From the moment Adam West hung up his codpiece and cape, Batman has been encased in a perpetual grimace. It has appeared in various forms, from the gothic camp of Tim Burton, and the neon glow of Joel Schumacher, to the rigid po-facery of Christopher Nolan, and the interminable dirge of Zack Snyder; Batman has been a very serious man.
Ever since his scene-stealing debut in The LEGO Movie, LEGO Batman has been the parody this grim and gritty pop culture icon has sorely needed. A self-important blowhard, hopelessly infatuated with his own anger and misery. What should have been a one-note joke managed to unspool a constant stream of new comedic riffs on the idea; his pained emo songwriting, his obsession with bass, his absolute disregard for everyone around him. His sociopathy is played for laughs and is consistently effective. That kind of joke works for a supporting character but it could never carry a solo movie, so The LEGO Batman Movie wisely opts to build its whole story out of this conceit. It may be the first Batman movie to truly address the inherent tragedy of the character and try to do something about it.
In the world of LEGO Gotham, Batman is a loner. A self-aggrandising egomaniac, boasting of his own brilliance and keeping everyone else at arm's length. Bristling at the very thought of sharing the spotlight with anyone, even the newly appointed Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Batman cannot abide being close to someone again. Not after what happened last time. His concept of love and family was torn down in an instant when he was just a child and he has never attempted to rebuild that. He wears his mask at all times, even when he is left alone in his vast mansion, only begrudgingly removing it for public functions. He wears Batman as a constant shield from the sadness inside. The Batman cowl does more than protect his identity from criminals, it protects him from himself.
The brilliantly realised design of the lavish Wayne Manor and cavernous Batcave emphasises Batman's solitude. Vast spaces, littered with detail, but one single figure roaming them. A big, empty world. The opening sequence manages to execute a riff on the plot of The Dark Knight Rises coupled with Batman's entire Rogues Gallery while capping it all off with a musical sequence, scored by Batman himself. You will get a movie's worth of content, comedy and excitement in the opening scene before the main plot even begins.
Things get complicated for the Dark Knight when Bruce Wayne unknowingly adopts Dick Grayson (played with pitch perfect enthusiasm by Michael Cera). His big, empty world now has a rambunctious child running around the halls and stumbling across all his Bat-brand toys. Batman has a new family and it is time for him to grow up and learn how to be part of something again. He will resist with all his petulant might, all while working out a way to stop The Joker for good.
The Joker (Zach Galifinakis), incidentally, is also feeling the icy shoulder of Batman. While Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and Dick struggle to get Batman to show love for others, The Joker realises his greatest nemesis is so emotionally closed off that he can't even hate properly. There is something perversely hilarious about The Joker realising he is trapped in a toxic, unrewarding adversarial relationship and deciding to concoct a plan to finally sever all ties with Batman. If this all sounds a little heavy duty, it is, and the movie hammers the key thematic points hard because it has a younger audience to consider, but it never once threatens to be a chore.
This movie is incredibly funny; the joke density from scene-to-scene is so rich and rewarding that it may require multiple viewings to catch all the great sight gags layered in the background. If you have seen its LEGO predecessor, then, you know exactly what to expect. This is a movie so crammed with gags that Zucker, Abrahams & Zucker would be proud.
Furthermore, it all moves at an incredible pace, filling so much laughter and pathos into such a short space of time. The last high-profile Batman movie to be released travelled with all the speed and purpose of a funeral procession that got lost on a roundabout. LEGO Batman is relentless by comparison, led by an amazing cast. Will Arnett effectively switches gears between hilarious braggadocio and genuine vulnerability in his role as Batman with the supporting players equally game, especially Cera's Robin and the scene-stealing work of Fiennes’ Alfred and Galifianakis' turn as The Joker.
The LEGO Batman Movie is not only hilarious but it manages to be genuinely thrilling during the big set pieces, yet it is the big warm heart at the core that makes it a truly special movie. He may be made of plastic building blocks but this is the most human interpretation of Batman to ever grace the screen.
Holy Danish plastic minifigures, Batman...