After The Lego Movie turned out to be something quite special instead of the soulless cash grab so many had anticipated, further films were inevitable. The Lego Batman Movie is a fine way to continue, given Batman’s involvement in The Lego Movie. Relentlessly paced with gags to spare, this is an absolute blast, albeit not quite on a par with its predecessor.
Batman (Will Arnett) begins his character arc here as a hilariously unbearable narcissist, unable even to acknowledge that the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is his arch enemy (he likes to “fight around”, apparently). Back at the Batcave/Wayne manor (appropriately on an island), the melancholy of Batman’s lonely existence is amusingly spoofed, with him eating microwave lobster, watching Jerry Maguire and ruminating over photographs of his dead parents. Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) attempts to encourage him out of his self-centredness to pay attention to Dick Grayson aka Robin (Michael Cera), the orphan he adopted in circumstances too ridiculous to detail here.
The sheer amount of in-jokes and background details will no doubt warrant repeat viewings, and the kinetic, anarchic style established by The Lego Movie is continued here by director Chris McKay. Said anarchy comes amusingly to the fore when uber-villains from other stories – including the Wicked Witch of the West and her army of flying monkeys, Lord Voldemort, Sauron, Gremlins, King Kong, the Medusa and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans – threaten Gotham City, again in circumstances too ridiculous to explain in a review. Even the Daleks make an appearance – “British robots” the Joker amusingly and inaccurately remarks (after all, Daleks are technically deranged fascist mutants in robotic casings). “Ask your nerd friends” he continues, presumably a reference to the fact that Doctor Who is not quite the cultural phenomenon in the US that it is in the UK. Look out for over-the-heads-of-the-children gags too, including a cinema showing “Two Shades of Grey” and a rude joke involving Batman’s number plates. Oh, and you won’t be able to take any film seriously that begins with ominous music and a black screen ever again.
The fine vocal cast also includes the likes of Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Izzard, Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon. Incidentally, Barbara favours a more group effort to crime fighting in Gotham city, given that despite Batman’s years of effort, crime levels haven’t changed and all the Batman villains are still on the loose (the too-many-villains criticism levelled at many superhero movies is also amusingly satirised). Needless to say this does not sit well with Batman’s lone vigilante work ethic, but throughout the course of the film he learns the predictable lessons of the importance of family, the need for, whisper it, “teamwork”, and so on.
Despite being utterly demented, The Lego Batman Movie does feel like a proper Batman film, emphasising fun rather than darkness, but also very aware of it’s own history, with references and even clips from previous Batman movies. When Batman tells Robin they are going to punch the villains so hard “words describing their impact are going to spontaneously materialise”, it is impossible not to feel a sense of joy at the sheer cine-literacy of the filmmakers. Some of these jokes are obvious, some are subtle, some are blink-and-you-miss-them, some are for the children, some for the adults, some for the fans… In fact, you could argue this film has something for everyone (I got a particular kick out of a subtle reference to John Williams’s score for Richard Donner’s Superman during Batman’s visit to the Man of Steel).
In short, The Lego Batman Movie is a very good half-term family trip to the cinema. You could argue it doesn’t quite have the heart of The Lego Movie, but on its own terms it is a roaring success.