Computer animated comedy offers laughs and a fun tribute to Caped Crusader
Sam Thornley / Staff Writer
The LEGO Batman Movie is an animated comedy that serves as not only a spin-off to 2014’s The LEGO Movie, but a surprisingly competent addition to the Batman franchise in its own right. Directed by Chris McKay, the film was released by Warner Bros. Pictures on Feb. 10, 2017. The film features the voice talents of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes among many others.
The story begins as Batman follows his usual life of fighting crime in Gotham City and living alone in Wayne Manor. When orphan Dick Grayson and new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon enter his life and disturb his solitary habits, Batman must question what kind of life he wants to live while his arch-nemesis The Joker cooks up a new plot that threatens to destroy all of Gotham City.
What really makes the film work is the rather eclectic and witty sense of humor it carries throughout. From the opening credits, the film snarks at typical movie conventions and does so all the way through with a rather amusing self-awareness. Additionally, there are plenty of visual cues that provide a lot of humor along with the snappy dialogue traded between characters.
On the subject of characters, the film does a fantastic job making Batman and the rest of the colorful cast entertaining to watch. Batman is hilariously over the top in his egotistical manner while his sidekicks are equally fun to watch with their various quirks playing off each other in humorous and even heartwarming ways. While most of Batman’s rogues gallery is side lined in favor of the always comical Joker, many of them still provide memorable moments through cameos and the few lines they possess.
The characters are brought to life with especially well done voice acting. Besides Will Arnett reprising LEGO Batman, Michael Cera is surprisingly unrecognizable as the adorably shy Robin, while Ralph Fiennes and Rosario Dawson bring all the wisdom and daring determination expected of authority figures Alfred and Barbara Gordon. Finally, the villains provide amusing performances from unlikely casting choices, with Zach Galifianakis’ Joker standing out for his entertaining homoerotic interactions with Batman.
A large part of the film’s appeal lies with its relentless amount of affection and parody towards the mythos of the Batman franchise. A large number of nods to different eras of the series appear in the form of visual cameos and gags that range from the obvious to the obscure, such as Batman keeping all of his suits and vehicles from the different live-action adaptations. This parodies the low points of the franchise just as much as it affectionately mocks them, showing the creators have a good appreciation and understanding of the franchise in a way that feels appropriate.
Another high point in the film is the rather sincere theme of questioning whether Batman can live a happy life with his usual habits. While done in a mostly humorous manner, the film does raise serious questions about Batman’s tendency to live alone and reject help from others when he needs it. It marvelously accomplishes this through simple efforts such as showing Batman doing mundane activities in solitude, along with several other characters and threats popping up that challenge him to go outside of his comfort zone and break his usual routine.
Finally, the film has some rather impressive animation and lighting. Despite being a computer-animated affair, the characters are animated in a photo-realistic manner very akin to traditional stop-motion animation that gives it a fun visual flair. The Dark Knight’s tradition of operating at night and hiding in the shadows also gives rise to some well-done lighting compositions that feel very comic book-esque, which is aided by the bright color scheme and appealing character design.
Despite all the fun to be had, the film still has some noticeable flaws. Namely, the fast-paced humor will not appeal to everyone’s senses, as much of it is unloaded upon the viewer at once. The film has a habit of throwing out one joke before delivering another in the span of several seconds, causing some jokes misfire.
The film can also feel somewhat formulaic, which is especially noticeable since it borrows from both The LEGO Movie and the Batman franchise at the same time in story beats and character types. While the film does make fun of these clichés, it also feels overly indulgent in them due to their abundance.
Additionally, besides The Joker, most of the other villains do not have much personality. Although some have their moments, most of the villains are background characters and the film could function with generic thugs taking their places. Considering how memorable most of Batman’s rogues gallery is, this makes their treatment even more disappointing.
Nevertheless, The LEGO Batman Movie still serves as a very entertaining animated adventure. Packed with humor and nods to the franchise it’s based on, the film tackles Batman’s long history in a way that feels equal parts parody and adaptation of the legendary series. With a broad appeal to multiple demographics, the viewers can expect an entertaining ride with the Caped Crusader’s latest cinematic adventure.