The Lego Batman Movie

Year: 2017
Production Co: DC Entertainment
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Chris McKay
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith/Chris McKenna/Erik Sommers/Jared Stern/John Whittington
Cast: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O'Brien, Zoë Kravitz, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Hector Elizondo, Mariah Carey, Ralph Garman, Chris Hardwick

Either someone at the Lego company or someone at the studio with enough clout has been very smart by making the movies based on its products much more than just colourful kids' films with a few gags.

In the hands of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, The Lego Movie was a masterwork of self-referential satire. It contained the entire ethos of what makes Lego such a successful plaything at the same time as highlighting what was funny about it – every time a building, character or part of the landscape crumbled in an action scene you could hear the clatter of plastic bricks scattering across the ground.

But one of the most successful elements was the satirical treatment of the characters. Many of the original ones like Emmett, Wyldstyle and Vetruvius were simply well written, but others like the Star Wars crew or Benny the 80s space guy were brilliant on a whole other level by playing with the archetypes they represented.

One of the most successful of those satirical swipes was at Batman (who only worked in black, unless it was very, very dark grey), making him the perfect candidate to get his own spinoff movie.

Ensconsed deep in work on the Han Solo movie they've since been fired from, Lord and Miller were nowhere near this project, so capturing anything like the same magic was by no means guaranteed. It was directed by Chris McKay, a Robot Chicken alumnus and an editor on The Lego Movie, and written by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author (and later screenwriter) of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies who's parleyed his success into writing movies.

Thankfully, either McKay and Grahame-Smith understood what worked about The Lego Movie, were just lucky or some producer or studio overlord with a rare talent for nuance kept everything pointed in the right direction. The Lego Batman Movie is as good and as funny as The Lego Movie.

The overarching theme is Batman's essential status is of being a loner. After completing another successful mission heading off some nefarious scheme of the Joker's (Zach Galifianakis), Batman (Will Arnett) comes home to his huge batcave full of technology and toys and his stately mansion to... absolutely nobody.

His faithful servant Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) has left his dinner ready to heat up, and while he eats it – alone – billionaire Bruce Wayne won't admit that deep down, life is empty and lonely. Even Alfred encourages him to connect with the rest of humanity, citing previous dates where he's made frightening breaks with reality after the emotional toll of his isolation. if you're quick enough you'll realise Alfred is referring to the dates of past Batman movies, a montage of images poking fun at some of the hallmarks of each like the infamous Bat nipples from 1997's Batman & Robin.

There's even a very clever ongoing gag about how his most critical relationship is actually with The Joker – when it seems during the early scenes that he's banished his nemesis forever and Gotham city is finally free of crime Bruce is bereft, not knowing what else to do with his time. Then there's the hilarious, thinly veild motif of them being like lovers and whether they're allowed to fight other people.

But Bruce/Batman might finally get his chance to relearn what being part of a family feels like. The first opportunity comes when Commissioner Gordon retires to make way for his progressive replacement, daughter Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and Bruce falls head over heels for her. The second comes when, distracted by something else, he casually adopts orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who's soon determined to become Batman's sidekick, calling himself Robin.

But there's an even bigger threat on the horizon. When he sends The Joker to The Phantom Zone we know from the Superman universe, Batman unwittingly unleashes a torrent of criminals and monsters on Gotham when The Joker returns alongside every other villian from the Lego universe – everyone from King Kong to Lord of the Rings' Sauron.

If Batman wants to send the worst of the worst back to the Phantom Zone, he's going to have to learn to trust other people, be part of a team and open himself up to all the risks of losing people like he once did his parents – including love.

The premise is little better than fine and could be the backbone of any Sundance dramedy or midday movie with different scenery, but the magic is in the details. The script is razor sharp about pillorying the Batman mythology, and there are more visual gags going on than you can possibly spot in a single viewing.

It contains not only the amazing CGI used to build The Lego Movie, it effortlessly makes fun of everything Batman has turned into in popular culture (dark, miserable and humourless) by making Batman a self-involved blowhard just asking to be taken down a few pegs – which the movie is very happy to do.

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