Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s wildly successful The LEGO Movie skirted a thin line between advertisement and multiversal child-friendly fantasy. With THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, director Chris McKay gets incredibly micro with a film that recognises that mocking Batman is inherently funny, but can’t seem to sustain the gag over a feature-length outing.
McKay describes the film as “Jerry McGuire as directed by Michael Mann with a lot of Batman jokes.” On this premise, we see Batman (voiced once again by Will Arnett) hurt the feelings of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) by telling him that he isn’t important. When all of Gotham’s supervillains surrender, Batman is no longer needed in the city. Plotting to make himself relevant and rid the world of the Joker once and for all, Batman is soon joined by young ward Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and slowly learns the value of family.
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a film that’s acutely aware of the insane legacy of Batman and wants to skewer all of it. Like an even more satirical version of Grant Morrison’s take, one in which every strange version of the Dark Knight is given legitimacy, the film is peppered with visual gags and throwaway references to the highs and lows of almost eight decades of crime fighting. At its best, the script acknowledges the ridiculous moments of its history, giving equal ribbing to the 1960s campness (not that it needs it) and Christopher Nolan’s über-serious conclusions. However, while the all-star voice cast give it their best, this is exactly like a feature length version of one of McKay’s Robot Chicken sketches. The gags are relentless, but fairly one-note, stretching the joke behind “Batman’s Song” (from The LEGO Movie) over 104 minutes.
Perhaps the rapid turnaround time of the film accounts for some of these shortfallings, with a mere two-and-a-half years between treatment and release equating to a heartbeat in animation terms. Indeed, it’s the straightest line McKay could have taken between the previous film and this one, literally playing live-action footage of the films it references rather than working their strengths into the narrative. At other times, the solitude of Batman is played out in scenes so long that they give SNL a run for its money in terms of outstaying their welcome. A fun concept with some clever animation, but it’s one that would have worked much better as a television special or a series of short skits.