When it was announced back in 2013 (or thereabouts) that Warner Bros was going to make a movie based on the children's plastic building blocks known as Lego, the cynics screamed "product placement" and "sellout" and "stupid idea". The usually cynical me didn't join in, though, because I had for many years been playing the wonderful Lego video games and realised that if they brought the same sense of fun and silliness to a movie, then all would be well.
And lo they did, thanks to the brilliant brains of writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – The Lego Movie was one of the best films of 2014. Now we have a spinoff of sorts, but without the wonderful Lord and Miller, can The Lego Batman Movie be as good? Luckily, the answer is yes.
The character of Batman – voiced there, as here, by Will Arnett – was one of the best (and funniest) things about The Lego Movie. He's dark and brooding, yes, but also a total narcissist, completely in love with himself and just how awesome he is (hey, he looks great in black, he's a billionaire and he has nine abs, after all). Batman often behaves like a spoiled teen and believes he doesn't need anyone in his life but faithful butler Alfred and his faithful 'Puter (voiced in the film by Siri). "I don't feel anything emotionally except rage," he's fond of telling them. He's a man of contradictions though: he adore heavy metal and rap music, but his favourite meal is lobster thermidor. he adores heavy metal music; he's terrified of relationships, yet his movie collection is nothing but relationship comedies (he watches Jerry Maguire a lot.)
It's his "I don't need anyone in my life" attitude that drives much of the plot after the Joker (Zack Galifanakis, but it really should have been Mark Hamill - am I right?) unveils his latest plot to destroy Gotahm, a gigantic bomb, and he tells Batman he has to decide whether to defuse the device and save the city, or catch his "greatest enemy" as he makes his escape. But he's horrified to learn that Batman doesn't think of him as his greatest enemy: "I don't need you. You mean nothing to me. No one does," he tells him. In fact, Batman despises Superman more than he does The Joker. "I don't currently have a 'bad guy'," he says. "I am fighting a few different people. I like to fight around. You mean nothing to me." A heartbroken Joker then formulates a plan for revenge that involves the Phantom Zone, a troop of Daleks, Voldemort, the Eye of Sauron, a troop of Gremlins, as well as Clayface, Two-Face, Bane, Mr Freeze, Catwoman, Egghead, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Riddler, The Penguin, King Tut, Harley Quinn and more. Yep, Lego Batman has no shortage of villains, that's for sure.
The theme of friendship and family runs strong through another plot thread, involving Bruce Wayne's (accidental) adoption of the orphan Dick Grayson, who is probably more familiar to most of us as Robin, or Nightwing. Both of the costumes get a look in here, as well as Barbara Gordon – who has taken over as police commissioner from father Jim – as Batgirl. And all the past incarnations of Batman, from screens both big and small are referenced in one way or another. It's a fast-paced and frenetic film, which looks as though it was made by a kid with ADD who has been off their Ritalin for a couple of weeks. But that's part of the joy. The film feels very much like watching some kids play Batman with a Lego set, and it brings back that joy we all had as children of playing with our Lego and creating whole new worlds and exciting adventures.
As with The Lego Movie before it, Lego Batman is one of those films with a strong repeatability factor. The more you watch it, the more you see – as well as the wonderful classic Batman homages for adults and the fast-paced, silly jokes for everyone, there are little nods to other franchises and characters and plenty of background gags that you need to wash the film several times top catch all of.
Lego Batman is a superb follow-up to The Lego Movie, and will be loved by Bat-fans and Lego buffs of all ages. As long as they can keep up the joke rate, long may these Lego films continue – maybe do a Lego Justice League next?
EXTRAS: There's an Audio Commentary with director Chris McKay and about 20-odd members of the crew, most of whom don't identify themselves or are addressed by their nicknames, but of those who can be identified, we have editor David Burrows, production designer Grant Freckelton, music editor Craig Beckett, assistant editor Nicole Thorn, lighting director Craig Welsh, layout artist Gareth Young, stereoscopic supervisor Fabian Mueller associate producer Samantha Nisenboim, co-producer Amber Naismith and animation supervisor Magali Rigaudias; four brand new Animated Shorts consisting of Dark Hoser (2:08), Batman Is Just Not That Into You (2:10), Cooking With Alfred (2:02), and Movie Sound Effects: How Do They Do That? (1:24); The Master: A LEGO Ninjago Short (5:23), which was shown before The Lego Batman Movie on its theatrical release; four Deleted Scenes (7:00), which are not fully animated (some sections are no more than storyboards and animatics); the featurette One Brick at a Time: Making The Lego Batman Movie (16:10); the featurette Rebrick Contest Winners (2:47), which showcases three short Lego Batman stop-motion mini-movies created by fans and introduced by Will Arnett; the featurette Inside Wayne Manor (2:36); Brick by Brick: Making of The Lego Batman Movie (3:50), which focuses on the voice cast; the featurette Behind the Brick (4:13); the featurette Me and My Minifig (0:56), which has the cast meeting their action figures; and Promotional Material (14:21), which consists of several trailers, social media marketing material and a short Comic-Con Panel.