Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Directed by: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate
Anthony Stacchi, co-director of The Boxtrolls, once said in an interview for The New York Daily News about The Lego Movie not being included in the nominations for Best Animated Feature in the Academy Awards of that year, “The only thing I hope is that since they didn’t get (a nomination) this time, is that (“Lego” filmmakers Lord and Miller) go out and make another original film, not a whole bunch of ‘Lego’ sequels, so they can get in the running again.”
Well, going against Stacchi’s wishes, two years after their first wildly successful attempt at a lego film, last week Warner Brothers finally delivered on their promise of a spin-off – starring the caped crusader himself, voiced again by Will Arnett (Arrested Development).
There is a unique challenge in taking on this particular character, no matter how popular this plastic interpretation was. Batman has been part of the zeitgeist, already formed in our minds since his first comic appearance in 1939. One of the film’s strongest – and often funniest – elements is the acknowledgement that there have been so many iterations, varying in tone. At the same time, the film provides its own twists on characters and relationships – long-time fans will notice in particular how Rosario Dawson’s (Marvel’s Daredevil) Barbara Gordon differs from her comic origins. But nevertheless, it is clear the minds behind this have a deep affection for the comics, and an intimate knowledge of even the most obscure arcs – with certain villains one never would have imagined appearing on the big screen.At the core of the film’s genius is how openly it appeals to fans, engaging not only with previous Batman properties, but by playing into the silliness of the character in the first place. Because no matter how many exciting Hans Zimmer scores and gritty cinematography we put behind it, there will always be a level of absurdity to the idea of a man dressing up as a bat and fighting crime. At the same time, the film is not without several moving, sincere emotional beats – with the trauma Bruce Wayne must have in order to pursue this life in the first place. It is ridiculous without being pandering, earnest without being saccharine. Not to mention it shows it is possible to make a Batman film without a flashback to his parents being murdered. You heard it here first, folks. It can be done.
There are moments where the jokes get a tad old, and Lego Batman – as brilliantly funny as Will Arnett delivers all his lines – is someone it’s not easy to spend almost two hours with. But the rest of the ensemble – Michael Cera’s (also from Arrested Development) Robin and Ralph Fiennes’s, strangely, here, not playing Voldemort but instead Alfred. But it doesn’t end there – this is also a film to keep an ear out for celebrity cameos, and I won’t spoil the many surprises here. Except for the fact that Mariah Carey plays the mayor – that I can’t resist.It is definitely more muted than The Lego Movie, though this is probably due to the focus on the singular characters as opposed to the thousands of cross-cultural appearances from the many properties Lego holds the rights to (though, don’t be surprised if you come across familiar faces from beyond the DC universe).
The animation, of course, is as stunning as one would expect having seen its 2014 predecessor, and in many ways more creative. The deliberate direction choices also don’t go unnoticed – to the filmmakers, this is given the same treatment as they would any film. The Lego Batman Movie comes from a place of genuine love – the kind of love that allows for light teasing – and that’s what makes it work the most.
If this film marks another Oscar snub for the studio, it’ll beg the question of what exactly the Academy is looking for, and how these films can be seen as not qualifying.