The biggest hurdle The LEGO Batman Movie had to face was its own predecessor. The LEGO Movie was a huge surprise to everyone: a subversive and smart animation that turned out to actually be about LEGO. Will Arnett’s Batman was the standout of the supporting cast, but could he carry his own feature? And could a LEGO Batman film come close to imitating Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s spot on comedic instincts? Well, the good news is that The LEGO Batman Movie is every bit as anarchic and irreverent as The LEGO Movie, and what it lacks in metafictional charm it makes up for by lampooning everything Batman.
The Batman of the LEGOverse is a narcissistic, self-aggrandising manchild. We first see him saving Gotham from the Joker’s latest scheme, to a heavy metal rap song that he wrote himself (Batman is, after all, a true artist). He then stops by the orphanage to hand out Batman merchandise before heading home to the Batcave. For all his arrogance and braggadocio, Batman spends his free time alone, heating his lobster thermidor in the microwave and eating it in his massive, dolphin-filled swimming pool. Batman is so conceited that he has deluded himself to believing that he doesn’t need anyone. Even his villains. After being snubbed, the Joker hatches a plan to prove that, despite what Batman says, the Dark Knight does need the Crown Prince of Crime.
The LEGO Batman Movie takes the concept of the Bat Family (one that has existed in the comics for decades) and takes it almost literally. Will Arnett’s Batman comes across as an egotistical teenager. Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is the long suffering father (we see him reading a book entitled How to Set Limits for Your Unruly Child). Michael Cera’s Robin is the wide-eyed little brother who is perhaps a little too enthusiastic. About everything. And Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Gotham’s new police commissioner (she recently cleaned up Bludhaven using STATISTICS!!! and COMPASSION!!!) is the mother who glues the unit together.
It is clear from early on that The LEGO Batman’s narrative arc will see Batman learn to work with others. It is a lovely surprise, then, that director Chris McKay and his screenwriters achieve this while never losing sight of what made this Batman such a hit in The LEGO Movie. It is no spoiler to say that Batman does get better at teamwork (the Bat apparently stands for Best At Teamwork), but he remains the ludicrously arrogant vigilante we’ve come to know and love.
In fact, the real surprise is that Batman, a one-joke character (even if it was a good joke) from The LEGO Movie, can carry a whole film. Which he most definitely can. Partly this is due to the stellar supporting cast, with Cera’s Robin working as the perfect foil to Arnett’s Caped Crusader. But it is mostly due to the seemingly endless minor details that litter the film. There is a gag or reference in every shot, whether it’s Batman’s licence plate or his hysterical reaction to Jerry Maguire.
Most of these jokes come at the expense of Batman’s long and varied history. Adam West’s tenure is lampooned on more than one occasion. Billy Dee Williams voices Two-Face (Williams played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s Batman and was slated to play Two-Face in Batman Forever before Tommy Lee Jones was cast). Someone does a passable impersonation of Tom Hardy’s Bane, and delivers some decidedly un-Bane-like lines. And just about every member of Batman’s rogues gallery makes an appearance, including non-favourites like Orca, Crazy Quilt and the Condiment King. As the Joker says, they’re probably worth a Google.
There is an obscene amount to like here for Batman fans, and enough up to the minute references and broad humour for everyone else. The jokes come so thick and fast that, every time something fails to make you chuckle, you know that there’ll be something else just two seconds later that will. While not the instant classic of its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie is an anarchic and self-aware rollercoaster of pure madness. Batmadness.