The superhero film we need.
Back in 2014, Batman was one of the breakout successes from the excellent The LEGO Movie. It seems bizarre to refer to a then-75 year old character as being ‘breakout’, but Will Arnett’s portrayal of a self-congratulatory Bruce Wayne/Batman was a refreshing change to numerous serious portrayals of the character following the high-camp disaster of Batman & Robin in the 1997. Now this version of the Dark Knight has been promoted to his own starring role, and this feature film is a loving celebration of the history of Batman which is simultaneously unafraid of joking at its own ridiculousness.
Much has been made of the numerous portrayals of Batman over the years, and Will Arnett’s interpretation expands on what was seen in his debut; his Batman is acutely aware of how ‘cool’ it is to be Batman, an encapsulation of what fans think of the character. He revels in the glory of this bombastic fantasy (with a theme tune surpassing even that which was heard in The LEGO Movie) and spends much of the film lauding his own brilliance.
Arnett is buoyed by an inspired supporting cast that borderline function as jokes in their own right. Ralph Fiennes fits the role of Alfred wonderfully and whoever cast Michael Cera as Robin deserves an Oscar. It doesn’t matter what one, but preferably all of them. Alongside these is the most complete representation of Batman’s storied rogues’ gallery yet seen, including cameos from some of the, ahem, less impactful.
Perhaps the only primary cast member that doesn’t shine so brightly is Zach Galifianakis as the Joker. Any portrayal of the Joker is going to be compared to Heath Ledger’s turn, and Galifianakis suffers the same undesirable fate as Jared Leto did in Suicide Squad, though there is one notable quality to this version of the character: There is a genuine clownish quality present that arguably hasn’t been seen since Cesar Romero’s turn in the Batman television show in the 1960’s. While he may not leave a mark equivalent to Ledger on the character, it is refreshing to see a version of the Joker that actually does what is in the name, and that is definitely more suited to the lighter tone of this movie.
With that in mind, once again the Joker has some dastardly scheme to destroy Gotham that only Batman can stop. That in essence is the plot, similar to any other story featuring Batman and the Joker. The films uses it more as a jumping off point to focus on the interpersonal relationships of its characters, as well as poke fun at the absurdity of them. A focal point is an acknowledgement of the peculiar bromance between Batman and Joker that has been lurking under the surface for many years, while a surprisingly well-handled aspect is about Bruce Wayne’s loss of his parents.
It’s borderline a marvel to think that the makers managed to simultaneously mock the dead parents angle and also mine some new material from it, yet it is a line they tread extraordinarily well. The same is true for the plot in general; Joker’s scheme is creative, providing hearty laughs and surprise cameos (many entirely too good to be spoiled in this review) and manages to make the age-old story of terror threatening Gotham feel new again.
A large part of this is down to what also made The LEGO Movie a delight. This film is unashamedly for children to enjoy (though with many jokes that only the adults will get) and it revels in what makes Lego itself a timeless toy; an anarchic sense of freeform play. Yes, there may be another retread of Batman’s tragic past and once again the Joker is out to destroy Gotham, but there are seemingly no rules that the filmmakers adhere to when telling this story. Batman’s gadgets have never been more ridiculous (though a cynic will not that these can be purchased for eye-watering
prices in Lego shops) while the Joker assembles a motley crew of villainous figures that will put a smile on people of all ages’ faces. It is akin to the box of assorted Lego kids across the world grew up with; a mess of ideas thrown together into a highly entertaining, improbably story of heroism.
Ever since Christopher Nolan’s run of unfathomably successful films, Batman has been in this perpetual loop of grim, serious adaptations, reaching a zenith in Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman last year. The LEGO Batman Movie is a reminder that it’s still possible to have fun with the character without sacrificing character development, and the result may be one of the Caped Crusader’s finest outings.
The LEGO Batman Movie was out on general release in the UK on Friday 10th February.