The Lego Batman Movie (2017) review

The Lego brand is a long enduring brand that shows no signs of slowing down. Having been around for 84 years, it seems odd that it took them so long to get a big screen film together. However, in 2014, armed with the rights to a multitude of properties, and seasoned directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, The Lego Movie was released to international success. So it’s only natural that not only a sequel, but a whole extended spin off series of films was ordered. The first, The Lego Batman Movie was released a couple weeks ago, and I’m happy to report that the film retains the same level of charm and wit that made the original so enduring. What works so well is that the new film is in the same style and tone of the first film, but it is very much a different story.

Centering on the iteration of the Batman character we met in that film (played once again by Will Arnett) the film has a loose plot that focuses on Batman faced with change in Gotham City as Jim Gordon  steps down from his position as Police Commissioner and is replaced by his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson). She plans to implement some changes in how the city deals with crime. Meanwhile, the Joker is desperately seeking the caped crusader’s attention and hatches a plan to bring more wrath upon Gotham than ever before and solidify himself as the absolute worst villain there is.

First and foremost, the film has a magnificent voice cast. Every role is accounted for with the most superb voice actor you could imagine. Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Michael Cera as Robin, and Billy Dee Williams finally getting his shot at playing Two-Face after playing Harvey Dent in the Tim Burton films. However, this is also one of the film’s few downfalls. While it has a wondrous and comical cast that bring new turns to each scene, it is almost too much for the movie. Many of the characters are limited to only having a few lines, practically cameos. I would’ve liked to see more of the vast supporting cast of villains, particularly the Arkham Asylum rogue gallery. What little we see of them promises so much, that it’s a shame they didn’t get more to do.

One example of a great character we did get to see a lot of though was the Joker. I must admit that I did not expect Zach Galifianakis to be a great Joker, but in the end he was one of the best characters in the film. He is portrayed as craving Batman’s attention, and bordering on obsessive. He’s like a past lover that you just can’t get rid of. It’s a rare example of a superhero film (or any mainstream film, really) where the villain is just as interesting as our hero.

Speaking of Batman, Will Arnett’s performance takes what he did in the last movie and adds more to the character. He’s still trying too hard to be edgy and cool, but we are also treated to how Batman is a flawed character. The Dark Knight has a not-so-internal conflict with himself, and must come to terms with his lack of empathy and isolation from others. While dealt with in a very straight forward way, it presents some difficult ideas for what is essentially a kids movie. Batman may be a good guy who fights on the right side of justice but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a good person. These themes are dealt with, and yet the film never loses it’s wit or charm that makes it entertaining. Chris McKay directs the film, and it moves at a fast pace that never seems to slow down. I found out afterwards that the runtime was an hour and forty minutes, but it felt like an hour and twenty.

The screenplay is authored by a team whose experience ranges from American Dad! And Wreck it Ralph to future superhero movies including this summer’s Spider Man Homecoming. This barrage of talent crafted a strong script which is full of humor that is in the style of some of the finest children’s films in recent years. Humor that will appeal to kids, yes. But there’s also a lot of adult humor at play here, including fourth wall breaks and self referential jokes. It is also chock full of little references and jokes out there for the nerds in the audience, such as myself. I couldn’t help having a little geekout at seeing Clock King in the background among the villains or hearing Batman mention Fox Force Five from Pulp Fiction. It drops these references in a way that people like myself will rejoice. However, there is enough else at play to entertain people in the audience that don’t get every reference.

The Lego Batman Movie is an absolute blast from beginning to end. There isn’t a moment that isn’t filled with a clever joke or reference, delivered of course by the very talented list of players in the film. Though I initially hesitant beforehand if it would be a worthy successor to the original, the film does both with great ease. It’s a high energy kids film that has a little something for everyone tucked in there. The Lego Batman Movie has a set a high standard for both its sequels and kid’s films in general.