It takes a village; so goes the saying, one of a few morals to be gleaned from The Lego Batman Movie. It’s a lesson DC could perhaps do with disregarding in the case of their caped crusader. Zack Snyder, David Ayer, Ben Affleck. The DC expanded universe is still young, but its Batman has been shared around like a soiled nappy. Perhaps, in this charming film, Batman has found what should be his exclusive home, and guardian for a few outings – children’s films and director Chris McKay.
After the po-faced and bar-raising Nolan trilogy, a bit of self-knowledge goes a long way, as demonstrated by Lego Batman’s opening scenes. The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), towing along an A-, B- and C-roll of other historical villains, stages an attack on Gotham City in cthe classic mode. After he is inevitably thwarted in style, the film changes tack to focus on its egotistical, cosetted star, as he copes with the end of crime at the capable hands of Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson).
Will Arnett reprises his scene-stealing role from The Lego Movie, and manages comparable levels of charming misanthropy. The sheer persistence of his gravel-chewing lends a further humour to proceedings. Michael Cera also brings a vulnerable cluelessness to a certain young Richard Grayson that works comedically in a way “serious” Batman films couldn’t hope to emulate.
Relatedly, the major achievement of the film is the consistency of its jokes, which come thick and fast. Much like The Lego Movie, there are gags aimed at viewers of all ages, every few seconds; even when a punchline might fall flat for those older than 12, the sheer ingenuity of the animation style provides distraction and pleasure, in the back of frames and to the side of the action. The visual gags are near-constant, and never cease to delight, even as predictable conclusions are reached, and character arcs fail to surprise.
A light mockery of historical Bat-canon, and the knowing references to the lukewarm reception (averaging critical and box-office successes) of post-Nolan efforts are carefully judged features of the script. Doubtless a line trashing the central idea of Suicide Squad was subjected to Trump-esque levels of vetting. All these moments feel warm, though, which should come as a pleasant surprise to DC’s wider roster of directors – they deserve less.
Still, McKay and a veritable Justice League of writers have struck gold with their irreverent Lego formula – if the future of DC must be largely grim, it’s a relief to think this film’s success may precipitate further darling brick-built capers.