As we sat down in a theatre packed with children, I leant over to my wife and pledged, “I’m going to make a point of laughing obnoxiously at all the jokes that these kids don’t get.”
Being a spin-off of 2014’s phenomenally successful The Lego Movie, you know what you’re in for with The Lego Batman Movie: a film for the little’uns where the parent-child joke ratio is around 70-30.
Fortunately, for my wife’s sake (she got us tickets to the local premier through work, and a number of her bosses were in attendance with their offspring), someone else apparently had the same plan.
Man, that lady was howling at stuff the kids weren’t on board with, and I didn’t want to get in a pissing contest with someone’s mum.
Still, there’s a good drinking game in it: take a mouthful of beer after each joke you genuinely get. I have no question that Dan Flegg and Nick Milligan would be drinking at very different gags to myself, there’s such a rich tapestry of asides, sight jokes and pop culture references that you would have to watch this movie a dozen times to scratch the surface of everything that’s going on.
In The Lego Batman Movie, the Caped Crusader is a giant man-child who embraces everything that’s awesome about being a billionaire vigilante, while avoiding personal relationships. Naturally, that’s the issue the whole plot stems from: Batman’s crippling fear of, as he calls them, “‘ships”.
The first to challenge him on this is his nemesis, the Joker, who just wants Batman to admit that theirs is a particularly special hero-foe rivalry – and is devastated when Bats denies him this.
Next, we come across young orphan Dick Grayson, who just wants a father and a family. Of coures, Bruce Wayne adopts him (albeit accidentally).
Finally is the new commissioner, Barbara Gordon, who points out that Batman’s methods have failed to yield results for the better part of a century, and maybe it’s time that The Dark Knight began working with Gotham’s police (guess who’s not a fan of that plan).
The development of Batman’s character aside, the film hinges around the Joker’s evil plan to unleash fiction’s greatest beasts upon Gotham. Here, the film gets to really stretch its legs in villain terms, bringing in not only DC’s baddies, but also monsters from basically every franchise that Lego has done a deal with over the years… So, basically every villain ever – think a Lego version of the ‘Imaginationland’ arc in South Park (although, obviously, without the blood orgies).
In terms of the performances, Will Arnett as Batman is an obvious standout. Given his previous role as Gob in Arrested Development, I wonder whether Batman was this selfish, childish brat when he was first written for The Lego Movie, or if Arnett was cast and they realised how he should be played. Regardless, between his turns as Batman and his phenomenal work as the titular Bojack Horseman in the Netflix original series, Arnett has stamped himself – with H. Jon Benjamin – as one of the best voice talents getting around.
Zach Galifianakis as the Joker and Michael Cera as Robin also deserve a mention. I suspected, following in Mark Hamill’s clown-sized shoes, Galifianakis would be on a hiding to nothing, but he brings a previously unexplored level of empathy to the character that actually makes him genuinely sweet. As for Cera, he’s been so deadpan in just about every role he’s ever played, it took me quite a while to twig to who was providing the voice for this decidedly “jazzed” character.
First-time director Chris McKay also deserves plenty of credit – and box-office receipts tell us he’ll be busy in the coming years (apparently he’s already at work on his live-action debut, another DC title in Nightwing, AKA the adult Robin).
Ultimately however, this is a film that is weighed down by its attempts to wink to everyone on the planet. Go through the cast listing, it’s ridiculous – they found a role for Mariah Carey, for Chrissakes. It’s as though everyone in Hollywood asked McKay for a part and he indulged them, even if it was just a single line or roar, and the sheer amount of characters shoehorned in means the film goes from being a light romp into a sludgy slog.
But while The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t live up to its initial promise, the attention to detail in animation is first-rate, there are some brilliant performances, and if I’d followed through on my initial promise to laugh at all the jokes kids don’t get, I’d have left the cinema hoarse and probably divorced (but I think my biggest laugh was when Batman doesn’t want to go to the party, and all the kids were in on that – classic).