Will Arnett's minifig marauder gets a spinoff that's as much of an unexpected delight as the last Lego Movie
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Chris McKay). 104 minutes. Opens Friday (February 10). See listing. Rating: NNNN
Three years ago, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie was such an infectious pleasure – and Will Arnett’s egotistical, self-absorbed Batman such a delightful surprise – that the news of Warner Bros. giving that character his own movie was not just charming but applauded.
The only question was whether the spinoff (not a sequel, but set in the same polyglot, plastic-brick world) would measure up to the original, or just be an excuse to sell more toys.
To lift a quote from another Arnett project, it can be two things. The Lego Batman Movie will move tons of merchandise, from various Bat-vehicles to Wayne Island playsets. It’s also a joy to watch a Batman adventure that lets its minifig marauder run loose in a Gotham City unconcerned with gloom or continuity.
Chris McKay, Lord and Miller’s animation director on The Lego Movie, takes the driver’s seat here, and with his writers (among them Community’s Chris McKenna and Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’s Seth Grahame-Smith) harvests the DC toy box for literally every Bat-character. Yep, even Condiment King. And that’s just in the first five minutes. The entire history of Batman is all one story, told by a really focused eight-year-old.
And that’s the way it should be. Batman hasn’t been fun in decades, thanks to the increasingly grim requirements of the DC Cinematic Universe. The Lego Batman Movie takes all of that apart and knits it back together in a shinier, more awesome pattern.
Lorne Balfe’s delightful score never stops juggling nods to Neal Hefti, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer, and when Bruce Wayne bothers to take off his cowl he looks more like George Clooney than any other Bat-actor. It’s all just fun.
The story involves a master plan by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to unleash a multiverse of supervillains on Gotham, many drawn from other properties. And yeah, on one level that’s just an excuse for Warner Bros. to celebrate its own franchises and sell them all over again… but the Joker’s principal motivation is rooted in a larger arc about Batman’s inability to admit he needs anyone, even his arch-enemy.
And as more and more characters disrupt his Bat-life – the disapproving Alfred (Ralph Fiennes, in a voice performance for the ages), a clingy Robin (Michael Cera) and an antagonistic Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) – the Dark Knight’s journey out of his own Bat-shell becomes a sweet, smart hook for the grown-ups in the audience.
It’s the Batman adventure live-action could never deliver, with bright colours and a warm heart. And also Daleks.