Cinephiles sometimes have a keen instinct for films, with the ability to tell what will be good, and what will be a disaster. However, sometimes one can be wrong, and sometimes it is so liberating to have your expectations exceeded. In 2013, when I heard there was a movie based on LEGO being produced, much like many people, I sighed in resignation about the fact that this seemed like an awful idea, and a blatant cash-grab. I can honestly say my expectations for such a film were the lowest they’ve ever been for a film – but I have no problem in saying I had never been happier to be proven wrong, because The LEGO Movie was an absolute wonder of a film, a true masterpiece of animation and one of the best films of 2014. Three years later, we’ve gotten a spiritual sequel to that film, and I have to be perfectly honest – not only does The LEGO Batman Movie match the brilliance of its predecessor, it actually manages to be even better on a number of levels.
The LEGO Batman Movie is a remarkable film, mainly because it knows exactly what it wants to be. The appeal of The LEGO Movie was its undeniable silliness – it was often excessive, strange and far too quirky for its own good – but more importantly, it appealed to a very wide audience – for children, it was a colorful, quaint adventure with hilarious characters and a fun story, whereas for adults, it appealed to our inner youthfulness, and along with some wonderful humor along with it. Unless someone did not have the capacity for fun, and simply just experiencing something that was made for the sole intention of being entertaining, I really doubt The LEGO Movie had too many hardcore detractors. The same element has been brought to The LEGO Batman Movie, retaining the same joyful youthfulness of the previous film, while also being a superb entity on its own. This is a film made simply for the fun of it – it is elaborately silly and often utterly dumb, but in a way that is so brilliant, it is impossible not to love.
Even though I loved The LEGO Movie, I was still slightly hesitant about The LEGO Batman Movie – we’ve seen breakout characters of acclaimed films receive their own spin-off movies, resulting in disaster, countless times before. Even if all signs pointed towards The LEGO Batman Movie being a relatively good film, I was still a little dubious, but I tried to keep myself cautiously optimistic. Boy, did that pay off. The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t only a great spin-off, it is a great film in its own right. Personally, I found it even better than The LEGO Movie, mainly because this film, despite its inherent silliness, had a somewhat coherent story to it (a major part of what made The LEGO Movie so great was the fact that it had a muddled and slightly convoluted story, which I imagine was the intention) – whereas The LEGO Batman Movie had a central story that could have easily have been taken right out of the DC canon. It seemed less like a sequel to The LEGO Movie as much as is it was simply an animated Batman movie, that belongs in the canon.
On that topic, I will just make a very controversial statement that I imagine many will inherently disagree with – The LEGO Batman Movie is the best Batman movie in over twenty years. As great as The Dark Knight was, it was more of an action film that featured Batman as the primary character, rather than a Batman movie. As acclaimed as it was, I just couldn’t get behind Christopher Nolan’s visions of the character and the universe quite as much as other people who love it (it is a good film, the only problem is that it is bookended by two films that are utterly and dreadfully mediocre in every way). Let’s not even talk about the DC Extended Universe, two of their recent offerings (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad) being films that were the very definition of torture and probably the only two instances of where I’ve completely regretted paying to see a movie. I haven’t seen Wonder Woman just yet, but even if it is a beacon of hope, I am still hesitant to get behind the universe.
The reason why I so boldly claim The LEGO Batman Movie to be the best Batman film in years is because it has something that every Batman film released in the 21st century lacks completely – a sense of humor. Batman, with all due respect, is a completely absurd character. He is a well-developed and iconic character, but he is certainly one that tends towards the realm of the absurd. It is a contentious issue, but to me, Batman is supposed to be outrageous and silly (yet, not so silly that we are given Batman & Robin, which I am still trying to wash out of my memory) – and while I appreciate the slightly more serious approach to the character made in recent films, personally I think The LEGO Batman Movie is a film that embraces the sheer absurdity of the character and his universe, and while it may not quite keep to the canon (in fact, it outright contradicts the canon, as well as several other canons from other works) – yet, it all does it for the fact that The LEGO Batman Movie wants to be a portrayal of fun, showing the fun the filmmakers had while making it, as well as the audience having fun while watching it. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to The LEGO Batman Movie is that it is genuinely entertaining, and I was laughing until it hurt several times in this movie, and considering the fact that recent Batman films have either made us feel bleak hopelessness or outright boredom, it is refreshing to see a portrayal of the character that is just plain fun.
If we are talking about superiority, I have to say that Will Arnett is a fantastic Batman. There is just something about him that just makes him perfect for the character. Perhaps I am biased, but I will say that he is my favorite Batman since Michael Keaton. He may not be the best (to all the criticism I give them, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck are not bad…Batmen?) but I certainly find myself adoring his performance. His droll, gruff register combined with his comedic timing is so funny, and he brings so much to the character. What I imagine started off as a major but supporting role in The LEGO Movie spiraled into one of the most popular characters out of a wildly successful film, all because of Arnett’s performance. It is difficult to praise a voice performance in the same way as a live-action performance, but trust me when I say that Arnett gives Batman his own unique spin that we haven’t seen before, and despite it being a voice performance, it is still fully-realized and riveting to the core.
The rest of the cast of The LEGO Batman Movie is also pitch-perfect. Michael Cera was a perfect choice to play Robin, and he does the absolute most he could with the role, being responsible for some of the biggest laughs in this film. Rosario Dawson, a criminally underrated actress, is wonderful as Barbara Gordon. Zach Galifianakis refreshes us of the terrifying Joker provided by Heath Ledger, and whatever the hell Jared Leto was doing in Suicide Squad, to give us a Joker that is actually somewhat interesting, and not just a psychopath? The Joker is a terrifying character, but the move towards him being more of a gang leader with legitimate mental problems makes us forget the original iterations of the character, where he was simply evil for the sake of evil. I am a huge advocate for the development of The Joker as a character (and I consider Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke to be a major work of literature) – but for the sake of The LEGO Batman Movie, the character was simply just made to be evil for the fun of it, which was perfect. No backstories, no overly excessive character development. He’s just a crazy villain. This is not a serious film, so there is no need for serious characters. This just makes the fact that Ralph Fiennes is in the film even better – if you had told me five years ago that the actor who played a Nazi in Schindler’s List and Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise was actually an actor with a keen sense of humor and impeccable comic timing (as evident here, as well as in his great work in The Grand Budapest Hotel and A Bigger Splash), I would not have believed you. But here we are, with arguably the finest actor of his generation, a man who bears remarkable career resemblance to the likes of Sir John Gielgud, Baron Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson, starring in an animated movie about little plastic figurines. That’s the world we’re living in, and I couldn’t be happier.
The LEGO Batman Movie is a genuinely fun movie. It is packed with laughs and serves to be a great entry into the long list of Batman films. It is right there at the very top, because more than anything else, The LEGO Batman Movie has heart – it has a good lesson at its core, and it is a genuinely well-meaning film. It made me laugh like an idiot, and I felt like I was a child again. It was a wonderful experience, and I really do believe that this is the kind of film that gets our current search for nostalgia exactly right. It is a wildly entertaining and excellently made film, and I definitely think it should entertain everyone, across all ages. It is a great film and certainly one that I am beyond impressed by. Definitely one of the very best of the year, without the shadow of a doubt.