The Lego Batman Movie review: For a film that makes a joke about Gandhi, it’s great
The Lego Batman Movie
Director - Chris McKay
Cast - Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Mariah Carey, Channing Tatum, Siri
Rating - 4/5
For a children’s movie – one that is essentially about plastic toys pounding each other into the Phantom Zone, one that somehow finds a way to make a quick joke at the expense of Mahatma Gandhi (God knows how they let it pass), and also proudly includes a Z-list villain named Condiment King (he shoots ketchup and mustard out of special guns, duh) – The Lego Batman Movie begins, and ends, on a pretty poignant note.
It was supposed to be nothing more than a nerdy diversion, a gravelly-voiced filler starring Will Arnett before the main, Affleck-shaped attraction. But it turned out to be so much more. It isn’t without its flaws – there’s a substantial portion that lags like it’s carrying the weight of Tom Hardy’s Bane on its back – but for the most part, it’s a dizzyingly colourful, and surprisingly touching little movie that can chuck jokes at your face with the velocity (and precision) of a dozen batarangs.
Like its predecessor, the unlikeliest hit of 2014, The Lego Movie, this one too comes with the heavy baggage that makes it seem like a cold-hearted cash grab, a shameless attempt to sell more toys to unsuspecting kids. But there lies the challenge behind these movies – to create something, from nothing – hopefully, without having to sell your soul in the process. That they made something more than just a diverting, empty spectacle designed to distract children for a couple of hours, but a heartfelt film about friendship and family and loneliness and heroism is worth celebrating, isn’t it? Especially if you’re a Batman fan, which, basically, is this movie’s target demographic.
The film opens with an excellent gag that pokes fun at The Dark Knight, which, to put it politely, is the best damn Batman film of all time – and perhaps one of the best films ever made. Nothing, it seems, is sacred in the glowing eyes of Lego Batman. In hindsight, that Gandhi joke should’ve been an indication.
To take potshots at its rival Marvel is easy, which, make no mistake, it does. Twice - and with all the subtlety of one of The Joker’s especially far-fetched schemes. But to make fun of family, that is where it gets tricky. On one hand, every Batman film that has ever been made, and every version of the character has ever been dreamt up, drawn, or put on film, is like a cousin to this one – From the hilariously camp ‘60s version, to Christopher Nolan’s monumental trilogy, to Zack Snyder’s brooding DCEU – Lego Batman, the crime fighting vigilante and heavy metal rapper that he is, holds no punches.
And this, at its core, is what the movie is about. Who is Batman, and what does he mean to you. He is such an iconic character that the movie makes no attempt to invite novices to the party – it just assumes that you’d come prepared. For decades, his malleability has been harnessed into some truly terrific stories, and The Lego Batman Movie has found a familiar, yet exciting way to further his legacy, without ever biting the hand that feeds – or, in this case, the wing that shields.
Possibly, there has been no Batman movie that celebrates the character, every silly version of it, with the sort of passion that this one does. It finds Batman’s essence, beneath his leathery cowl - and also of his equally iconic nemesis, The Joker, played by The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis here.
At the end of the amazing 2011 Batman video game Arkham City, if you’re patient enough to sit through the credits, you can hear a song playing in the background. It’s a love song, sung by the Joker, for Batman. It’s a stunning closer to what has to be one of the best, most honest depictions of the Joker-Batman relationship ever – right up there with Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum comic and The Dark Knight. Now, we can add The Lego Batman Movie to this list.
Its plot works on some surprisingly complex levels, seemingly playing to several different audiences at once. On one had, it is the sort of deep-cut fanboy fantasy that will likely alienate the best of us, filled with in-jokes and obscure references that are impossible to spot in just one viewing, and on the other, it works splendidly well as a delightful kids’ adventure. It’s dazzling, witty and self-deprecating. It’s Batman.