“Keep it dark.”
That’s the one key piece of advice that LEGO Batman has for whoever dons the cape in the upcoming live-action reboot. And by LEGO Batman, we mean Will Arnett – the Arrested Development star who provides the Minifigure Dark Knight with his distinctively gruff voice.
Arnett is talking to Den of Geek about his Batman’s third outing in The LEGO Movie 2 – which already has him tying with Christian Bale (and Ben Affleck, if you count his cameo in Suicide Squad) for the most big-screen appearances as the Caped Crusader. He’s mid-way through a whirlwind global press tour and, while the coffee he’s sipping seems more of an essential caffeine hit than a mid-morning treat, he’s no less enthusiastic when chatting all things Batman.
“It seems like a very thankless task,” Arnett reflects when discussing the news that Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman will recast the character once again. “I’m lucky because I get to do the funny Batman, and he lives in his own kind of world. But playing him [in live-action] would be a tough thing to step into. Man, you’re really subjecting yourself to scrutiny before you even set foot on the set. Everybody’s got an opinion.”
Talking of opinions, who is Arnett’s favourite Dark Knight? “I’ve really enjoyed all the cinematic Batmen for different reasons,” he says. “And I think they’ve all been interesting. I really liked what Ben did. There were parts about it that I thought were really fantastic. Even Clooney’s Batman is underestimated – there’s a whimsical element to it that I quite like.
“The one that I grew up with – the first one that we all saw in the cinematic universe – was Michael Keaton. He’s such a brilliant actor, and he did have this kind of playful quality to him. I think he struck a perfect balance. And I’d love to see somebody return to that.”
In fact, one of The LEGO Movie 2’s stand-out scenes is Batman’s musical duet with love interest Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Entitled Gotham City Guys, the song features Batman extolling the virtues of his cinematic predecessors, in which he raps – yes, raps – that Gotham bachelors are “Affleck-level hot” with “George Clooney-level charm and Val Kilmer lips”.
“You know, I’m not I’m not known as a singer,” Arnett laughs. “It’s not something that people are clamoring to do, to hear me sing. Because it’s basically a rap, the timing and everything on that was so different from any voice work I’d done before, so it was it was a bit of a learning process for me. It was tough, but it was fun.”
Of course, this being a LEGO film, it’s not just the Bat-movies that are the butt of the film’s jokes – like the first movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, there are a few friendly digs at DC’s big-screen rivals, Marvel, too.
“The jokes are always good-natured,” Arnett says. “One of the hallmarks of these movies is that there are a lot of pop culture references, which lets the air out of it a little bit. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously. I guess it’s a little bit of breaking the fourth wall. The fact that Batman’s password for the Batcave is ‘Iron Man sucks’, for example…It’s a real testament to the goodwill out there.
“You can imagine that it makes the people at DC nervous, and we want to make sure that we don’t step on their toes. But it turned out that everybody at Marvel was fine – they understood the nature of it and the tone in which it was intended. And they were really cool about it.” He pauses, then deadpans: “Downey was not cool about it, though. He was a real jerk to me…”
A lot of the film’s gags were cooked up in the recording booth – with the actors actively encouraged by director Mike Mitchell and writer/producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller to improvise. “They don’t write a script and say, ‘OK, let’s just make that” – they don’t animate until after you’ve recorded, so it’s just really about what works in the moment,” Arnett explains. “I would go into 20, 30, 40-minute rants in the booth, riffing on whatever would come to mind, really just to make them laugh. They were very open to it – just trying to make the funniest version of the scene that we could.”
With Arnett and co clearly having a good time making the film, and the fact that it has already had a decent opening at the box office, can we assume that he might edge out in front of his big-screen Bat-compatriots with a fourth adventure as the Dark Knight?
“At this point, I don’t want to rest on my laurels,” he says. “You want to find a way to take what we know about Batman and tell new stories, so that people aren’t bored and don’t think, ‘We’ve seen that already.’ There’s always talk about further films, but it depends whether there’s an appetite for it and how people respond to this movie. Hopefully, people enjoy it. And if it feels like there is still room to grow, then we’ll do that.”
The LEGO Movie 2 is in cinemas now.