The LEGO Batman Movie follows in the steps of its BAFTA-winning predecessor (also nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar), which was aptly named “The LEGO Movie”, and more than holds its own. Once again using an animation style deliberately meant to look like stop motion with real LEGO bricks, the film quickly pulls you into a version of Gotham that lends itself to the imagination.
As this is a film aimed at any and all who love and have loved LEGO, it is clear that it can’t necessarily venture into the darker topics one often finds in Batman’s adventures. As a result, it favours an endearing study of Batman as a character, with a focus on Batman’s internal struggle with relationships, both with his enemies and allies, and the eventual building of the Bat-family. Under Alfred’s guidance, Batman grows from the arrogant loner who cares for no one to something more human.
a film aimed at any and all who love and have loved LEGO
Batman and the Joker have what can only be called a love-hate relationship, bringing a satiric take on romance film tropes and cringe-worthy clichés. Indeed, the main element that sets off the story is Batman’s rejection of the Joker as his arch-nemesis, portrayed as a stereotypical refusal to commit to a relationship. The Joker, voiced by off-the-wall comedian Zach Galifianakis (Alan of The Hangover trilogy), discovers the existence of an extra-dimensional prison where all of the universe’s ultimate villains are held and hatches a plan to get Batman to “care” about him.
At the beginning of the film we are quickly given a head-spinning action sequence, which is both intricate and completely disorganised, along with a quick musical number by Batman, self-proclaimed heavy-metal rapper, wittily explaining how badass he is and why he can’t be stopped while fluidly taking down an army of villains on his own. Thankfully, the creators make it clear that the musical part will be short lived (“Stop him before he starts singing!” frantically yells the Joker).
the fact that the film caters to younger viewers as well as older viewers absolutely does not mean it is only a children’s film
Another event triggering the story arc of the film is the new Gotham Police Commissioner, Barbara Gordon, taking over control of the police force from her retiring father, also a Commissioner Gordon (the character played by Gary Oldman in the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy). Barbara Gordon is played by Rosario Dawson, an underrated star in the pop culture nerdsphere, given that she has starred in several animated superhero features (with a recurring role as Wonder Woman in Justice League feature-length) and videogames (recently the reboot of Ratchet & Clank, and Dishonoured 2). She had a few more adult-oriented roles in Tarantino’s Grindhouse and Sin City a few years ago. She has reappeared more publicly with her most recent role as undeniably badass nurse Claire Temple in Marvel’s list of Defender’s series, the overlapping Netflix shows of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and now the anticipated upcoming show Iron Fist.
However, the fact that the film caters to younger viewers as well as older viewers absolutely does not mean it is only a children’s film. It is targeted towards all ages, as LEGO toys have been since the dawn of time. In a similar way that the Lego Movie was a love letter to anyone who grew up playing with LEGO, the LEGO Batman Movie is full of affectionate references to the superhero genre, and fantasy, monster, and adventure films in general. It does not, however, fall into the trap of pretentious in-jokes. Instead it restrains itself to relatively mainstream and recognisable characters, and keeping the more obscure references to a minimum, as easter eggs in the background.
For the more general audience perhaps less acquainted with past Batman films there is a nod to classic villains instead: Voldemort turns up, along with the shark from Jaws, the Gremlins, and even the Wicked Witch of the West plays a role. For those who have enjoyed Batman in the past, Bane’s voice is instantly recognisable as a comedic tribute to Tom Hardy’s Bane in Nolan’s the Dark Knight Rises. As another nod to fans, anyone who watched the funny but awful Batman and Robin back in the 90s will remember the infamous ‘Bat-Nipples’ on George Clooney’s bat-suit.
The cast is nothing short of stellar
For the American audience who might not understand the strange British culture, Doctor Who’s Daleks are included in the roster of ultimate villains, introduced with the line “British robots, ask your nerdy friends”. And lastly for any generations that grew up with Adam West portraying Batman, a fair few jokes are thrown around about the campy Batman era back in the 60s.
Throughout the film, we get treated to appearances of some of the most obscure of Batman’s villains. The likes of Calendar Man, Kite Man, and even the Condiment King (a comic-relief villain created for the Batman: Animated Series as a reference to Adam West’s pun-filled antics) pop up every now and then, along with many more.
the cameos never seem to end
The cast is nothing short of stellar. Will Arnett reprises his role from the previous LEGO Movie as the sullen and arrogant Batman. Ralph Fiennes does an amazing job voicing Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler and father figure. Awkward star Michael Cera voices Dick Grayson, the endearing lonely orphan desperate for a family who becomes Robin after Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts him.
Given that he was already playing the essential Alfred, Fiennes’ iconic role of Voldemort from the Harry Potter film saga was passed to comedy legend Eddie Izzard. Comedy actresses Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci, a.k.a. the online musical duo “Garfunkel & Oates” (if you haven’t already, look them up), also have minor roles (Kate Micucci, who played a paralysing-ly timid love interest for Raj in The Big Bang Theory, was a particularly counterintuitive and yet brilliant choice for voicing loud monster Clayface).
the LEGO Batman Movie subtly plays on the nostalgia of its audience by matching a child’s play session in its haphazard mashing of various characters
And the cameos never seem to end: 21 Jump Street veterans Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as, respectively, Iron Lantern and Superman; Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian from the original Star Wars trilogy) has a few discreet lines as iconic batman villain Two-Face; Conan O’Brien as the Riddler; Mariah Carey as the mayor of Gotham; Family Guy’s Seth Green as King Kong; Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords as Lord of the Ring’s villain Sauron…
In many ways, however, the true masterstroke of voice casting in the LEGO Batman Movie was having Batman’s personal assistant computer voiced by Siri, the real-life Apple systems personal assistant on IPhone and Mac, even whipping out a sassy quip every now and then.
LEGO has a history of understanding its audience, and remaining true to their expectations. They have managed to retain their bricked spirit while keeping up with the times by expanding from toys to various forms of media and acquiring the rights to more and more franchises. Correspondingly, the LEGO Batman Movie subtly plays on the nostalgia of its audience by matching a child’s play session in its haphazard mashing of various characters (rare are the people who played with LEGO sets that didn’t have their mismatched pieces) and descent into light chaos arriving at the peak of the action.
As a whole, as was to be expected, the LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is very self-aware and full of self-deprecating humour, worthy of a healthy chuckle. Overall, it’s a great watch if you’re looking for good, chaotic fun.
You can purchase the DVD for the LEGO Batman Movie on Amazon, here.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures 2017