick Grayson (Michael Cera, with a delightful musical nod to his Arrested Development namesake) and has to work with police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) that those layers begin, as they must in a family film, to fall away to reveal a bat-shaped heart behind the bat-shaped logo on his chiselled chest.
Where The LEGO Movie pulled back from its animated storytelling to reveal a surprisingly moving twist about the value of playtime for building family bonds, the film instead leans into the massive potential of childhood imagination. McKay and his team of five writers truly commit to the bit – not to mention the exponential merchandising possibilities – by fashioning a world where they seem to pluck characters and objects from random LEGO boxes, staging epic battles that ultimately see Batman and friends fending off attacks from The Joker and King Kong, Lord Voldemort, the Daleks, the Eye of Sauron, and more. As a narrative twist, it might not have the emotional wallop that Emmet and the Piece of Resistance conjured in 2014, but the brazen spectacle of it should delight viewers of all ages.
Rendered in gorgeous photo-real digital animation, the film is camp and silly, flying along so quickly that it never takes a second to catch its breath and ponder its own power. Everything is still mostly awesome, just with more abs.
Verdict: While the story never ventures into uncharted territory for either a Batman flick or a family film, it throws everything it has – and then some – into the mix and more than adds up to the sum of its parts.
The LEGO Batman Movie (G/104mins) is released nationwide on February 10th