Nerd gold. That’s about the best way to describe what you get with The LEGO Batman Movie, a film that doesn’t have the narrative heart and soul of the terrific The LEGO Movie, but is more than willing to compensate by giving you a blast of Batman geekery that’s hard to resist.
The focus is heavily on Will Arnett’s Batman character, with the same wry, dry, undercutting wit that made him one of the flat-out standouts of the first film. It’d be fair to say that from the off that director Chris McKay and his team are very keen to give the audience what they want. Thus, you get the utter pleasure of Arnett’s Batman narrating the opening credits, giving you a commentary on the company logos as they appear. I don’t want to spoil the many great lines he spits out, just that within five minutes, the core audience will be very firmly on side.
It’s just a taste of the many zingers that you’ll be taking away when the credits roll, too. There’s particular delight in the many ways that The LEGO Batman Movie references and skewers the Batman movies that came before it, not least in a glorious exchange between the Dark Knight and The Joker, that takes aim at his plots from both 1989 and 2005. It’s affectionate, certainly, but also, Batman of old is fair game. Good knowledge of previous Batman movies, whilst not essential, will be rewarded.
The LEGO Batman Movie, too, might not be a direct sequel per se to The LEGO Movie – that’s coming in two years’ time – but it’s following a similar template. It’s already the film that needs more spoiler warnings than any this year, given the sheer breadth and number of surprises that the movie is willing to throw at us. Every time the story is slowing down, or the on-screen events are becoming a little less interesting, there’s another gag around the corner. If ever a film wished it could come off the screen and regularly tickle you, it’s this one.
There is, though, some papering over the cracks as a consequence. The core story of the film is Batman dealing with being alone, and wanting to fight crime by himself. At heart, it’s quite inward looking. The narrative beats from there you can probably fill in yourself, with a fair degree of success, and watching said story go from A to B is the least interesting part of the film. Think back to the coda of The LEGO Movie, and how that enriched and underpinned the events to that stage. The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t have that, and could really use something of its ilk.
What we get in place of that are dazzling, fast, furious action sequences, the screen filling with bricks, blasts and colour. All well and good, but if anything, it gets a little over-busy.
Yet coming back to the issue of papering over the cracks. Some films do it better than others. Shrek 2, for instance, was a less interesting tale than the original (and the last decent Shrek movie before diminishing returns really kicked in), but DreamWorks was savvy enough to bring in Eddie Murphy’s Donkey for more comedy sequences. The ploy worked, and for all its faults, Shrek 2 was and is funny.
So is The LEGO Batman Movie. And to see, then, a huge big screen Batman film pull apart DC, Batman movies and pop culture in a way many of us have done over a beverage (citing many of the same arguments) is fabulously entertaining. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d watched a movie a step down from its predecessor, yet nor could I deny that I’d laughed my backside off consistently throughout.
Thus, I’m going to pull in Anchorman logic to give this a star rating. Few people would argue that Anchorman is a sparkling piece of narrative cinema, yet it’s so endearing, so full of moments and so deliciously entertaining, that it reaches four star status. The LEGO Batman Movie just gets over the line the same way. Whether it’ll stand up to a second viewing, once the jokes and surprises aren’t jokes and surprises anymore, remains to be seen. But visit one? It’s a blast.
The LEGO Batman Movie is in UK cinemas from February 10th.