There’s a lot going on in The LEGO Batman Movie. There’s humour, action, loads of fourth wall-breaking with self referential jokes, a loose plot with its own logic, a message about the importance of family that’s beaten to death, and of course, interconnecting blocks. It’s a bit overstuffed with 10-1000 things happening in every frame, which can be a bit much at times, but it’s also a lot of fun.
If The LEGO Batman Movie had a subtitle (a la Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman Begins etc), it would be Batman References. The movie is doing a lot, but more than anything it’s playing on all of the previous iterations of Batman that came before, all the way back to the 1940s serials. In addition to this, it brings in a slew of other Warner Bros. properties, combining worlds the way we saw the first LEGO movie do. Oddly enough, we don’t get a cameo from Emmet or any of the characters from that film, but I’m sure with multiple viewings you’ll be able to spot a plethora of Easter eggs… surely Emmet’s double-decker couch at least shows up in there somewhere. The entire Justice League even makes an appearance, but it seems like they may have been required to limit their screen time due to the “real” Justice League movie coming out later this year.
Given that so much of the film’s humour (and content) comes from referencing what’s come before, it’s funny to think that this will be many kids’ first Batman movie (my 4-year-old nephew is obsessed with Batman, and for him the LEGO version is the definitive one). But the film is such a dynamic, visual smorgasbord of stuff that kids won’t even notice most of the jokes going over their heads.
The script also attempts to give the madness a heart in the form Batman going from a loner to adopting an extended family in Robin, Alfred, and Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Like everything else in the film, they really beat you over the head with this whole importance of family message. You could argue this is there for younger audiences, but I feel if there’s one thing kids innately know, it’s that they don’t like being alone. For something so self aware, The LEGO Batman Movie hits this moral note a few too many times without a punchline.
As with pretty much every animated film these days, the voice cast is stacked with a who’s who of actors, both comedic and prestigious. The Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder are voiced by a couple of Canucks/Arrested Development alumni Will Arnett and Michael Cera, the Joker is Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes brings British class to Alfred, Jenny Slate lends her voice to Harley Quinn, and on and on.
The term “sandbox” gets thrown around a lot today when talking about filmmakers having fun in different cinematic universes, but never is this more literal in creating that childlike sense of play than it is in these LEGO movies. Both capture that sense of an epic, mash-up game of make belief played by extremely imaginative children. Once again they’ve found the right person for the job with Chris McKay who brings his relevant experience directing Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken to this much more mainstream project.
These films have the challenge of being funny and entertaining enough to justify and forgive the blatant commercialism, in that regard the LEGO movies are two for two.