The second theatrically released movie from The LEGO Group and Warner Bros., The LEGO Batman Movie sees the Dark Knight take centre stage. Here is the spoiler-free Brick Fanatics verdict on the animated adventure
Unburdened by the weight of expectation, 2014’s The LEGO Movie was a surprise hit. More than just a two hour commercial for the brick, it was genuinely funny, endearing and enjoyable to watch. And, of course, its narrative contained a sucker punch twist on the level of Keyser Soze, or Bruce Willis being a ghost. (Erm, spoilers.)
Going into The LEGO Batman Movie, on the other hand, is an entirely different experience. We now know exactly what to expect from this universe; from the tone and offbeat humour to the animation style that just pops on screen. So the real question is, is it enough for The LEGO Batman Movie to just match up to its predecessor, or should our expectations be that this world can surprise us all over again?
Just how much you enjoy The LEGO Batman Movie will bear greatly on how you answer that question. If you’re happy to just sit back and watch a tried-and-tested story about learning to work together, albeit dressed in a Batsuit, then it’ll probably be enough to satisfy. If you were hoping for something as off-the-wall and surprising as The LEGO Movie, you might be disappointed.
That’s not to say The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t put the effort in, of course. It opens with probably the most bombastic action sequence of any Batman film, as we join the Caped Crusader on another day at the office – a phrase which here means fighting the entire Rogues’ Gallery, including a few obscurities you may have glimpsed in the physical LEGO sets, and a few you won’t.
Director Chris McKay has said he wanted the beginning of The LEGO Batman Movie to feel like ‘the end of the third act of somebody else’s Batman movie’. And that it very much does. So what happens when the bad guys are in chains, and it’s time for the Dark Knight to clock off? Well, he goes home. And that’s the side of everyone’s favourite vigilante that The LEGO Batman Movie aims to explore.
Of course, this isn’t a two-hour character assassination. Batman’s life beyond crime-fighting is explored through the lens of a classic madcap scheme from his greatest – or not-so-greatest, as it turns out – nemesis, the Joker. Just don’t expect the same kind of dark, cutthroat versions of the Clown Prince of Crime as The Dark Knight and, more recently, Suicide Squad brought to our screens. This is LEGO, after all.
Yet for all that The LEGO Movie was very much family entertainment – meaning even mum and dad could get involved – its superhero spin-off skews far younger. Batman’s journey of self-discovery, facilitated by mistakenly adopting a son in the form of Dick Grayson, doubles down on life lessons and trades out the adult humour.
There’s still the odd joke here and there that will make AFOLs and parents smile while zooming straight over younger heads, but the comedy is mostly pitched at all ages. That’s no bad thing in and of itself, but when the narrative relies so heavily on corny, kid-friendly tropes of learning to let others into your life, it’s hard to get invested in the same way as The LEGO Movie.
With so many characters battling for screen time, you might also be disappointed to find your favourite baddie pushed aside in favour of the film’s Phantom Zone twist – which we’ll say nothing more of here, but if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’ll know what we’re talking about. (The trailers and TV spots hardly left much to the imagination, it turns out.)
All this is not to say that The LEGO Batman Movie is not enjoyable enough to put a smile on your face wide enough to rival the Joker’s, even if only due to the endless references to pretty much every incarnation of Batman ever. And there are a handful of gags that just land emphatically, whether you’re a fan of LEGO, Batman, both or – somehow – neither.
Will Arnett, meanwhile, is still an almost too-perfect Batman, here adding plenty of depth to what was arguably a one-note side character in The LEGO Movie. His Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera is similarly on point as Robin – it helps that his voice never really progressed past the character’s on-screen age – while Zach Galifianakis’ Joker fits the tone of the movie perfectly, never going too overboard into Mark Hamill levels of evil. Elsewhere, Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon gets plenty of room to shine as Gotham’s new Police Commissioner, as does Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred in what is probably the character’s biggest onscreen role yet.
And while the wonderful visual style of The LEGO Movie might not be quite as refreshing the second time round, it’s still awesome to watch. The action scenes do get a little chaotic at times – it can be hard to see the wood for the trees, everything instead enveloping into a hodgepodge of frenzied colours – but the film is generally paced well enough that we always get some breathing room afterwards.
In the end, though, The LEGO Batman Movie loses some of its impact simply because The LEGO Movie came first. Instead of upping the ante, it’s content to merely ride the purple coattails of its predecessor, swapping innovation for a story that might not be full of surprises, but is still entertaining enough to be worthwhile. And let’s not forget that we got some great LEGO sets out of it, too…