Saturday, 18 February 2017

Film Review: The Lego Batman Movie

USA, 2017, 104MINS

Spun off from the genuinely excellent Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie had two major pitfalls to avoid - that the superb arrogant send-up of the Dark Knight that was so funny would support a whole film and that it would live up to the hype after the arsenal of trailers. The answers are affirmative. 

A quite brilliant take on Gotham City makes an excellent canvas, a city populated by every member of Batman's Rogues' Gallery worth a mention and a few that really aren't. The resulting plot is a respectable mix of moral fable and adventure story pitched firmly at the kids; grownups will guess the shape of the plot from the opening moments but that's not the point. 

The journey as Batman finds a new family is fun for adults because like its predecessor the film is genuinely and unrelentingly funny on so many levels, with everything from slapstick to weird in-jokes about casting in Tim Burton films and taking the piss out of Orca while also hanging a lampshade on Batman's seeming inability to keep crime in Gotham under control.

As well as Batman there's a funny take on ward Dick Grayson; if Batman is a ripe send-up of the Nolans/Frank Miller and the whole Dork Knight thing then Robin is straight out of the sixties TV series, all wide-eyed mindless optimism. Joining them are a proactive spiky Barbara Gordon, recast as mixed race and well voiced by Rosario Dawson (carefully avoiding retreading Wyldstyle) and a disapproving Alfred courtesy of Ralph Fiennes. 

The other side is led by Zach Galifianakis as a needy take on the Joker, who dumps his usual allies (aside from a mercifully rationed and deslutted Harley Quinn) in favour of.. well, I won't spoil it beyond guessing that Lego's Dimensions licence is the key to swinging the sort of crossover cast that would make anyone else weep with envy. None of the rest of the Batman villains don't get a gigantic amount to do but a surprising large number get a call out or little bit to do. Some serious research has gone into this whole area,  hence big screen debuts for the likes of Calendar Man, the Kabuki Twins and Gentlemen Ghost. Seriously, comic fans might want to see this twice as you'll spend the first time character spotting.

If there's a fault it's that for a film made entirely from (computer generated) Lego bricks Lego isn't actually hugely integral to the movie aside from a few visual jokes and a belated mention of teaching Robin Masterbuilding. It's a weird criticism though and I feel a bit Comic Book Guy now that I've said it. Maybe the closest thing to a real criticism is that it's not quite as fantastically transcendent and genuinely touching as The Lego Movie but then I've seen thousands of films and few are.

The Lego Batman Movie does utterly succeed on its own terms. There are no caveats here - it's not great for a kids film or a toy film or anything.  It's a riot of adventure and wit, with something for everyone who isn't dead and cold on the inside.

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