Christopher Nolan’s Batverse is finished. Ben Affleck reportedly wants out of the Batsuit as soon as he is able. But people want the Batman, so what is a studio to do? Piggyback on the success of the Lego Movie, of which Will Arnett’s Batman played a small but amusing role? Back to the Bat Cave we go!
The Lego Batman Movie was not made with me in mind. That is, the adult Batman fan who has seen multiple incarnations of the Caped Crusader over the years on both the big and small screens, not to mention all the comics. The Lego incarnation is more aimed at children, an introduction to Batman and his universe, while throwing bones to us older fans with some clever jokes at the expense of those previous incarnations. The story is simple enough: the Joker gets himself purposefully caught in order to have Batman send him to the Phantom Zone where he can unleash all sorts of famous villains upon Gotham. It’s an absolutely acceptable way to utilize the various worlds that Lego has the rights to while keeping it in the guise of a typical Jokeresque scheme. Along the way Batman must discover the need to care for others, especially after unknowingly adopting a young Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Simple stuff, but it serves its purpose.
The film starts off with a big action filled set piece, one that both sets up the story but pokes fun at the tropes of both the Batman franchise and superhero stories in general. This is when The Lego Batman Movie is at its best, making fun at how ridiculous this all is, despite the the tendency for the Batman universe to itself very seriously. A personal favorite moment was when listing off the very numerous Batman foes, the writers dug extremely deep into old Batman villians, throwing some names at you that you are sure are fake (Calendar Man? Condiment King?). After some research, I can assure you that they, along with all the rest, are actually real and show the willingness of this film to poke fun at its source material. The actual story, however, is pretty standard fare, and even the young viewers for which this is made will be able to see where it is all leading very early on. It’s odd for the Joker (or in this case, the screenwriters) to telegraph his ultimate plan so early on, but here we are.
The voice cast is a veritable who’s who of Hollywood, employing the talents of everyone from Ralph Fiennes to Channing Tatum to even Mariah Carey as Gotham’s mayor. And while Zach Galifianakis does a fine job as the Joker, I’m sorry,, but the number one Joker in my heart also happens to wield a lightsaber. It’s hard for me to accept a substitute.
Rating the Lego Batman Movie is tough for me. It really has to live up to two different franchises, the Batman films as well as the Lego Movie that preceded it (and if the latter wasn’t a success, we wouldn’t have gotten this). In terms of the Lego franchise, it lacks the heart and originality that the Lego Movie had. Which is to be expected, as it does, above all else, need to tell a Batman story, and is constrained by that. That said, it’s a perfectly fine Batman story, at its best when it knows what it is, a lighthearted adventure aimed at introducing a younger generation to Batman and his diverse cast of villains. So where does it stand as a Batman film? Without getting into any of the other animated features, it stands well above the recent Warner Bros. live action “efforts,” as well as the Joel Shumacher travesties. But there are five films, and probably an animated series or two I’d rather put on if I’m hankering for a fix of the Dark Knight. And if this film does its job, that will also end up being the case for a whole new generation of fans.