by Elizabeth EstenWhen The Lego Movie was first announced, no one expected it to be any good. Most saw it as a cash grab that would be a blip on the radar in 2014. But when the film finally released, audiences and critics were amazed by the spectacular animation, great characters and compelling story. One of the highlights was the portrayal of Batman in the film, so there was much excitement when it was revealed that he would get a spinoff movie. But does the final product reflect those expectations or disappoint?
In the years following The Lego Movie, Batman (Will Arnett) has single-handedly been fighting the rogues gallery of villains that ravage the city. Although he is successful, the world’s greatest detective is a dark, sad and melancholy man. But Batman’s life changes when he accidentally adopts Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). On top of this development, new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) decides to have the police and Batman work together, causing him to have somewhat of an existential crisis.
I never thought I would say this about an animated action-comedy, but this is actually a character piece. At the center of it all is obviously Batman, who is perfectly portrayed by Arnett. While he’s mostly known for funny side characters, it’s nice to see him take a leading role and knock it out of the park. This version of the Bat is not as dark as the Bale or Affleck versions, but it is equally as complex. Arnett plays him as a fast-talking, cocky crime fighter who doesn’t need help and writes songs about taking down the bad guys. But underneath it, he is an overgrown child whose fear of developing connections with others is so severe that he lives on a remote island with his butler. The film embraces the belief that Bruce Wayne is the alter ego and Batman is who he truly is, which is why he is rarely seen out of the cowl. You can see and hear his fear of losing loved ones again when he begins to form a new family.
Speaking of family, the ensemble of the film is strong as well. Cera is fantastic as Dick Grayson, bringing so much energy and childlike wonder to the role. He is so happy to have a father in his life in the form of Batman, no matter how annoyed he is by his presence. He actually reminds me a lot of myself, back when I was a young Batman fan watching the 1966 TV show in my basement. Rosario Dawson is also excellent as Gordon. She’s a good foil for Batman and her character has the same sense of justice and retribution as Batman does, but she knows that a little teamwork can go a long way. The other standouts are Galifianakis’s Joker (who is desperate to have some sort of bromance with Batman) and Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Batman’s disgruntled butler and the straight man of the film.
The characters shine almost as brightly as the references. From the onset, you can tell the team of writers are in love with the character of Batman and the multifaceted nature of his universe. The film references almost all cinematic incarnations of Batman, from the 1966 version to Batman v. Superman. The film also packs a punch when it comes the huge cast of villains seen in both cinema and comics. It even has some characters that have only appeared in comic books or Youtube parodies, like Calander Man and Condiment King (who is a totally real Batman villain, Google it). This movie is a Batman nerd’s dream, and it may take multiple watches to catch every reference. These nudges boost the self-aware style of humor, pointing out how ridiculous and overblown DC films have become in the past few years (more specifically, the Snyder-era of films).
As expected, the animation is gorgeous, full of bright colors and high energy. The action scenes have a great, fast-paced style that works wonders. However, it does take the time to slow down and give us calmer moments, allowing us to look at and appreciate all the details in the backgrounds, especially in Wayne Manor and the Batcave. The scenes are perfectly balanced so the action scenes and other set pieces never feel too overwhelming.
While the film looks amazing and the characters immediately engage, it’s the story structure where the movie is lacking. The first two acts are tight and well made, but the third act is where things get kind of overblown. You can tell the writers are very excited about working on this film and that holding back was somewhat difficult to do. The finale is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but at times it feels as if the writers are throwing ideas at the wall just to see if they all stick. The cameos and Easter eggs may be humorous, but do they all fit into one narrative? Not quite.
The Lego Batman Movie is a whole lot of fun, boasting fantastic characters, animation and references that Batman fans everywhere will love. While the finale is a little bit overblown, it never takes away from the overall experience and will put a huge smile on your face, no matter how old you are.
4.5 out of 5 stars