By Jack Mansfield
It’s been nearly three years since audiences were pleasantly surprised by The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2014) and the fact that its heart and humour made it more than just a feature-length advert to sell toys. The latest film to be constructed (anyone?) from the popular toy brand, The LEGO Batman Movie (Chris McKay, 2017), takes one of the best parts of the former film – Will Arnett’s angsty, beatboxing Batman – and builds a heartfelt while at the same time hilarious story around him.
The film begins with Batman saving Gotham City from his famous Rogues’ Gallery yet again, and it’s great to see a Batman film show off all of the well-known villains at once (as well as some of the lesser known villains, which Zach Galifianakis’ Joker tells the audience are “probably worth a google”), as we haven’t seen this done well arguably since Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992). Having defeated the villains, much to the adoration of the public, Batman returns home to an empty Batcave/Wayne Manor (except for Alfred, voiced by Ralph Fiennes), and here the film begins to portray its main theme of family. Batman begins the film wallowing in stubbornness, with Alfred telling him his main fear is “being part of a family again”. I forgot very quickly that this was for the main part a kids’ film, and only when the film clearly expresses its message of the importance of family was I reminded of this fact.
The story does a good job of keeping this moral at the forefront of the audience’s minds, as Batman’s various relationships are explored throughout the film: the main relationship is between Batman and Dick Grayson (voiced by the quirky Michael Cera), the young orphan that Bruce Wayne unwittingly adopts in the second act of the film. Not before a perfectly placed grown-up joke with regards to Master Grayson’s forename, the film slowly builds the father-son relationship between Batman and Dick and ties it neatly to Batman’s own situation, as he is still coming to terms with the deaths of his own parents. The film is by no means an origin story for Batman, as this has (somewhat ironically) been done to death in recent years, and I was very pleased to see that the writers assumed audiences know the general backstory of the character. The dark tone of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents would also feel very out of place in a kids’ film, let alone to try and recreate it in LEGO; another reason why the decision to leave the backstory alone is in my opinion a clever move by the writers.
The film’s driving factor, I would argue more than its overhanging moral, is its unrelenting humour. Even the opening title cards are narrated by Batman, in what feels like a subtle dig at some DC/Warner Bros films that have come before this one. I found myself laughing for a huge portion of the film, simply because this film is so quick in delivering its jokes that it barely gives you time to recover from the joke before. Most of the humour relies on in-jokes and references to earlier Batman films – way too many to mention here, plus I wouldn’t want to spoil some of the gems in the script – this kind of humour really works for me, but some jokes may not hit quite as hard as they would if you aren’t generally a huge fan of superhero movies. This does not mean in any way that you won’t be laughing from the very first frame, as this film grabs the audience’s funny bone and barely ever lets go. I was initially worried that the screening would be constantly interrupted by small children either narrating everything on screen or asking parents what was going on, but it was quite the opposite: I think I was probably the loudest person in the room, the film had me laughing that much!
The film’s frequent humour also sadly provides its greatest pitfall: because of its high pace, naturally there are going to be some parts of the film that slow down, and where this happens it is really noticeable. The opening act where Batman saves Gotham is so fast-paced and funny that some parts of the film (where the narrative understandably needs to progress without humour) feel slightly sluggish, and I was left feeling as if the transitions between serious and silly could have been done better.
The LEGO Batman Movie is undoubtedly one of the best DC films we’ve seen since The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008), and is definitely not going to divide audiences anywhere near as much as some of DC’s more recent outings. This film is a perfect example of how to do a ‘kid’s’ film in that it has something for everyone: the humour is on a variety of different levels that will leave both children and adults laughing, and the story is ultimately warm and profound.