There have been countless iterations of DC’s Batman franchise in years past, ranging from the dark and complex (think Burton, Nolan) to camp and colourful (Adam West, Joel Schumacher) in both live-action and animated forms. As a supporting character in The Lego Movie, the caped crusader was comically portrayed as a brooding egomaniac, and it’s this depiction of the character that is the central hero of this very movie.
Lego Batman/Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) remains as self-absorbed as he was in The Lego Movie, only this time he’s fighting crime in a Lego-ised Gotham City. When not battling his many foes, Batman spends time alone in his large estate, Wayne Manor, reflecting on whether his deceased parents would be proud of him. As his loyal butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) asserts, Batman is afraid of becoming part of a family again, and uses his cold personality to keep himself isolated.
Someone who has experienced this cold-shoulder is the self-described arch-nemesis of Batman, that being The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). After being told by Batman that their rivalry means nothing to him, a devastated Joker concocts a plan to hand himself, and his cronies, over to Gotham City Police. Suspecting nothing, the newly-appointed chief of police, Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) places the villains in Arkham Asylum, leaving Batman with no crime to fight.
As a consequence, this provides Batman with an opportunity to connect with his son, who was accidently adopted by Bruce at a gala dinner. That son is Dick “Robin” Grayson (Michael Cera), who is characterised differently to the portrayals in other Batman media – most stories acknowledge Robin as an acrobatic circus performer, but in The Lego Batman Movie he is an enthusiastic, benign youngster who blindly follows his mentor’s every word, contrasting with the arrogant persona of the Dark Knight.
Batman almost stole the show in The Lego Movie, so it’s pleasing to see the character gain a spin-off in the same theoretical universe. Though taking place in a different setting, this film retains the humour, style of animation and self-awareness of the characters seen in the franchise’s previous instalment, all three factors making both movies enjoyable. Additionally, the Lego branding isn’t simply a marketing ploy – on more than one occasion, the Lego mechanics are used as a clever plot device.
Lego Batman is also very willing to ridicule the DC universe, a welcome relief from the gritty nature of the live-action DC films. Among other things, the movie pokes fun at the sillier Batman villains, Suicide Squad and the various incarnations of the hero. It’s surprising to see so much self-deprecation in a DC-branded film, much of which will probably go over the heads of the picture’s intended audience, but those that do understand the references will certainly appreciate them.
Two factors hold Lego Batman back, the first being its confusing messages. The relationship between Batman and Joker is the primary source of this issue, with Joker going out of his way to make Batman “hate” him. Such morals are easy for adults like myself to comprehend, but younger viewers may struggle to do so. The second factor plaguing the film is the underutilised voice cast, with some very capable actors rarely given a chance to showcase their talents. Thankfully, the central characters make up for it with their great vocal performances.
Both a thoughtful continuation of the Lego franchise and a loving send-up of the Batman universe, The Lego Batman Movie is a smart, vibrant and highly-charming animated feature. Though knowledge of Batman’s other forays is needed to fully understand some jokes, viewers will nonetheless enjoy the humour and the characters.