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If you thought that the team behind the wildly popular LEGO Movie couldn’t repeat their initial success with this superhero-themed spin-off, then pat yourself on the back. A gaudy, desperate cash-in that reeks of a serious money grab, The LEGO Batman Movie manages to ruin two entirely separate franchises in one go.
Batman (Will Arnett) is just about to win his latest battle with The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). The pair have duelled for years, and yet the green-haired clown feels like his villainy is under appreciated by the hero of LEGO Gotham.
When Commissioner Gordon decides to retire, he hands over control of the city to his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson). Her approach is to be as inclusive as possible, so the days (and nights) of lone vigilantes like Batman seem to be numbered.
All these problems are compounded by a needy orphan (Michael Cera) who decides he wants to be adopted by Bruce Wayne.
Batman, meanwhile, is intent on remaining the broody loner that defends his city. The Joker’s latest plan is to unleash bad guys imprisoned in Superman’s Phantom Zone, which sees an unholy influx of evil descend on Gotham. The only way for the forces of good to prevail will be for the Caped Crusader to team up with his friends… but has he alienated those closest to him already?
The pleasingly distracting LEGO Movie was a genuine surprise. As a genre, films based on toys are as toxic as video game adaptations or Adam Sandler movies, so when Phil Lord and Chris Miller brought us their vision for the popular Danish plastic bricks, we were apprehensive. What followed was a fun, smart and relevant story which combined youthful nostalgia with a big-hearted serving of laughs.
One of the supporting characters there, Will Arnett’s black-obsessed Batman, was a treat. He captured all the absurdities of the superhero set-up in his cameo appearance. It was a tone that worked well against the mind-melting visuals and plot which included some very relatable real-world action.
The LEGO Batman Movie opts to ground itself in a version of Gotham City that doesn’t seem identifiable, even to those intimately familiar with the cinematic Dark Knight universe. Whereas cameos and bit-part players had impact before, thanks to the creation of an all-new world here, we don’t really get the joke. There are no segues into the ‘real’ world, apart from regular reminders that this Batman exists in the same realm as the previous ones. Clooney, Kilmer, Keaton, Bale and even Adam West are referenced just to ram home the message that this most definitely is a Batman movie.
And there lies the problem. The biggest laugh the filmmakers want to elicit is clearly aimed at adults and grown-ups. It’s a gag that is hammered home over and over again, and involves The Joker unsubtly implying that there is a sexual undertone to his obsession with Batman. It delves into ‘friend zone’ territory and might be worth a mild humorous shrug if it were the slightest bit original.
The comic series has repeatedly gone back to the well of the Batman/Joker dynamic. To try and make this seem like an original thought is offensive to fans of the character.
Worse still, the rest of the film doesn’t deliver at all either. The voice acting is bizarre, with Arnett’s earnest Bruce Wayne mingling uncomfortably with Michael Cera’s annoying Robin. Ralph Fiennes might be having fun as an acerbic Alfred, but the rest of us aren’t.
The addition of non-DC characters like Lord Voldemort and Sauron just confuse matters even more. So intent is director Chris McKay on establishing this as part of the Batman canon, that it feels like a cheat to insert outsiders just to please the LEGO marketing team.
Everything isn’t awesome – it’s just thoroughly annoying.
(For the sake of balance, I watched the film with my two young nephews and 6-year-old niece. They thoroughly enjoyed the film and will be going back to watch it again next week. Alone.)
The LEGO Batman Movie is on general release from February 10th