Review: ‘Lego Batman’ is a refreshing spin on a beloved character

Warner Bros. Pictures

Joe Cross, Staff Reporter

In the past few decades, the Batman character and universe has seen numerous film incarnations, with each growing darker and more realistic in tone. This trend began with Christopher Nolan’s 2008 version, “The Dark Knight,” a film that garnered significant praise for its performances and depth, and led to superhero films being considered more than entertaining summer diversions, but instead serious works of art. However, since then, there hasn’t been much progress, with Marvel films such as “The Avengers” and its sequels and spinoffs attempting to clone this formula with diminishing returns. Now in 2017, “The Lego Batman Movie” asks “when and why did superhero movies stop being fun to watch?” and with its surprising amount of depth and humor, manages to make for entertaining viewing while also being a refreshing, clever entry in a genre that’s grown stale over the past few years.

Tonally, the film is closer to the cheesy, absurd 1960s Batman television series than the Christopher Nolan trilogy or last year’s disastrous set of DC flicks, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.” Instead of wallowing in darkness like those movies, “Lego Batman” is a more lighthearted affair, and for that reason, it’s simply more enjoyable to actually watch. Nothing major is at stake here, and the audience can relax and enjoy the movie for what it is: a refreshing, humorous new spin on an old, well-known character. It’s a movie that’s aware of just how ridiculous the history behind it is, and uses that to its advantage.

The cast is absolutely stellar, and every role is played to perfection. Will Arnett was the best part of 2014’s surprisingly great “The Lego Movie,” and here he reprises his role as Batman, exaggerating the character’s dark, brooding tendencies to hilarious effect. Michael Cera also brings his trademark awkwardness to the film, playing a overly-attached, excitable version of Robin, while Ralph Fiennes essentially reprises his role from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as butler Alfred Pennyworth. Each of these performances adds to the overall mood of the film, and makes a unique part of Batman’s history, and the best superhero movie in years.

The film’s concept, despite it being a movie both comedic in tone and aimed at younger audiences, is also more interesting than those explored in most superhero films aimed at adults. Instead of following a battle between superhero and a supervillain, here we see a superhero in an identity crisis. Batman may be able to save lives and be envied by thousands, but he doesn’t have any real friends. The film explores this theme of loneliness and alienation throughout, and is surprisingly poignant because of this.

The film’s main flaw, like its predecessor “The Lego Movie,” is its manic pacing. The opening sequence, while visually stunning and often hilarious, is relentless in its energy and by the time it’s over, one feels absolutely exhausted with a significant portion of the film left. Though it eventually slows down, this constant energy makes the movie seem much longer than it truly is. However, also like its predecessor, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. It’s bright and colorful, and is hard to believe that it wasn’t all done through stop motion. The animation fits the film’s upbeat tone perfectly, and there are plenty of subtle visual gags throughout.

With at least five more superhero movies scheduled for release this year, and plenty more inevitable sequels and reboots scheduled in the upcoming years, it’s unlikely that “The Lego Batman Movie” and its optimism and humor will have an immediate impact on superhero films. But for now, the film is a breath of fresh air in a genre that seems content to repeat itself over and over again, and for that alone, it’s a triumph.