What a wonderful time to be alive! In a universe where we can experience the highs and lows of comic books turned into films like the highs of Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Dr. Strange and other Marvel films to the lows of… well… pretty much every DC film after The Dark Knight Rises. Batman has been presented as a brooding loner throughout the years and it was about time that someone turned that into hilarious INTENTIONAL comedy. We got a glimpse of this Lego Batman character in The Lego Movie released in early 2014 and he was basically a bitter asshole who hated everyone and was way too serious about everything. Will Arnett made such an impact though that the studio just had to give him his own stand-alone movie, which at first made me nervous. It seemed like a typical cash-in idea (see: Minions) and usually when that happens, it can result in less-than-inspiring results but here I was ecstatic with the images thrown at the screen.
The film’s story carries over the Batman character from the aforementioned Lego Movie but that’s where the similarities end. Batman (Will Arnett) is a dark, brooding character and a committment phobe. He can’t even commit to the idea that the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is his greatest enemy, a non-statement that seems to put the green-haired villain in a state of depression so that he gives up crime and gives himself in to the law. While Batman is romantically transfixed by the new police commissioner, Jim Gordon’s daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson), he also adopts a young orphan (Michael Cera), unbeknownst to him. While living mostly in solitude but with his trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) at his side, Batman must eventually face his fears when a new diabolical group of villains emerge and they aren’t the fears that you would normally expect in a superhero movie. Many, many in-jokes and comic mayhem ensue.
As I am sure you can tell by now at this point in the review, I LOVED this movie. When I first saw The Lego Movie a few years ago, I was convinced that it was one of the smartest animated movies I had seen in a long time and one that completely defied my low expectations. Well, they did it twice because I didn’t think they could recreate the magic again but they did and it might’ve been even better. Obviously, the biggest selling point is the style of humour in these lego movies. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s sensibilities are all over this movie even though they didn’t write or direct it, per se. These are the same guys who used their off-the-wall humour on movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 22 Jump Street and shows like Clone High and The Last Man on Earth. I’m at the point where I will see anything that they are remotely attached to in any way, shape or form. Any movie that starts off with Batman narrating the opening music/logos/text on the screen should give you an indication of what you’re in for with this one. From its fourth wall-breaking opening to its extensive large-scale action scenes, the film is certainly never boring.
There are lots of inside references and jokes for fans of the Batman franchise as well. From the lego interpretations of all the films he’s been associated with including a handful of hilarious nods to the original 1960s TV series, this movie delivers on that front. It was also nice to see pretty much every supervillain that Batman has ever fought including ones that I thought were made up for the movie like the Condiment King only to find out that… yikes, that was a real villain from the animated series. This film also brings out a number of other characters from other unrelated movies. I don’t want to give too many of them away but let’s just say that some of them are a very funny surprise (I didn’t expect to see gremlins in a Batman film…ever).
They picked a strong voice cast for this movie much like they did for The Lego Movie. There were way too many recognizale Will Arnett was great as Batman of course but even though he does the exaggerated gravelly version of his own voice throughout the whole movie, there is also a sad desperation in his voice and a yearning for love. Yes, in this animated film about lego, Arnett pulls off this performance solely using his voice. Michael Cera is energetic and fun as Dick Grayson/Robin; he has this boundless optimism no matter what happens and it’s a nice complement to Batman’s dark broodiness. Rosario Dawson provides some fun as Barbara Gordon even though she doesn’t get a whole lot to do but she has some solid comic timing. Ralph Fiennes was a great addition as Alfred and, as one of my friends pointed out, is made even funnier when he does not play one of the later villains that he actually originated in another film. There are lots of other funny appearances from people like Eddie Izzard, Ellie Kemper, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and many, many more.
The film also takes an interesting turn as the main plot concerns Batman’s inability to commit to anything or anyone and that includes his arch-nemesis the Joker. While that starts as a joke, it soon becomes a major crux of the movie as the Joker is so distraught over Batman’s inability to hate-love him that he actually turns away from his life of crime at least at first glance. The addition of Robin to the story is an inspired choice because they’ve gone the route of making him completely goofy and off-the-wall, which should tell you right there why they’ve never had Robin as a major character in any serious Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan adaptation of the comic book hero. While the film is very funny when it is being completely ridiculous or action-packed, it is the quiet moments where the movie also excels. When Batman returns to his home after dispatching of a number of villains early in the film, he goes to his quiet personal theatre and has trouble selecting the right HDMI setting on his TV and then later he accidentally enters twenty instead of two minutes on his microwave. It is these quiet moments of humour that really had me going because they were very relateable parts in the middle of this INSANE movie.
So yeah… it’s very funny, surprisingly relateable at times and full of action and inside references for all the DC ‘marks’ out there. It is friggin’ perfect. Oh yeah, and it runs circles around any stupid Zack Snyder superhero movie.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)