The LEGO Movie remains one of 2014’s best surprise hits, beating the odds by turning what was believed to be one gigantic LEGO commercial into a surprisingly smart, funny and memorable family-friendly adventure. We still have just over a couple more years to wait for the direct follow-up to The LEGO Movie, but in the meantime, Warner Animation Group is preparing some spin-off projects to keep developing the LEGO brand at the movies, starting with the new release of The LEGO Batman Movie.
Arguably one of the biggest standouts of The LEGO Movie was Will Arnett’s LEGO Batman portrayal, so it’s no wonder that Warner Bros. was especially keen to give this character his own movie, particularly when the DC brand is currently desperate for big screen boosting. Considering the combination of transparently trying to cash in on a favourite character, along with DC’s much-maligned modern DC Extended Universe offerings on the big screen so far, it’s thus easy to once again be cynical and/or pessimistic about the prospect of The LEGO Batman Movie. As with such anxieties surrounding the original The LEGO Movie in 2014 however, such cynicism and pessimism would be unfounded.
Amazingly, Warner Animation Group has captured lightning in a bottle yet again, as The LEGO Batman Movie is just as fun, humourous, colourful, charming and all-around brilliant as The LEGO Movie was back in 2014! Longtime fans of Batman will get even more out of the movie, which is packed with excellent jokes and references to nearly a century of Batman’s current history, from the best highs to the most shameful lows, though never to the point where people who barely know anything about Batman will feel left out of the fun. Both kids and adults will find loads to like in The LEGO Batman Movie, which refreshingly lightens up the Dark Knight while also giving him his best cinematic offering in nearly a decade!
The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t confirm any sense of continuity with The LEGO Movie, so despite Will Arnett reprising his role as LEGO Batman, you can safely divorce this movie from its predecessor, if you somehow skipped or don’t remember the events of The LEGO Movie. Arnett’s LEGO Batman still has much the same personality that he had in The LEGO Movie however, despite no direct confirmation that the two current LEGO movies share continuity with each other, namely being a comically arrogant, spoiled hero that is as much addicted to fame as he is saving Gotham City from his rogues gallery of villains.
As with The LEGO Movie, making this version of Batman more childish and light-hearted not only makes him more endearing, and leans well into the movie being kid-friendly, but also provides a nice change of pace from the brooding, dramatic renditions of the Dark Knight on the big screen that we’ve come to expect. Despite the more light-hearted appearance though, Arnett’s LEGO Batman is not shy about referencing the character’s big screen history quite frequently, even including, and sometimes especially the moments that Batman fans and Batman himself would rather forget!
Something that’s surprisingly funny about this Batman as well is how effectively he can lampoon the extra grounded sensibilities of the more recent Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman movies, only to then seamlessly jump into making jokes about the Adam West-era Batman TV show, or the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher-era Batman movies, or acclaimed cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series. There’s even some references to the hilariously dated big screen Batman serials from the 1940’s peppered in! Like I said, if you don’t know Batman’s lengthy history that well, the jokes are well-written enough to still be funny, but if you do have an avid love for all things Batman, there’s no end of subtle riffs and gags that make The LEGO Batman Movie well worth watching again and again, so you can consistently spot more!
The way that the many villains are handled in The LEGO Batman Movie is also quite well done, as it throws just about every quasi-recognizable Batman villain into the movie at some point or another. Even the most regrettable and ludicrous villains from Batman’s history show up to lend themselves to jokes and/or action scenes, and while they almost all basically amount to small parts, they all get at least one moment that will give you a good giggle. Obviously, recognizable foes like Penguin, Two-Face, Catwoman and Riddler show up, but even Adam West-era joke foes like Egghead and King Tut, obscure villains like Killer Moth and Gentleman Ghost, and best of all, Batman: The Animated Series gag character, Condiment King, all make an appearance in certain scenes! It’s more than enough to have avid Batman fans positively tickled throughout the production!
As you can imagine though, the army of villains fall under the leadership of The Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis in this LEGO rendition of the Clown Prince of Crime. Much like Arnett’s LEGO Batman, Galifianakis’ LEGO Joker is comically simple-minded and childish, spending the entire movie pining for Batman’s attention and respect as an arch-nemesis. The standout satire of the long, complicated history between Batman and The Joker in various facets of DC media is excellent in The LEGO Batman Movie, and obviously, Galifianakis’ cheeky menace is expertly realized. Excitingly, Galifianakis manages to stand with veteran Joker actors that came before him, even if he’s far more Cesar Romero than Heath Ledger, obviously.
For all of its brilliant examination and satirizing of Batman lore though, The LEGO Batman Movie is ultimately a movie about the importance of family, and that makes it relatable for any audience of any age, even outside of Batman’s fan circles. This is another smart way to tie into Batman lore without leaning on it as a crutch, since something that everyone knows about Batman’s character is that his parents are killed when he’s a boy, which is never explicitly shown in The LEGO Batman Movie, but it acknowledges that everyone knows Batman is an orphan. To that end, Batman is a lonely hero even in his LEGO incarnation, desperately afraid to let anyone else into his life beyond his faithful butler, Alfred, who is voiced impeccably by Ralph Fiennes, providing a more prim and proper old-school take on Alfred in contrast to the rougher incarnations of the character that have shown up in modern media like FOX’s Gotham series and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Naturally, the appearance of Robin, as well as Barbara Gordon after she takes over as the Gotham City Police Commissioner, are both huge parts of what challenges Batman to build a family again. Michael Cera’s over-the-top adorable portrayal of Robin is fantastic (also providing a subtle and amusing Arrested Development reunion for Cera and Arnett), and amazingly, he may actually be the most likable and memorable Robin realized on the big screen to date! Likewise, Rosario Dawson provides an effectively brave, strong and appealing edge as the LEGO Barbara, despite Barbara being developed as a Commissioner Gordon successor in this movie, rather than Batgirl. It’s really remarkable how well The LEGO Batman Movie slips in a strong, heartwarming message about appreciating your family and loved ones amidst all of the silliness and superhero satire, but that just speaks to how much heart has been put into this movie, and especially the legion of personalities that all feel like they make their mark, even amidst such a massive cast!
The storyline of The LEGO Batman Movie, as I said, is very much about family, which is ingeniously tied into Batman’s long history as a shadowy hero without many civilian friends. That message is buried beneath a whole lot of craziness though, with The LEGO Batman Movie often staying true to Warner Bros.’ style of very manic, wired animation at all times. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though some older viewers may want to be warned that The LEGO Batman Movie is very breathless, and can sometimes feel a bit exhausting, if you’re not entirely in the mood for it.
Beyond that though, it’s a calculated energy that makes the movie effectively engaging and over-the-top. It’s difficult to discuss storyline specifics, since so much of The LEGO Batman Movie is ridiculous and unexpected, so going over specific story beats will definitely constitute spoilers. What I can say though is that the movie is brilliantly put together, honouring the same spirit as The LEGO Movie before it with an equally creative and well-told plotline that has its own heartfelt message behind it. Like I said, Batman fans will get the most out of the story, but this is a fun, consistently humourous and subversive Batman movie that anyone, regardless of their age or history with the character, can easily enjoy.
Chris McKay makes his feature film directing debut with The LEGO Batman Movie, after primarily helming various episodes of Robot Chicken. McKay is absolutely perfect for directing The LEGO Batman Movie with that kind of history, and as expected, his direction doesn’t disappoint here. There’s an incredible sense of satirical inspiration and energy throughout The LEGO Batman Movie, which constantly boasts as much incredible wit as it does vibrant personality.
As I said, McKay’s direction is very manic and breathless, though that feels like the touch of Warner Bros. more so than his directing specifically. Nonetheless, it makes The LEGO Batman Movie very stimulating and appealing to watch if you have the energy for it, even for adults, let alone children. McKay even manages to make the handful of more serious moments in The LEGO Batman Movie make a lot of sense too, knowing when to take a breath to develop the characters, without overriding the fun and whimsy in the process. It also goes without saying that McKay clearly, deeply understands the Batman character, while still making him accessible even to the youngest of viewers. Even being a more comedic take on Batman lore, The LEGO Batman Movie is exceptionally put together and highly polished in all respects, making it feel like a worthy Batman blockbuster in its own right!
With the soundtrack of The LEGO Movie making such a splash in 2014, to the point where its original main single, “Everything is Awesome” got an Oscar nomination, it’s small wonder that The LEGO Batman Movie would also be especially ambitious with its own soundtrack. There’s once again a great mix of goofy licensed tunes in the movie, such as, “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” and, “Man in the Mirror”, along with some really slick, yet upbeat original score compositions by Lorne Balfe.
The LEGO movies look to be building themselves around a reputation of excellent cinematic soundtracks to go with their equally excellent LEGO animation, so if you’re looking forward to that prospect, rest assured that the music suite in The LEGO Batman Movie is just as superb as its predecessor, even if there’s no stubborn earworm akin to, “Everything is Awesome” this time. There is one song that comes close though, an amazingly funny intro musical number where Batman sings about how great he is, which will have Batman fans especially in stitches, plus it at least has a fairly catchy beat to keep bopping along to even as you exit the theatre.
Naturally, the authentic touch of LEGO-fueled sound effects is also throughout The LEGO Batman Movie, giving the production a sense of destructive punch without frightening children. Warner Bros. remain the absolute masters at kid-friendly slapstick violence, and that lends itself well to a movie where Batman hilariously smacks around entire armies of his familiar foes at a time. You’ll get an added audio boost out of the movie’s IMAX cut, which is strangely limited to 2D viewings in domestic territories, apparently, though this isn’t necessarily essential. The audio is just as polished as the rest of the movie either way, feeling cool and entertaining without being too intense.
The LEGO Movie was an enormous visual achievement in 2014, so you can imagine that The LEGO Batman Movie is also an incredible visual master work, with Warner Animation Group once again realizing virtually the entire experience in nothing but authentic LEGO design, beyond a few live-action snippets done for gags. Naturally, The LEGO Batman Movie is filled with jaw-dropping, fast-paced LEGO animation, and is already an early contender for one of 2017’s most visually impressive movies! Whether done for humour or action, the animation is always perfectly realized, and with the Batman license, Warner Animation Group has pushed their LEGO animation style even further, creating a movie that’s even more action-packed and exciting than The LEGO Movie in the end!
Originally, I went to an early screening of The LEGO Batman Movie in standard digital 3D, due to Warner Bros.’ frankly baffling decision to make the 3D and IMAX cuts of this movie mutually exclusive here in North America, and held off on reviewing the movie until I could see the separate IMAX cut after wide release. As expected, the 3D presentation in The LEGO Batman Movie is great, adding a lot of extra punch to the action scenes in particular, while also nicely complementing the high-flying animation in general. It really does feel like this is a movie that’s meant to be seen in 3D, which makes the 3D omission in the IMAX cut here very frustrating.
Granted, the movie’s 2D IMAX cut is still just as visually impressive from a raw animation standpoint, but the lack of 3D does mean that the audio boost is the main reason to go IMAX in the case of The LEGO Batman Movie. You could just as easily go for a specific premium format like our Canadian UltraAVX to get much the same IMAX-caliber experience while still being able to enjoy the 3D presentation though, and that’s probably the best case scenario for enjoying The LEGO Batman Movie. Even in 2D, this is an animation gem, but it’s really at its best in 3D. If you have the choice between the 3D and IMAX cuts, the 3D cut is the one you’ll probably have the most fun with, especially if you’re bringing kids.
The LEGO Batman Movie is exactly what DC needed to start righting the ship with their big screen offerings, which is why it’s a shame that it has to be inevitably separated from the shared live-action DC Extended Universe. Not only is this a superb follow-up to The LEGO Movie, but it’s also a very satisfying antidote to DC’s melodramatic and over-serious early DC Extended Universe offerings, if we don’t count some of the half-hearted efforts to inject more humour into Suicide Squad during production. Even being a sillier and more light-hearted take on a beloved DC superhero, The LEGO Batman Movie nonetheless also manages to be the smartest and most memorable movie from DC in general since 2008’s The Dark Knight, proving once and for all that DC doesn’t have to sacrifice sophistication for humour, as they seemed to think was the case when the DC Extended Universe was first conceived, despite their main rival, Marvel Studios constantly proving the opposite to be true right to this day.
As both a universally successful LEGO Movie follow-up and a universally successful Batman movie, The LEGO Batman Movie stands as 2017’s first genuinely excellent blockbuster hit. Both children and adults will have a ton of fun with this movie, especially if they already love Batman. This movie may even serve as the ultimate excuse to fall in love with Batman all over again too, if you prefer the more light-hearted take on the Caped Crusader, and have grown frustrated with how brooding and serious Batman has regularly been at the movies lately. For all of the shady, disturbing undertones of the character, Batman is arguably DC’s most versatile superhero, and he absolutely has a right to be funny just as much as he has a right to be dark. He doesn’t always have to be taken so seriously.
That’s not to say that serious Batman movies are a bad thing, especially after the outstanding Nolan trilogy and the still-beloved duo of Burton movies, but we’ve certainly had plenty of those lately. With the big screen DC Universe in general needing to lighten up, The LEGO Batman Movie really couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Batman fans will be over the moon with the incredible amount of love and reverence for every element of Batman’s history that’s captured or referenced to some degree in The LEGO Batman Movie, but you don’t need to know your Clayface from your Two-Face to immensely enjoy the Dark Knight’s lighter side here!
- Outstanding ensemble cast headlined by a hilarious Arnett
- Brilliant Batman Easter eggs and references throughout that are still funny for non-fans
- Fantastic animation and action throughout, especially in 3D
- Pacing might be a bit breathless for some older viewers
- Domestic IMAX cut inexplicably eliminating 3D is annoying
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