As The LEGO Batman Movie opens, we’re shown nothing but a black screen, and we hear Will Arnett’s Batman say, “Black. All great movies start with black.” A bold meta statement, but one that ultimately rings true for the new Warner Animation Group film, a spin-off of their 2014 film, The LEGO Movie. While Chris Pratt’s Emmett and Elizabeth Banks’ Wyldstyle were the stars of the first film, Will Arnett’s Batman became the film’s breakout hit. So it was only natural that the next film in the Lego film series (A phrase that still seems so odd to say out loud), would be one that focused on Gotham’s Dark Knight, but with that zany LEGO twist.
Spin-offs are always a gamble, especially when you’re taking a character who worked so well within an ensemble, and you put him front and center. Typically, the character quickly loses the charm they originally had, because there’s such a delicate balance within the ensemble, and that balance no longer applies. Thankfully, The LEGO Batman movie avoids almost all those pitfalls by building Batman into a brand new ensemble. While Will Arnett’s Batman is front and center, he’s now surrounded by a supporting cast that includes Ralph Fiennes as loyal butler Alfred, Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, and Michael Cera as the perfectly cast Dick Grayson, also better known as Robin the Boy Wonder. As many recall, Batman was a largely over the top character throughout The LEGO Movie, and it would be almost impossible to reel that in without taking away what people liked about the character. By grounding the character with this supporting cast, it leaves Batman to continue to be the heavy metal loving, one line spewing, cocky, and ultimately ridiculous character we grew to love before.
The film is chock full of the meta and self aware humor of the first film, while also being an incredibly wonderful love letter to the Batman character, and his entire history. Be it the comics, the Adam West series, or the countless film adaptations, including the often ignored film serials of the 1940s; The LEGO Batman Movie gently ribs The Caped Crusader’s long history with a wink and smile, embracing the character’s highest highs, as well as his lowest lows. (Also, kudos to the filmmakers for finally letting Billy Dee Williams get his chance to be Two Face, a great nod to the Tim Burton films!) As the film opens, The Joker hijacks a plane full of deadly explosives that just happens to be flying right over Gotham City, a fact that’s quickly mocked to death. When The Joker enters, introducing himself to the plane’s captain, asking him if he’s scared, to which the captain humorously replies no. The Joker, dumbfounded, asks him why not, and the captain tells him it’s because Batman always beats him, like that time with the two ships, a nod to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It’s a hilarious exchange, and is just the tip of the iceberg of the film’s overall brilliant script, but it’s that humor that makes the movie so fun and fresh. In a lot of ways, this meta humor is a great reminder of many of the best spoof films, a genre that has sadly all but disappeared, but is seeing a nice return thanks to the film’s producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and the film’s director, Chris McKay.
Much like The LEGO Movie before it, The LEGO Batman Movie manages to balance the film’s absurdity and humor with a huge heart, making it something special and touching. The story throughout the film really follows Batman as he finds himself grappling with not having a family, and how he doesn’t have any close relationships. In a rather clever exchange with The Joker near the beginning of the film, Batman tells him that they’re not exclusive enemies, that The Joker really means nothing to him, and that their feud isn’t anything special. This breaks The Joker’s heart, setting him on a path to try and convince Batman that he’s truly Batman’s greatest villain, and that they really do share a special bond. It’s a hilarious scene, but really manages to drive home the fact that Batman really isn’t close to anyone, and ultimately he has no real relationships in his life, not even with his longtime butler, Alfred. While that seems like a rather dramatic angle for the film to take, it’s a perfectly fitting angle to take with the character, and one that has been seen many times before. But the reason it works here is because with how over the top LEGO Batman is, to have him become a real character that does have feelings, really makes you care about the character more. For all his overcompensation, heavy metal music, and insane antics, really all he wants is a family, something he’s been missing his entire life.
This storyline plays great with Michael Cera’s wide eyed take on Dick Grayson, who is an orphan himself. Dick wants nothing more than to be adopted by a family, and looks up to Bruce Wayne, who he considers the greatest orphan of all time. Through a series of events at James Gordon’s retirement party, Bruce unwittingly adopts the boy who will be Robin, and now has to learn to be a parent, something he has no idea how to do. All the while, Barbara Gordon has become the new Police Commissioner of Gotham, picking up her father’s mantle. She wants the GCPD to work alongside Batman, and get rid of the rift raft in the city, something Batman is hugely against. Both Barbara’s storyline, as well as Dick’s, create a great story that forces Batman to face the truth that he’s tired of being alone, and that he can’t continue to live his life the way he has. This joke is played in full when Bruce, after spending a night out fighting crime, gets home and finds himself sitting alone in his home theater watching the Tom Cruise film, Jerry Maguire. He’s so lonely, he spends time watching movies about relationships, just to know what relationships are like, without really realizing how badly he needs to be in one. The script so brilliantly plays up the theme of family without hitting you upside the head to make a point, and it feels like a natural part of the story, instead of something tacked on to make you feel something.
Visually, The LEGO Batman is absolutely beautiful, and really has a lot of fun with the world full of these amazing bricks. The element that makes these movies so cool is how it can play with the bricks in so many different ways, really feeling like a giant play set. Every explosion looks like it’s made of bricks, and any time a gun is shot, it looks like a slim piece of LEGO, with those behind the guns hilariously saying, “pew pew pew,” as they fire. It’s just so much fun watching how visually inventive the filmmakers got bringing the film to life, really making it feel like a world built of LEGO, that you just want to play with and be a part of. The film really captures the spirit and feel of what it’s like to be someone who played with these growing up, and makes your imagination run wild with the possibilities of where they could go next in this world. With LEGO, the opportunities are endless, something this movie proves, and it’ll make audiences clamor for more.
The LEGO Batman Movie is a charming, funny, family adventure film that’s made for not just kids, but adults as well. The filmmakers have managed to make something that kids will love, but parents can too. With a brilliantly meta script, that lovingly embraces the entire Batman mythology from comics to film, it’s impossible not to grin ear to ear throughout. Will Arnett once again brings his goofy, crazy, and ultimately lovable version of Batman to life, with an excellent supporting cast in Michael Cera, who steals much of the film as Robin, as well as Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes. The LEGO Batman Movie is an incredibly imaginative film that takes the promise of the LEGO world, and shows just how much farther we can take it. This is a worthy successor to The LEGO Movie in every way, and it’ll be great to see where the series goes next. This is the ultimate Batman film in just about every way, and here’s hoping this isn’t the last time we see the character.