When The Lego Movie was released in 2014, I underrated it. I felt its anti-capitalist themes would continue to endure, whereas its irreverent approach to spoofing pop culture would lose its relevance and novelty as the years go by. Although in the Trump era, the satire of The Lego Movie remains as sharp as ever, with a character called “President Business” whose company manufactures voting machines having now acquired an eerily prescient edge, it is remarkable just how well the referential humour has remained.
The Lego Batman Movie ditches the attempts at socio-political satire (with the exception of a throwaway song lyric where Batman gleefully announces he doesn’t pay his taxes), instead focusing solely on the jokes. Despite being aimed at a young audience, the film takes pride in throwing tons of referential gags at the audience, that require the viewer to have an active knowledge over everything from Batman’s 78 year long history on page and screen, to the cinematic car crashes of the wider DC cinematic universe. The punchlines come thick and fast, even if the vast majority are based on properties the intended young target audience won’t be old enough to watch.
In comparison to the insufferable dourness of the recent screen incarnations of DC’s comic book stable, The Lego Batman Movie remembers the most important thing about superhero movies – not only are they meant to be fun, but they are ridiculous by design. Charlie Brooker once wrote that calling Batman “The Dark Knight” was like renaming Papa Smurf “The Blue Patriarch”; it’s an overly serious moniker for somebody whose job description is dressing like a bat and punching people.
Thanks to the vocal talents of Will Arnett, his ridiculously self serious take on Batman makes an embarrassment out of Ben Affleck’s recent screen incarnation. His Bruce Wayne is an overgrown man baby, finally making the character return to the silly, campy roots of the original Adam West screen appearances. With the DCU having a strict, much parodied “no jokes” policy to their movies, Lego Batman delivers a strong rebuttal by being painfully funny from the moments before the film even begins, with Batman delivering irreverent commentary over the different production company logos that appear. In an age of overwhelming blockbuster seriousness, this playful approach is a great reminder that superhero movies are meant to be fun – and that a high gag count doesn’t distract from the franchise world building, which is far more successful here than in the live action efforts.
The Lego Batman Movie also acts as a feature length reminder as to why superhero movies should be restricted to animation, as their is a boundless imagination at play that is only shackled by the constraints of live action filmmaking. Director Chris McKay has delivered the most grand scale Batman movie yet, all the while spoofing the epic nature of previous movies starring the iconic character. As with the previous Lego Movie, this isn’t so much a feature length advert for the Danish toy bricks as it is an excuse to play around with characters from other cinematic universes, making them all meet in a way no other franchise would allow. The end result is a third act which plays out as one of the most demented pieces of fan fiction ever conceived.
Instead of going darker, The Lego Batman Movie goes several shades lighter – and proves to be an even more revolutionary approach to portraying the iconic caped crusader than Christopher Nolan’s revered Dark Knight trilogy.