After co-writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller came out of nowhere to make The Lego Movie a surprising hit in 2014, it only made sense that Will Arnett’s voiced Batman would be the appropriate follow-up film in the franchise. Batman was a scene-stealer and constant bolt of energy with a complete lack of self-awareness, essentially a parody of the repeated iterations we’ve seen of the world’s greatest detective on screen.
I’m not sure I’d say The Lego Batman Movie is a case of “too much of a good thing,” but it certainly struggles for putting such a good supporting character front and center. The film’s first 30 minutes are full of gags and pop culture references that easily match the wit of the film’s predecessor, but the last hour focuses almost solely on various aspects of fighting, be it in a car, on a ship, or in person. Ironically, the “just get through the inevitable action to save the day” third act problem we see in so many super hero films is still present in this one.
The Lego Batman Movie focuses on Batman’s lonely and isolated lifestyle, pitching him as a childish millionaire who never really grew up or get over the death of his parents. When Commissioner Gordon retires and his title falls to his daughter, Barbara Gordon, Bruce Wayne is torn between his immediate romantic interest in Gordon and his I-only-work-alone vigilante code that prevents him from getting too close. That same “I refuse to let people in” attitude comes as an insult to The Joker, who considers his villain-hero relationship with Batman to be a defining one, only to find that Batman doesn’t even care enough about The Joker to hate him. This leads The Joker to initiate a devious plan to “break up” with Batman, in a sense, and from there the action and cast gets more vast than you might expect, pulling in an array of non-D.C. universe baddies trapped in The Phantom Zone.
As stated above, the first thirty minutes or so of this film and the set up of the plot delivers the best set of gags. From the very moment the screen lights up and Will Arnett narrates the opening credits, to Bane’s accent, to shots of a lonely Bruce Wayne microwaving leftover Lobster Thermidor, the film constantly seems aware of its place in time and pop culture. But in the same disappointing nature of both action movies and less-clever comedies, the more the conflict increases, the less interesting the film becomes. Even the gag I was sure would deliver best based on The Lego Movie – Batman’s lingering jealousy of Superman – failed to really come together by the end.
The MVPs of the film are Arnett, who does the best he can at striking a balance between being the film’s lead and the humorous notes he struck previously as a humorous supporting character, and Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, who doesn’t get to deliver the jokes but keeps the momentum of the film propelling forward. I was surprised that Michael Cera didn’t really stand out as Robin in the way I expected, nor Zach Galifianakis’s Joker.
The real let down of the film is the script, which has five authors credited to it – which probably serves as something as an explanation for the unevenness – and the action in the last half, which retained less of that unique look of Legos being built and creativity used as a source of power, and more like a typical CG superhero battle.
Overall this felt like a film definitely geared more towards kids than the previous one was. As far as their reactions go, it’s hard to say – the child in front of me stood up and punched and kicked in unison with Batman on screen, while the child in the seat next to me fell asleep, so I guess to each his or her own. Overall, I wouldn’t say I loved this movie, but like Batman’s antipathy to his nemesis, I’m afraid to say I couldn’t even hate it either. It didn’t do anything that struck me enough to feel strongly about it, but it is a decided step down from Lord and Miller’s unique brand of comedy.