Film Review – The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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With expectations that it would amount to nought more than a two hour advert for plastic tat, The Lego Movie was something of a treat. Bold, smart, good looking and with a neat message about thinking outside the (Lego) box, it was an anarchic piece of fun with a conscience. It also gave birth the one of the most enjoyable and cynicism-free Oscars moments in recent years. Bettered only by the legendary moment Roberto Benigni majestically picked his way through a carpet of upturned Lego bricks to claim the award for Best Foreign Language Film for Life is Beautiful in front of an adoring crowd at the 1999 Academy Award, who could forget that song about things being great?

Anyway, Batman is in this one. The Lego Corporation, being the astute businessmen that they are, have numerous commercial ties with almost all the most prominent and exciting pop-culture commodities knocking about. So expect Lego to draw deep from the well here, particularly if their first few forays into cinema entertainment are as popular as their first effort. If this all sounds like a cynical lamentation that one of the biggest of the year’s movies is little more than a glorified TV spot for colourful, overpriced bricks, then fear not. Because as wantonly consumerist as all this may be; regardless of the fact that it may just be a love letter to capitalism, The Lego Batman Movie is still palpably excellent.

Plot-wise it harks back to Joel Schumacher’s ghastly Batman and Robin and nods to John McTiernan’s ragingly underrated Last Action Hero, as Bruce Wayne finds himself, much to his butler Alfred’s chagrin, increasingly cut off from the rest of the world. Taking on young Dick Grayson as a protégé, Batman must tackle the Joker’s plans to unleash the worst of fiction’s villains on Gotham City, while dealing with his own sense of insecurity and his frankly laughable penchant for dressing up like a flying mammal every evening.

When it kicks off with an extended action sequence that admirably apes and lampoons the visual and aural style of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises you know you’re in for a Batman movie that understands its responsibility in self-reflexive comedic terms. Much of the humour relies on some knowledge, and appreciation of, the innate ridiculousness of the continuing development of a character that was created to entertain small boys eighty years ago. Batman, a cultural behemoth, is arguably the most beloved of all comic book super heroes, but that does not mean he is not also somewhat ridiculous.

Continuing with the sugar-coated, hyper-colourful aesthetic of the first Lego movie, this too looks like a grand stop-motion bonanza being acted out by a gaggle of sugared-up toddlers. And it’s all the better for it. This iteration of Gotham City is one of the most exciting to be placed on a cinema screen; certainly more so than Nolan’s changeable skyline or Schumacher’s hellishly buffoonish nightmare landscape.

With a knowingly reverential sense of humour, The Lego Batman Movie pokes fun at its caped predecessors in a light-hearted and exhilarating way. I could, however, have done with a little less Batman beat-boxing or Apple product placement if this is to ascend to the ranks of the truly superlative comic book movie.

[rating=4] | Chris Banks

Animation, Action | USA, 2017 | U | 10th February 2017 (UK) | Warner Bros. | Dir.Chris McKay | Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis