Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: Chris McKay
Starring: Jenny Slate, Will Arnett, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Maria Carey, Billy Dee Williams
When plans were announced for a movie based on Danish toy sensation LEGO, an understandable tidal wave of snark hit the internet. Surely this couldn't be anything more than a cynical extended commercial, a movie consisting entirely of product placement? What next? An Emoji movie? An adaptation of Tetris? But then Phil Lord and Chris Miller's resulting 2014 film left us all with egg on our faces and ended up on the top 10 lists of many a critic for that year. Sure, it was essentially made to sell LEGO, but it promoted the toy in such a joyous spirit that we really couldn't begrudge it.
One of the highlights of The LEGO Movie was the appearance of Batman in LEGO form. Voiced by Will Arnett, the character played on the brooding persona of the superhero to comic effect, turning him into an emo teen in black leather. Now he gets his own spinoff, which further plays into this idea. Beloved by the citizens of Gotham City, Batman's insular nature means he has no real friends, save for his long-suffering butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), and lives on a literal and figurative island, surrounded by bat-gadgets. When he mistakenly adopts young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), he's forced to learn the meaning of family, all while battling his nemesis, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), who is miffed at the lack of attention paid to him by his moody adversary.
The goodwill left over from Lord and Miller's film allows The LEGO Batman Movie to initially coast along in mildly amusing fashion, but after 20 minutes or so the premise quickly begins to wear thin. A total of five writers worked on this movie, and that's a larger number than the amount of times I laughed at their jokes. The few jokes that manage to land are visual gags - an extended shot of Batman staring into his microwave as he reheats a lobster dinner is a standout - but the movie relies far too heavily on one-liners, most of which are either played out references to the history of the Batman franchise or dated pop-culture quips (there's a running gag about Michael Jackson). It's as if the writers mainlined every SNL skit, Honest Trailer and snarky Reddit thread related to the caped crusader, and the jokes are as old as Adam West. By the umpteenth time the film points out that the '60s Batman TV show was a little camp and the Nolan movies were a little serious, you'll gladly walk barefoot over a carpet of LEGO bricks to get out of the cinema.
Perhaps what's most egregious about The LEGO Batman Movie is how the titular toy plays practically no part in its narrative, save for a joke about how Gotham City is built on a flimsy table. Much like how Michael Bay doesn't seem to understand the concept of 'transforming', all involved here seem to have overlooked the creative possibilities open to them with the LEGO format, something Lord and Miller tapped into successfully, and the result is little more than an animated version of a Wayans Brothers spoof. This spinoff feels less about selling LEGO and more about promoting various Warner Bros. properties, with King Kong and Godzilla suspiciously playing a large role. Remember that cynical marketing gimmick we believed The LEGO Movie would be? Well to stay on brand with a Michael Jackson reference, this is it!
The LEGO Batman Movie is in UK/ROI cinemas February 10th.