Chris McKay’s Lego Batman Movie is a follow up to the 2014 hit Lego Movie, not so much a sequel as an offshoot, based on one of the film’s most beloved characters. It is witty, enjoyable, and more than anything else, hard tangible proof of why cameo characters should only ever see limited screentime.
In the same Lego universe as the 2014 film, Lego Batman lives a rockstar life of celebrity and vigilante justice, with Batman posing much more as a scenery chewing figure in this iteration than his alter ego Bruce Wayne. Batman unwittingly adopts an orphan, falls in love with the new police commissioner, and things soon go haywire.
I am all for the humanisation of characters and stories, but one of the things that made Lego Batman so great in The Lego Movie was his complete adherence to the stereotype: the facade of nobility, the aggressive anguish of losing his family, the parody of charm. He is stripped of nearly all these things in the Lego Batman Movie, and it works against him. He is definitely a more relatable character, and he has to be in order to be the focus of the film, however he is far less interesting, charismatic, or amusing, and his story is too tired to sell as a good reason to come to the movies.
The film starts off in all the right ways- painting a vivid picture of our caped crusader as a parody of everything we imagine a real life batman to be- narcissistic, unbelievably powerful, and ridiculously cool. As the story goes on to break him down and force him to connect with his peers, we lose the entertaining myth we came to see. When Batman was simply another foil to Chris Pratt’s Emmett in the original Lego Movie, he could exist in a little vacuum without significant traces of humanity. And it was fun. He was easily the most entertaining character of the film, and the fact they’ve gone on to make a film about his character is more an indication of how popular his character was than it was for the potential of him having more meaningful screen time.
Will Arnett voices Batman again, seemingly playing a hollowed out, less funny, weird voiced version of his wonderful work as Bojack Horseman, and is surrounded by a voice cast including Zach Galifianakis (The Joker), Michael Cera (Robin), Rosario Dawson (Commissioner Gordon), and Ralph Fiennes (Alfred). Out of these only Fiennes is given room to breathe, and is the heart and soul of the film, taking in all the attention in the scenes he is a part of.
The premise of the film is shallow, a simple effort to get as much Batman vs. Bad guy action in as possible (this is done without half the imagination that went into the original Lego Movie), but does include an answer to how Batman would combat the mighty Sauron, if you’ve ever wondered that, as I have many times. Batman’s story here is one of redemption, of finding family, of connecting, and in this seems awfully close to that of the original Lego Movie. This theme is not explored in any intimate or original way, which is an unfair criticism, as this is obviously not the point of the film. The film is intended to capitalise on the success of The Lego Movie, and make money for its creators, which it is succeeding in doing, so it’s in that sense a very good film.
The Lego Batman Movie is by no means a bad film, it is enjoyable, funny, with many memorable scenes and characters, however it aches for its original like The Hobbit trilogy aches for Lord of the Rings, it is a film with nothing new to offer and filmgoers would have a much better experience renting the original Lego Movie and watching it at home with some popcorn and good friends.