Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

(PG) ★★★½

Director: Chris McKay.

Cast: (voices of) Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes.

Is that Christian Bale or Ben Affleck? I can't keep up.

How much Batman is too much Batman?

The correct answer is "there is no such thing as too much Batman". But you could be forgiven for thinking we could be close to Peak Bat.

Including his role in The Lego Movie (and definitely counting The Lego Batman Movie), by the end of this year there will have been eight movies featuring Batman released in the past 12 years. That's with three different actors bringing three different versions of the Bat to the big screen. That's even more than Spider-man who, by the end of 2017, will have had three actors play him in seven movies over 15 years.

But as previously stated, there is no such thing as too much Batman (or Spider-man for that matter). So it seems fair that if the grown-ups can have their Batman, tearing his way through the dark and moody DC Extended Universe, then surely the kids can have their own Batman too, poking fun at his own winged existence in the hyperactive Lego Movie universe.

The Lego Batman (voiced in comedically gravelly fashion by Arnett) explores the loneliness and awesomeness of being the Bat. After yet another bout of smashing the baddies and saving Gotham, he returns to sit alone in (spoiler alert) Wayne Manor, raising questions about whether such an existence is healthy.

Fortunately The Joker (a surprisingly but pleasantly subdued Galifianakis) is on hand to force Batman to emote and stop pushing people away. Driven by an urge to have Batman admit The Joker is his #1 nemesis, The Joker hatches a plan to pit every villain Warner Bros can get their hands on to get Batman to grow as a human.

It's all very meta and self-aware, which is the film's greatest strength. In their quest to find a new way to look at Bruce Wayne's alter-ego, the writers (led by Pride & Prejudice & Zombies author Seth Grahame-Smith) have focused on the isolation the Batsuit creates, bashing that notion up against adopted sidekick Robin (Cera), butler Alfred (Fiennes) and new police chief Barbara Gordon (Dawson), who each want to make life easier and better for the lone wolf Wayne. Oddly for a film that is so unrealistic looking, it nails a certain weird realism in regards to Batman - that he lives a lonely, rage-fuelled existence driven by unresolved issues surrounding his parents' death. The Lego Batman Movie nails this idea better than pretty much every Batfilm except for The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.

There are in-jokes aplenty for hardcore DC fans, including a run-through of some of Batman's more obscure foes (Condiment King, Polka-Dot Man and Orca all get a mention). That, and an understanding of what makes the characters work and their relationships to each other, help keep the movie from tipping into parody. An affection for the source material is evident.

With that in mind, The Lego Batman Movie makes sure to reference what has come before (even going so far as to get Billy Dee Williams to voice Two-Face). There are visual flashes of Lego renditions of all the movies going back to Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, and even a screen grab of Adam West doing the Batusi. As much as this is a kids movie, it's definitely one for the Bat-spotters, which all goes toward helping make this good for all ages. After all, few other characters have been as all-pervasive in pop culture as Batman.

The jokes come thick and fast, and the voice cast is excellent. Arnett, who has been more enjoyable as a voice actor of late, wrings every bit of humour out of his performance, while Cera is a great foil as Dick Grayson AKA Robin. The talent comes thick and fast in this huge ensemble - as well as an all-star villain line-up that includes Lord Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Daleks, and the Gremlins, there is also the DC who's who of Superman, Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern and dozens more Justice Leaguers, so keep your eyes on the credits to see who did what.

As with The Lego Movie, there is a clever finale that reminds you that, hey, this is all Lego (CG Lego, yes, but you get the picture). But similarly to its predecessor, the animation style is a love-it-or-hate-it venture. In its battle sequences, which are many, The Lego Batman Movie is a blizzard of movement where it can be hard to discern what is happening. Director Chris McKay throws everything at the screen and often it is too much, especially in a medium (ie. Lego) where there are no flat surfaces. 

This busyness on the screen is so full on that in the slower, quieter moments the film struggles to keep momentum. This is no in-between - it's either everything moving all the time or nothing. You get used to the animation style eventually, but you sometimes wish they would just chill out and stop going so overboard. 

These gripes aside, The Lego Batman Movie is the best combination of Batfun and Batseriousness since Tim Burton was in charge. And as good as Affleck is, this leaves Batman Vs Superman for dead, although that is damning the film with faint praise.

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