The Lego Batman Movie could be DC Entertainment’s veiled apology for all the apocalyptic gloom it has subjected us to over the past decade—epitomised by the Batman films. Chris McKay’s animated film, a spinoff of 2014’sThe Lego Movie, has DC characters doing things we thought they weren’t allowed to: namely, chilling out and having some fun while taking breaks from saving the world. For once, nothing is sacred in the DC Universe. Even the blank screen before the appearance of the logo isn’t spared. “Because every great movie must begin with a black screen,” says the low, growling bat-voice.
The Lego Batman Movie delights in its lack of lofty ambitions. The “plot” is, to a large extent, incidental (it involves saving Gotham city from the united effort of all the Batman villains)—more screen time is given to things like how Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) manages dinner on the day Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) has taken a night off. Villains, sidekicks and romantic foil are all there; Robin (Michael Cera) is a supremely annoying, good-hearted orphan who dupes Batman into adopting him, while the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) suffers from deep insecurity that his arch-nemesis is losing interest in him. There’s also a jab at rival Marvel; the password to open the Batcave is “Iron Man sucks”.
The references and gags are buttressed by an emotional graph. This is an emotionally and socially awkward Batman who’s made to confront questions of surprising profundity. How can someone so obsessed with himself be genuinely concerned about other people? Is his lone-man vigilantism driven by selflessness or a hesitancy to share his success with others? Is his latest worst fear really Snake Clowns?
It helps that The Lego Batman Movie is also visually pleasurable. It is a largely CGI creation but it has the handcrafted look and feel of brick toys and stop-motion animation. And the climax has a suitably self-reflexive touch: when Gotham is falling apart, all the characters connect with each other, one brick at a time.